Bored Perot feeds the lions at media-candidate circus

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DALLAS -- It's simple. Stay with me now and we'll be dancin' like Fred and Ginger in no time:

A bored Texas billionaire, unable to realize his egomaniacal goal of becoming president of the United States, decides to become a big pain in the caboose to those who can.

Which is the essential reasoning behind Ross Perot's gala meeting being held down here starting today.

All the Republican presidential candidates are coming. President Clinton is sending a representative. Jesse Jackson will be here and Newt Gingrich is on board.

Why are the candidates coming? Because hundreds of reporters are here.

Why are hundreds of reporters here? Because the candidates are coming.

Sure that's circular reasoning. But what else is politics about?

As one adviser to a Republican presidential candidate explained to a reporter: "It has less to do with Perot, or with the group he represents, than with the media attention. If this was in Houston and sponsored by Hakeem Olajuwon, and it had the same media interest, we'd take that opportunity, too."

Besides, what do the presidential candidates have to lose? Their dignity? Candidates jettison that after the first 50 or 60 fund-raisers.

The candidates will get to do what they do best, which is make speeches to a crowd.

And Ross Perot will get to do what he does best, which is make the candidates sweat.

Perot got 19 percent of the presidential vote in 1992, and although polls indicate he would not do that well today -- a number of his former followers now consider him to be excessively goofy -- he might still attract several million votes in 1996.

So will he run as a third-party candidate and get enough Republican votes to re-elect Bill Clinton?

Or is his real purpose to make the other candidates out-grovel each other in order to win his support?

We don't know. He gives hints both ways. There is only one thing we do know for certain:

If Ross Perot does run, he will not become president of the United States. No way and for a number of reasons:

A number of his ideas are excessively goofy.

Take one of his centerpiece plans: A national, electronic town hall to revise the tax code.

Under this plan, the experts would debate a new tax code on TV and then Americans would electronically vote from home. Their votes would go to their representatives in Washington who would instantly do their will.

"Isn't that better than being in gridlock all year like we are right now?" Perot says. "Build a consensus and move, move, move. Act, act, act."

Why is this a bad idea? Well, as Perot once lamented: "Twenty-five percent of college seniors in Texas can't name the country on Texas' border. That's scary."

Want to know something scarier? Those same people would be voting on a new tax code.

Then there's Perot's paranoia, which is fueled by his desire to be far more important than he is. How important does he think he is? Important enough so that foreign countries are plotting to kill him.

When he was involved in his crusade to defeat the North American Free Trade Agreement, it wasn't enough for him merely to engage in a debate on the subject.

No, Perot claimed that six Cuban assassins might have been hired by a "Mafia-like" group to kill him in order to get the treaty passed. (The treaty did pass, but Perot lived.)

"There is a risk involved in all we we're doing," Perot told a crowd at an anti-NAFTA rally. "I am willing to stand up here like a clay pigeon in public."

He also believes that in 1972 the North Vietnamese put him on a hit-list and that in 1992 George Bush and the Republicans conspired to disrupt his daughter's wedding.

Why does he believe people are out to get him? Because he does the right thing, stands up for what he believes in, doesn't engage in "smoke and mirrors" politicking and tells the truth even at the risk of alienating people.

Which is why he knows he will never be elected president, a defect in our democratic process.

When Larry King asked him recently if he liked America's two-party system, Perot replied: "No, what we want is a system that works."

He did not specifically rule out a monarchy.

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