WASHINGTON — ROSS PEROT'S presidential campaign has taken off like a Texas gusher, but what does this self-made billionaire really stand for?
The tart-tongued Texan, who denounces "waste, fraud, and abuse" in Washington, has won support from millions of Americans.
Yet his policies on everything from national health care to defense lack the details voters usually demand.
For instance: Is Mr. Perot an environmentalist? Or would he sacrifice the environment to create jobs?
At a briefing this week in Washington three of the nation's top environmental lawyers were asked what a Perot White House would mean for the nation's rivers, lakes, and air. All three admitted they did not have the faintest idea.
Perot expresses some impatience with all the questions about policy. He told ABC-TV: "I don't have a written position paper on every little thing anybody wants to know about. Give me a little time and I will. In my sleep, I can put together better positions than they [George Bush or Bill Clinton] have."
Yet when the nation's top editors, meeting recently in Washington, asked Perot over and over to explain how he would tackle the drug problem, he complained, "Do we have to be rude and adversarial?"
But he gave few specifics.
Even so, the broad outlines of a Perot presidency are beginning to emerge as the 50-state petition drive to put his name on the November ballot as an independent candidate pushes ahead.
Perot says that, upon arriving in Washington, he would roll up his sleeves with Congress and immediately start solving problems. He is critical of President Bush for trying to bully Congress, even though it is an equal branch of government.
As he told a C-Span audience: "You'll see Congress and the White House dancing together like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers used to, as opposed to throwing rocks at one another all day."
To ensure that cooperation, Perot would first negotiate on an issue, such as illegal drugs, with congressional leaders.
Then he would go directly to the American people via a TV "electronic town meeting" to explain his policy proposal in great detail. Then he would ask the public to send a "laser-like message" to Congress to move fast.
Though details are often missing, here's how Perot would deal with several areas:
* Federal deficits. The red ink has gotten deeper under the Bush administration. Perot says he could wipe out the present $400 billion deficit with a simple, four-part plan.
First, he would track down $180 billion a year in government waste, fraud, and abuse. Second, he would collect an extra $100 billion a year in taxes by improving collection methods at the Internal Revenue Service. It has "the world's oldest computer system," he says, and special interests don't want it fixed.
Third, $100 billion would come from asking the Europeans and Japanese to pay for more of their own defenses. Finally, at least $20 billion would come from dropping high income people like himself from social security and medicare rolls, he says.
* Environment. Perot's exact positions are not known, but he says: "If the financial pump breaks, you don't have any money to take care of the gray [spotted] owl. Everybody understands that. First things first. You work your way down the list."
* Abortion. Perot is pro-choice.
* Foreign aid. Perot says "we don't have the money any more" to help everyone in trouble. So he would target aid to crisis areas, the most important right now being the former Soviet Union.
He explains: "We have a hungry bear [and] if the situation gets too bad ... that could cause us to have a new cold war.... That costs a whole lot more than helping Russia become a successful democratic series of republics."
* Illegal drugs. Perot says he spent a year studying the drug problem.
He concluded: "If we don't get rid of drugs, we will ruin our country. It's that simple. We have no choice. So there are two things you can do."
First: Educate people. "That's the easy part."
Second: Get tough on suppliers. "That's going to be a tough, dirty business. You're going to have to explain it in detail to the American people.
"You're going to have to make sure they have the stomach for it. Then you can do it. But ... that won't be pretty."
* Pay raises. Perot would require the people to vote on pay raises for the president and Congress.
* Perks. Perot wants fringe benefits like cheap haircuts, prescription drugs, and gymnasiums eliminated on Capitol Hill.
* Low voter turnout. Perot thinks more people would vote if elections were held on weekends instead of Tuesdays.
* Competitiveness. Perot would target industries, like integrated circuits, to help them compete with Japan and Europe.
* Foreign trade. He says American trade officials "get out-traded, out-negotiated." Perot demands a level playing field.