lititt -NOMAtt POSTMOMM Continued from cover For all the noise about a “volunteer army” that recruited its own general, the plain fact is that the campaign always ran from the top down. Perot proposed, and, to the army’s shocked dismay, disposed. In this respect the Texan’s “populist” insurgency functioned exactly like the major parties: those who held the purse strings called the tune. But while the party has been canceled, the campaign financier remains. Or more precisely, financiers. Though Perot obviously dominated, and now is talking of bankrolling some kind of “third force” or a new party, his candidacy was not a one man show. The lineup of his supporters and contributors was impressive. It included leading figures from the computer industry such as Charles Sporck, a founder of National Semiconductor, and Scott McNealy, president of Sun Microsystems, along with many financiers and investment bankers, including Theodore Forstmann, William Simon, Michael Dingman of the Henley Group, A.C. Greenberg of Bear, Stearns and equivocally Felix Rohatyn. It is probably also worth recalling that only days before the fall, Robert Hormats of Goldman, Sachs was rapturously singing praises in the Texas press of Perot’s foreign policy coordinator, Dallas investment banker Richard Fisher, whose remarks about Perot’s belief that the United States should pay less attention to Europe and instead emphasize its status as a Pacific power led to a contretemps with Paul Nitze, the venerable author of that seminal Cold War classic, NSC 68. With Perot’s withdrawal, these individuals especially the Republican supply siders like Forstmann or Jude Wanniski \(who was toutmomentarily caught out on a limb. But they will not stay there very long. If there is one certainty in political economy it is that great sums of money abhor a vacuum. Guerrilla war in both parties is likely to flare, with Republicans in particular stirred constantly by press leaks from a supply side government in exile. These ongoing realignments within the business community will scarcely exhaust the fallout from Perot’s explosion, however. As Mario Cuomo noted when he nominated Clinton, all the Texas billionaire had to do was to utter one magical word “change” and millions of voters flocked to him. Those responses bore Thomas Ferguson is Professor of Political Science & Senior Fellow at the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Shorter versions of this essay appear this week in The Nation and several newspapers. Ferguson gratefully acknowledges assistance rendered him by Thomas Cammack, Liza Featherstona, Philip Parker, Donna Smith, and particularly Micha Sifry. more than a faint resemblance to a Pacific Islands cargo cult, but what will the faithful do now that the cargo plane has wrecked? While some are likely to drift back to the major party’s standard bearers, it is difficult to imagine that adherents of anti-partisan groups like THRO \(Throw deeply involved in Perot’s campaign will cleave to either Bush or Clinton. Many clearly feel betrayed, and are unlikely to be mollified by Perot’s post-withdrawal murmurs about helping to subsidize a third party. This deep-seated alienation virtually guarantees that one legacy of the 1992 election will be the lowest turnout in American history and, probably, a seething to float uneasily on the edge of the political system until continued economic stress brings them explosively back into it. To the extent Perot’s name remains on the ballot in certain states, another wild card is added. With both major party presidential candidates likely to garner high negative ratings from many voters, how many of those who do , vote will opt for this strange new form of “none of the above” and skew results in closely contested states? Other, more sinister possibilities are also very real. The most perplexing aspect of Perot’s notably Delphic campaign involved testimony he declined to make in public to Massachusetts Senator Kerry’s Select Committee on American P.O.W./M.I.A.s and his mysterious missions to negotiate with the Vietnamese. Rightly or wrongly, it is a fact that millions of Americans including the leaders of a dense network of veterans groups are convinced that the U.S. left prisoners behind when it disengaged from Indochina. It is also indisputable that Senator Kerry’s tumultuous hearings have produced some so far not widelyheralded, but utterly damning new testimony and documents about the U.S. government’s posture in this matter. Many of these people see Ross Perot as their champion. If Perot’s awkward withdrawal, with its dark hints about a hopeless economic situation and assurances from prominent columnists that “there is more to be told about why he quit” leads to the public perception of a forced “dirty tricks” withdrawal as some random news interviews with former Perot supporters suggest is indeed occurring analogous to other legends about fallen epic heroes that often flourish in the popular imagination when no sensible explanation is offered, then American mass politics may become very strange looking indeed. It is best therefore to acknowledge that the fireball out of the Lone Star State blazed past too swiftly for us to properly focus on it. Yet, instead of shrugging and continuing, it would be prudent to take a second look at the now tediously familiar stereotypes from the Perot camp: a portrait of a High Tech Cincinnatus, painted by Norman Rockwell after a sketch by Remington; from his opponents in the White House and both major parties: Ross Peron, The Man Who Would be King; Hercule Perot, World’s Greatest Private Investigator, etc. Though it was largely crowded out during the campaign by more conventionally stylized political issues -especially the tax question, where the Texan clearly wavered between forums Perot in his public statements over the last decade had begun to elaborate a serious, if, in my opinion, incomplete critique of American economic policy and practice. In contrast to both Bush and Clinton, he was willing to tackle the sovereign reality of American life today the fact, manifested most strikingly in the divorce of top management compensation from corporate performance, of persisting and pervasive mismanagement. Unlike the “free market” ideologues who dominate the Bush administration \(and with some qualifications, will control outwas prepared to look seriously at the “organized capitalism” of Japan or West Germany for ideas on how to restructure the American economy. That dangers attach to such efforts goes without saying; nor it should hardly be necessary to add does it follow that Perot was the right person for the job even if he offered more to think about on such issues than anyone else. Now, however, he is gone from the race. With both parties pursuing, in many senses, business as usual, the critical question of mismanagement is fated to drop from sight amidst bipartisan consensus on a trade treaty with Mexico that, as the Texas billionaire alone could afford to say, makes it far easier for American firms to switch rather than fight. Perot’s inchoate and incomplete views about how to restructure the economy developed out of his experiences as a major innovator in the computer service and software industry. His earliest ideas, concentrated on internal business organization, appear to have been radicalized by his experiences on the front line of a declining empire in Iran, in 1979, and at. General Motors in the mid-1980s. The GM encounter then melded in a curious way with political conflicts growing out of Perot’s involvement with the P.O.W./MIA issue to produce an increasingly critical attitude toward Republican economic policies and a bitter personal break with George Bush, whom Perot clearly regards as the incarnation of cautious bureaucratic managerialism . Seeing this, of course, requires that one acknowledge Perot’s formidable business skills, and, though it is clear that most voters did, there were certainly many who considered him nothing more than a “welfare billionaire.” But this charge is just close enough to the truth to be seriously misleading. I tunnelled through a mass of documents and studies from the late sixties and early seventies, 4 AUGUST 7, 1992
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