APPEARING ON HIS FAVORITE FORUM, LARRY KING LIVE, last spring, Ross Perot seized the opportunity to tell the American people how to save the medicare system from certain fiscal ruin. “Now then, instead of doing it in the show-business fashion that everything is done now, let’s do it carefully, logically, and rationally,” Perot said. “There is a way to do it.”
Thank goodness—but what could it be? A tax increase? The public will hate it. Controls on medical costs? The doctors will go nuts. Larger payments by patients? The retirees will revolt. None of the above. Perot’s solution: “To fix medicare, you’ve got to have”—drumroll, please—“a detailed plan to fix it …” Next problem.
In fact, the next problem for American politics is Ross Perot himself. His latest brainchild, the Reform Party, will hold national conventions in August and will announce its presidential candidate on August 18. He has said (on Larry King again) that he’ll run if chosen, but his popularity isn’t what it was back in 1992, when he led the presidential polls in the spring and won 19 percent of the vote in November. But even if the Reform Party standard-bearer is former Colorado governor Dick Lamm, the party’s ideas (and most of its money) will come from Ross Perot.
We know what his money is worth, but what about his ideas? Does he analyze problems well, and do his answers make sense? Look again at his discussion of medicare on the Larry King show. His solution is so vague as to be meaningless, and his analysis of the problem—condemning show-business politics—is totally disingenuous. Ross Perot is a master of show-business politics. He was the first politician to recognize the potential of appearing on shows like Larry King’s. He was the first politician of the modern era to make interesting, serious TV commercials. His chosen role, the billionaire patriot as common man, is one of the best acts around. Ross Perot, the character, is such a strong image that it keeps most of the attention focused on his personality rather than on what he stands for.
For Perot, this is just as well. Over the years, he has inserted himself into five major issues: drugs, education reform, balancing the budget, NAFTA, and political reform. His intentions are good, but an examination of his record reveals that his judgments and his achievements are not. His most valuable contribution has been to make the public more aware of problems, but when it comes to fixing them, Perot’s solutions have not held up over time.
The War on Drugs In 1981 Governor Bill Clements picked Perot to lead an attack on drug trafficking. Perot knows how to bring an issue to public attention; this time he did it by mobilizing