He couldn't help himself: Ross's back

HE'S back. Yep, same barn-door ears, same $8 haircut, same cockeyed Alfred E. Neuman grin.

Once again, Ross Perot looked like a peddler on Home Shopping Network.


Cackling gleefully, he held in one hand a poster showing his 800-number. The other hand waved the address to send 15 bucks in "checks, cash or money orders."

"Is this a shameless promotion or what?" Mad Man Ross chuckled happily.


On TV sets in Little Rock it surely looked like Bill Clinton's Bad Dream.

By somersaulting back into politics and rejuvenating his "United We Stand" operation, Mr. Perot made it clear that for four years he'll be a gadfly buzzing around President Clinton's backside.

Already Ross is nudging Bill with a good-cop-bad-cop routine.

In one breath, he coos, "I don't want to coach the new president. I feel sorry for the president-elect. He's in the saturation bombing phase."

In another moment, he sarcastically holds up a headline, "Clinton Faces Harsh Budget Realities, Finds He Must Abandon Campaign Promises."

"There are no new budget realities," Mr. Perot scolds the president-elect.

"If you believe that, folks, you believe in the Tooth Fairy."

Then he jabs Mr. Clinton's choice for commerce secretary, Ron Brown, who lobbied for Japanese firms. "Kind of odd to hire people who worked for the other side to be in charge of free, fair trade."


Biff, bam. Sorry, Bill, old pal.

What is ol' Ross -- who's lived through more reincarnations than Shirley MacLaine -- up to in the one-zillionth twist of the Perot soap opera?

Does he "miss the limelight," as constant critic Ed Rollins charges? Or is he motivated to hold Mr. Clinton's policies to the fire?

Ross Perot's answer: He flips on his hand-held tape recorder for an ear-splitting chorus of Patsy Cline's "Crazy."

"That's dedicated to Marlin Fitzwater and all the people who declared me crazy," whoops Ross with his Hee-Haw laugh.

In truth, Mr. Perot now has a big wad of capital to flash, along with his $2 billion, in the political poker game.


The surprising 19 percent he drew in the 1992 election gives Mr. Perot, who never needs an ego booster, tremendous clout in the dynamics of the Clinton era.

He's a player.

The threat of Mr. Perot running for president again will hang over the Clinton Oval Office like a thundercloud. It turns his "United We Stand" mob into a powerful army in exile. It strikes fear among Republican 1996 wannabes Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm.

Sure, Mr. Perot shrugs off another made-on-TV blitz like his wackily effective '92 run. "I'd say I'd fail if I have to run again," Mr. Perot said. "We don't have four years to wait."

The prospect of Mr. Perot as '96 Republican candidate was ballyhooed in an Evans-Novak column, which reported Mr. Perot offered to "help rebuild the Republican Party" in a meeting with Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

"Never said anything about rebuilding the party," scoffed Mr. Perot. "It was a private, constructive meeting."


Senator Specter confirms Mr. Perot's version. "We talked about the deficit and the economy, not politics," said Mr. Specter. "We didn't talk about Mr. Perot running in 1996. Look, we've got too many problems in 1993."

On Larry King's CNN show Monday -- yep, Larry & Ross, an item again -- Mr. Perot whipsawed the idea of becoming the GOP candidate. "That's like asking me if I'll jump over the Empire State Building. Won't happen.

"Those are the same people who said I was crazy."

Crazy, in the always accurate cliche, like a fox.

The potential of Mr. Perot running again for the White House is a cocked and loaded gun -- same power that Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson wielded to affect policies in "out" years. And Mr. Perot, a guy who decided to run twice in 60 days, is far more unpredictable.

So, yes, I think Ross will run again. A replay of 1992's televised celebrityhood will be irresistible. Only a glowing Clinton tenure and a revived economy -- both longshots -- would keep Ross at bay.


Meanwhile, he'll be a force that can't be ignored with his multi-million volunteers and electronic town halls. After all, which '92 candidate was on the money with warnings of doom?

Mr. Perot was right about the $300 billion deficit that astonishes Mr. Clinton's team. Right about lobbyists, now infesting Mr. Clinton's circle. Right about a gas tax. Right about Washington's unshrinkable perks, pensions and staffs.

No wonder Mad Man Ross looked giddily smug, eager and frisky. Now he'll have the muscle to torment congressfolks in their districts. But it's Mr. Clinton who'll feel the Perot sting.

"It's fashionable to blame a new president," Mr. Perot said gently. "Let's give him some time."

That could be six months. Or five minutes. It's that simple, folks.

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.