Go ahead and say it: Pat who?
Easy to snicker at Ross Perot's choice to be his running mate: Bearded, burly Pat Choate, a Mr. Anonymous unknown beyond Beltway think tanks or his Maypearl, Texas, hometown.
OK, so Choate's no political slamdunk that will cause terror in the Dole and Clinton camps. Or jar Perot's ratings out of single digits.
It'll take more than the half-million bucks Perot spent on Tuesday night's CBS infomercial to make Pat Choate a household name. Maybe Ross should invest in a zillion bumper stickers: "CHOATE AS IN VOTE."
After all, Perot recruited everybody but the janitor in his Dallas headquarters to play veep. When no A-list candidate (former Sens. David L. Boren and Warren B. Rudman, Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia) wanted to fly this kamikaze mission, Perot thumbed desperately through his Rolodex.
"Hmmm, what about ol' Pat?" Perot may have mused. "He's not busy. At least he and I speak the same language."
Yes, they do. And that's why, despite all conventional scoffing, I consider Pat Choate an excellent pick as Perot's wingman.
The two fit like tacos and salsa. And they may yet give heartburn to mainstream pols.
If Choate's a zero on the People magazine celebrity scale, he shares Perot's anti-establishment sassiness: Washington's broke, the pols are crooked bamboozlers, we can fix it. They're a couple of shady-tree mechanics who want under the hood.
Choosing Choate is a sure-fire tip Perot will go after Patrick J. Buchanan's forgotten voters -- blue-collar rebels turned off by traditional pols, resentful over dwindling paychecks, angry their jobs are going overseas. Those "peasants with pitchforks" who toasted Buchanan in the New Hampshire snows are a lost platoon ignored by major parties.
So far, Perot hasn't gotten their tune right. I couldn't believe how boring his 30-minute infomercial was. Ross pitched his spiel to a gurgling baby named "Alma." He'd fix the tax system: "Debug, optimize, integrate, pilot test, computer analyze!" cried Perot. "Alma, the future's bright!"
The last picture was of Alma, deep in snoozeland. Can't blame her.
But Pat Choate gives Ross intellectual fizz. He's no Adm. James ("I'm Out of Ammo") Stockdale, Perot's 1992 mate. Like Perot, he's a conspiracy-sniffing maverick. One Choate book, "Agents of Influence," accused Japanese lobbyists of buying off Washington's power brokers. Choate wasn't bashful about naming names, which blew his $150,000 consultant's job.
And like Perot, Choate is obsessed with the dwindling U.S. manufacturing jobs. Both blame Clinton's foreign-trade deals. They co-wrote a book, "Save Your Job, Save Your Country: Why NAFTA Must Be Stopped Now." Choate coached Perot before his debate with Vice President Al Gore -- the giant sucking sound was Perot vanishing down the drain.
Sure, Gore left Perot for dead on the CNN studio floor. But Perot and Choate can claim they were right to badmouth the North American Free Trade Agreement. Instead of the 200,000 jobs Clinton predicted, the Labor Department admits 68,000 jobs were lost last year to Mexico.
I doubt Ross and Pat would be shy about bringing up those embarrassing numbers if they get to play the debating game with the big boys. Will they get the chance?
To me, that's a no-brainer. Perot belongs in the Sept. 26 TV debate with President Clinton and Republican rival Bob Dole, just as Choate merits a chance to argue with GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and Gore. Perot's 1992 finish and $30 million of federal campaign money make him a player for at least one debate.
Above all, the public deserves the ferment and sizzle Perot (Choate, too) brings to these sparring sessions. I'm no fan of Perot's egotistical weirdness. But he'd challenge Dole's pie-in-the-sky tax scam and call Clinton's bluff on his bogus promises. Scratch Perot, the debate's a snore.
OK, Choate's no bell-ringer celeb, certainly no Colin L. Powell, but he adds cerebral zing to the '96 race. He's also a trivia buff's delight. I'd say (alert readers may dispute) Choate's the first bearded national candidate since Benjamin Harrison (1889-97). A trend?
When he introduced Choate on his infomercial, Perot beamed like a TV pitchman unveiling a hot luxury sedan.
"I needed a person who's a fighter, someone who knows the facts cold, a person of integrity and grit," gushed Perot.
"Pat, you're just the person to make this thing work."
"I'm honored, Ross," said Choate serenely. "I'll give it my all. I know Washington. Too many people profit at the public's expense. We'll have a campaign of ideas, choices and solutions."
"Thomas Jefferson must be smiling down on you," cooed Perot.
"We're going to win," said Choate.
"Gonna have fun," said Perot with a zany grin.
He may be right. As for Jefferson, up there in Monticello in the sky, I can guess his reaction:
Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
Pub Date: 9/15/96