It Can't Happen Here, Can It?
Jottings in an outsider's political notebook:
1. H. Ross Perot strikes me as a perfect little fascist dictator.
I sense about him nothing more than a haughty, autocratic, overbearing know-it-all. Our flirtation with him as a presidential candidate mirrors our desperation.
A dozen years of Republican rule have made us willing to dismantle our democratic form of government.
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Because of our discontent over the self-aggrandizing rule of Bush/Quayle and the McCain/DeConcini/Keating troika, we seem willing to burn down Washington. We seem bent on the installation of a Star Chamber government.
This is terribly wrong-headed. Perot is not the savior he pretends to be; he is closer to the antichrist.
I think that electing Perot president would be like going on a space voyage with Sigourney Weaver and the Aliens.
2. In this political season, some conversational maneuvers have become impossible to avoid.
Try to get through a single hour of an ordinary day without hearing Perot's name. Wherever you turn, friends want to know if you are going to vote for him.
"I'll vote for him," people keep telling me, "because I want to throw absolutely every one of those people in Washington out." This comes from both Republicans and Democrats. The experts tell us this is a fairly common phenomenon in American politics. It's the year of the outsider, they say, pointing to precedents in George Wallace and John Anderson.
But there is a difference. Wallace and Anderson aspired only to the presidency. Perot clearly believes that spending $1 billion of his own money to fund his campaign will entitle him to become the first American Caesar.
3. Here's an iron rule of politics for you. Don't trust any politician who announces he wants to be your servant. "I want to be the people's servant," Perot says over and over again. My God, what a dangerous wacko. He is a candidate straight from hell and the mind of George Orwell.
If Perot ever gets a foot in the front door of the White House, there will be a whole new class of servants. Number yourself among them.
4. Here's an extreme example of Perot's omnipresence: In the middle of the night, I hear a Las Vegas talk show beamed into KTAR-AM. Art Bell, the host, is telling his listeners that Perot has on that very day appeared in Las Vegas.
"Mr. Perot looks, in person, just the way he does on television," Bell says, excitedly. "There was a wonderful turnout and even though it was 107 degrees out there in the sun I found it was worth the wait just to get to see him." A telephone caller wants to know if talk show host Bell was the profusely sweating man in suit and tie wielding a camcorder toward Perot in the press area.
Bell seems pleased to have been recognized by one of his fans.
"Yes," he says proudly. "That was me in the press area. And I wore a suit because I thought it was a proper occasion for one." Perot was in Vegas for a rally celebrating the filing of petitions to qualify him for the ballot. State rules required the gathering of 9,400 names. Perot's supporters came up with 35,000.
A couple of months before, Perot had demanded on CNN's Larry King Live that if people wanted him to run for president they must gather petitions to put him on the ballot as an independent in all 50 states.
To date, Perot has been qualified in 12 states and there seems little doubt his name will eventually be on the ballot in every state.
5. This has been described as an election year dominated by the nation's talk show hosts.
Perot made his first two national appearances on the King show. King is a perfect foil for politicians because he has the heart and soul of a lickspittle. King's idea of great Americans are Frank Sinatra and Tommy Lasorda, the Los Angeles Dodgers manager.
It is King who may well have set the style that dictates that everyone must address this little weasel as "Mr. Perot."
Perot has also appeared before a fawning but scheming Barbara Walters on the ABC news program 20/20 as well as with the largely irrelevant David Frost.
One talk show host who has not fallen under Perot's spell is Rush Limbaugh. I think the reason is obvious. Limbaugh has an ego that is every bit the equal of Perot's.
Limbaugh is heard for three hours each day on KFYI-AM. Reportedly, he's currently the hottest talk show host in America.
Limbaugh talks critically about Perot almost incessantly, certainly every day. Each time Perot's name is mentioned either by Limbaugh or a caller, music in the background plays the tune "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again."
As you might expect, this tends to grow a trifle tedious. But then, no one ever accused Limbaugh of having a subtle sense of humor.
Limbaugh claims to have a nationwide audience of 12 million listeners. On the very day that Perot was in Las Vegas, Limbaugh revealed to the audience that he was sitting in the Lincoln room of the White House with President George Bush.
Limbaugh loftily revealed that he and the president sat together chuckling while watching television tapes of a Saturday Night Live takeoff on none other than H. Ross Perot.
Nothing remains a secret if Limbaugh blurts it out to his audience, even if it isn't quite the 12 million of which he boasts.
The word about Limbaugh's romp in the White House reached Art Bell in his Las Vegas talk show booth that very night.
Bell was clearly irritated by the news.
While he had been sweltering in a parking lot watching Perot, Limbaugh, someone he regards as an archrival, had been in the White House with George.
"Huumph!" Bell said, in the tone of a maiden spurned. "I find that mo-ooo-oost interesting. Let me think about this a little before I attempt to characterize its meaning."
6. Perot's experience on the Barbara Wa-Wa show was a delicious bit of irony. Perot is clearly accustomed to supplicants. He misunderstood her sing-song manner for weakness and got caught off-guard.
Before Perot realized what he was saying, he had said that he would not knowingly hire either an adulterer or a homosexual. He also added that it would be "unrealistic" to have homosexuals in the military.
Several days later, Perot appeared on NBC's Today program and was confronted by Katie Couric with her own follow-up question about adulterers and homosexuals.
"You are taking a nothing issue and having fun with it," Perot said, clearly irritated. "You have completely misstated my positions." But Perot's position had not been misstated. The questions were right on target.
"This is mud wrestling," Perot said angrily.
In the brief period of Perot's noncandidacy there have already been a half-dozen instances in which Perot has denied making statements in the past that no longer fit his present stance.
There have been several old and weird incidents from his native Texas that show him in an unpleasant light.
Once, during a battle with the Fort Worth daily newspaper, Perot told one of the paper's executives that he had pictures of a staff member in a compromising position.
Perot denies this.
When Judy Miller, columnist for the Dallas Observer, wrote of a plan by Perot to storm houses in black areas in a crackdown against guns, he had a ready answer.
"Check out her reputation," Perot told Michael Kelly of the New York Times.
Perot's modus operandi is about as subtle as a lynch mob.
When confronted with unpleasant facts, he will develop a faulty memory. And if something is truly embarrassing, he is only too willing to turn spiteful and nasty.
Down in Texas, I think they call it "downright mean and dirty."
7. I went over to San Francisco. Jerry Brown was speaking at a media conference at the University of San Francisco. The big rooom was packed with journalists, most of them from alternative publications. The outer lobby was filled with people selling tee shirts and how-to books on journalism.
Brown was in the midst of an impassioned speech when I arrived. It all seemed so unreal.
Brown was giving it his best shot, and he's real good at what he does. But the message wasn't hitting home.
"You are writing obscure, esoteric information for the few," Brown told the journalists at one point. "The real crisis is that you are not part of the public discourse for the masses." Brown spoke about the poor and how journalists no longer write about them simply because people don't want to read about them. He was right, of course.
"Don't you realize what's happened in this country?" Brown asked rhetorically. "We have a country in which people without access to power are ghosts.
"We have a situation in which the people at the top are talking to themselves. All of you reporters are caught up in it. So am I." A small, intense woman with jet-black hair shouted into a microphone set up for the audience: "Political coverage today is elitist and the majority of us in the streets don't even bother to read the stories when they do get written." I like Jerry Brown. If I were to pick an outsider to vote for, he'd be my man. But he never had a chance.
There is a story about Brown that's always stuck with me.
When he was governor of California, Brown once concluded a speech by telling his listeners that he had reread the last chapter of Tolstoy's War and Peace that very morning.
"You take a look at it," Brown said. "It will indicate that the generals neither knew what they were doing nor did those that followed them." Brown remains convinced from his reading of history ranging from the Peloponnesian wars to Vietnam that politicians are always as ignorant as their consituents.
The difference between a Jerry Brown and an H. Ross Perot is that Brown is honest enough to admit his failings.
8. The most frightening thing I've read during this campaign is an interview Perot did with the New York Times. They ran it on the front page.
I don't remember Perot's exact words to reporter Michael Kelly, but I can't forget the inference.
You can write anything you want about me in your paper, Perot said. It doesn't matter. Tomorrow there will be another story in its place. People forget.
I'll give Perot that. He's right about people. They do forget, and much too quickly. . . .
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