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He’s now Perot’s director for Idaho and California, and he affably describes the job as “herding cats.” The California members have been particularly restless of late, pressing for a more activist UWSA, but Thompson judges the membership overall as probably “fifty-fifty” for forming a third party. “We’re pragmatists; we want to know where the money will come from.” Thompson added that he is increasingly skeptical of the whole notion of parties, wondering “in the age of television, are parties anachronistic? I don’t know.” A one-time Paul Tsongas delegate, Thompson describes himself now as “anti-partisan.” For him, UWSA is primarily a “hell of a catalyst” for the public discussion of issues and finding “common ground” between the parties. But not all the state organizations are waiting for 1996. The New Jersey chapter was invited to “take over” the essentially moribund state Conservative Party, and is now running more than sixty candidates for the state assembly this November. If they can manage ten percent of the cumulative statewide vote, they’ll be established on the ballot. Their consensus issue is initiative and referendum, and most of the Jerseyites sound like fairly traditional conservatives. Candidate Beverly Kidder is emphasizing debt reduction and patronage reform, and wants to put a stop to the influence of outof-state money and PACs. She described the New Jersey organization as a “conservative, centrist” party, and believes the major parties “are being ruined by the extremes.” Norris Clark, the New Jersey state director, joined UWSA “out of a latent sense that something was wrong” in national politicsand at the encouragement of his wife, Athena, who saw Perot talking on television about the balanced budget and immediately called UWSA. Athena is a Wall Street stockbroker, and she believes a balanced budget will produce an “explosion of growth” in the U.S. economy. President Clinton, she says, betrayed his commitment to a balanced budget, “even though Alan Greenspan sat him down and explained to him how important it is.” Generally more optimistic about world trade her colleagues, she thinks true budget cutting”first a freeze across the board” will come only after campaign finance reform. But in a media age, she sees no need for a third party, citing Perot’s first campaign as evidence: “If you’re saying the right thing you will capture the minds of the people.” The Clarks and Beverly Kidder seem a worldor at least a classaway from two of their New Jersey colleagues, Joe Long and James Spinosa. Also candidates for the state assembly, Long and Spinosa hardly look like professional politicians. Unshaven and casual, Long wore K-Mart cowboy duds, and Spinosa sported a gimme cap, t-shirt and jeans. Long recently retired from his work as a pipefitter \(“local an “unemployed water treatment operator,” having lost his six-year job a year ago over a “patronage deal.” Perot is their candidate, although fresh from Pat Buchanan’s arena denunciation of NAFTA, Long allowed how he might vote for Buchanan if Perot didn’t run. He described himself as a “conservative,” against foreign aid and affirmative action. Spinosa said he is an “ex-liberal Democrat,” but that “liberalism is dead. And you know what killed it? Liberals be lieve they’ve never made a mistake.” Long and Spinosa, like others among the small number of working-class people at the conference, seemed more than a little out of place beneath the professional veneer of UWSA. Nominally conservative, they support school vouchers and privatization, yet they are suspicious of big corporations, specifically their domination of the medical and pharmaceutical industries. They described Perot as a “populist genius,” and were wary of all the other candidates, whom they see simply as the representatives of “big government.” Long dismissed Clinton as a “socialist, with his socialized medicine.” But Spinosa described the common UWSA people as “contrarians,” and said with a sly grin that he is trying to get Noam Chomsky in as a speaker to the group. “Do you know what gargoyles are, on medieval cathedrals?” he asked. “They tell you that gargoyles are there to keep the evil spirits away. But I have my own theory. The common people were too poor and too ugly to be represented by the stained-glass windows, and they needed the gargoyles, so they could talk to God, too. Well, nowwe are the gargoyles.” IN PERSON, there were only a handful of Spinosa’s “gargoyles” at the Dallas conference, but like their architectural namesakes they tended to stick out from the crowd. Max Shaffer was the most obvious. A tall, lanky man dressed in an Uncle Sam suit, he presided over the entryway, where he was almost the only visible sign of political vitality in the otherwise staid conference. \(Outside, welcoming signs Shaffer’s story was simple; the suit had helped him recruit Perot signatures in his southern Illinois neighborhood \(near St. recognize him without it. He acknowl edged frankly that more than his outfit sep arated him from most of the professional people in attendance. Originally from a farm family, he now worked in construc equipment operator \(“mostly backhoe, of his friends are out of work, few could af ford a trip to Dallas, and he thought that they were largely unrepresented either on the stage or in the audience. “We’re what I call the ‘new poor class’; we were barely making it as it is, and now they’ve shipped out the rest of our jobs with NAFTA.” We spoke just after Pat Bucha nan’s jingoistic exhortations, and Shaffer said that he sup posed if Perot weren’t avail able, he could probably vote for Buchanan. “He seems like an `un-politician’ with backbone…we need somebody to go out on a limb for us.” Jobs and the economy were at the center of his concerns, and he believes a third party is inevitable. But he was saddened, based on his own experience, by the speakers’ repeated calls to do away with welfare programs. “If they abolish welfare, what will happen to the poor people? Will we turn them out to the wolves?” But the poor weren’t much with us in Dallas, neither on the floor nor at the dais, and when they were acknowledged at all it was usually with incomprehension \(Dick outright sneers \(Pete Wilson and Phil tur and Jesse Jackson said much of interest to those absent, ordinary working people, and Jackson captured succinctly the redistributive theory of our current policy makers in Washington: “They think the rich are too poor, and the poor are too rich.” Jackson also noted the glaring absence not only from the conference, but from all current political deliberations, of a whole spectrum of America: “Those who could not afford to go to the party, who were never invited, are now told they must pay for the party.” In Dallas at least, a few did attempt to crash. It goes almost without saying that conference attendees were overwhelmingly white; the few black people I spoke to turned out generally to be not members, but visiting observers or local civil servants admitted under Perot’s last-minute fee waiver. A minor embarrassment ensued Continued on p. 1 8 “Liberalism is dead. And you know what killed it? Liberals believe they’ve never made a mistake.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5