Monday, June 27, 2016

We are hearing the echoes of Ross Perot

A happy 86th birthday to Ross Perot, who became a billionaire (a real one) by nurturing electronics companies and eventually selling them. He also ran for president in 1992 and 1996 and is best remembered for opposing NAFTA, telling American workers to listen for “the giant sucking sound” of jobs moving south to Mexico. They didn’t believe him at first; now they do.

Other themes of his campaigns also resonated with voters, including a balanced federal budget, opposition to those who would deny Second Amendment rights and a contempt for Congress. In a speech before the National Press Club in March 1992, he declared that “this city has become a town filled with sound bites, shell games, handlers, media stuntmen who posture, create images, talk, shoot off Roman candles, but don’t ever accomplish anything. We need deeds, not words, in this city.”

A score and four years later, with little having changed, we have the echo of Mr. Perot’s campaign, with a few million illegal aliens thrown into the mix. (His second campaign didn’t get nearly as much attention; everybody felt they’d seen the show before.)

In the summer of ‘92, Mr. Perot led in the polls. That changed after he left the race, then jumped back in, then was undermined by political operatives he had hired (sound familiar?). Mr. Perot drew almost 20 million votes as an independent but zip in the electoral college. The consensus is that enough Perot votes would have gone Republican to give George H.W. Bush a second term in the White House and perhaps ending the political career of a sleazy guy named Clinton, who won with 43% of the vote.

Perhaps the real legacy of Perot’s campaign was framing issues that allowed the GOP to seize control of the House of Representatives in 1994 with the “Contract With America.” Most Republicans, following the siren call of big business, supported NAFTA, sowing the seeds for current debates about trade deals. But hear the Perot echo in a recent Donald Trump speech:

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