Will Ross the Boss Let His Posse Lead?

By , Richard J. Cattani is editor of the Monitor.

ROSS PEROT showed this week he is a power-broker, if not yet a politician. He engineered quite a pair of visitations to Dallas by emissaries from the Bush and Clinton campaigns, each trying to get him not to run, and to endorse their candidate. They would not want to insult Mr. Perot or the chairpersons of his 50 state-campaign organizations. These "volunteers" - Perot's political posse - were to weigh whether Bush or Clinton had moved close enough to Perot's positions and if not whether Perot should reenter the race. Perot will measure whether his volunteers' enthusiasm constitutes a mandate.

If elected, would Perot hoke up one of these "will of the people" exercises before deciding what to do? Whatever happened to the silent agony of leadership?

If Perot wants to run, he can run. And bear the consequences.

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No matter that he had said back in July, when quitting, that his candidacy might throw the contest into the House of Representatives if neither Clinton nor Bush received a majority of electoral votes. The most likely impact of a Perot reentry would be to tighten the race and take victory from Clinton outright. Or the election might go to the House. If it did, it could mean a Clinton victory there unless the GOP were to make unanticipated, heroic gains in the Nov. 3 House races. If Perot wins Texas and the other two are close in electoral votes, Perot could be kingmaker.

Why should the House not make the call? This topic is debated perennially in the schools. The alternative argument usually is that the direct popular vote of the people should determine the outcome of the presidential election. The electoral-college system, which apportions electors from states on the basis of their total legislative delegations (Senate and House, plus three for D.C., 538 in all), favors Republican candidates in the less populous western states. It is the system we have, with the House vote as a backup.

If Perot wants to use his leverage, let him do so. He has some leadership ideas, which he outlines in "United We Stand," his paperback manifesto. One way to eliminate the $330 billion yearly deficit would be to close the public schools, obviously a nonstarter. Instead, "Start at the top," he says. Restrict campaign contributions to $1,000 (easy for a billionaire to say). Give the Federal Election Commission real teeth (it now has half Republican teeth and half Democratic teeth). "Clean up the executive branch": Sell off the 111 civilian aircraft used by federal executives. "Restore confidence in Congress": Slash the $2.8 billion budget that supports the legislature's agencies, gymnasiums, and staffs. "Cut discretionary spending": Cut 15 percent from budgets in two steps, first taking 5 percent from outdated programs and then an across-the-board 10-percent cut from all remaining outlays; this would save $108 billion over five years (he did that in business). "Enact a real deficit reduction law": The government mostly operates by continuing resolutions, not by a budget, so make Congress shape up.

Perot's best campaign line: If company executives performed the way their federal government counterparts have in recent years, they would be fired. "Only the people, the owners of this country," he says, "can make America strong again." He offers to redeem Americans' shares in their political enterprise.

Perot cannot win, but he was able to shake down the Clinton and Bush camps in Dallas.

Has Perot earned a shot at the office? He was only starting to take the scrutiny given Clinton and Bush and dropped out. Should he first have joined the Senate club? Or become governor of a state like Texas? Bush and Clinton are Yale grads, hardly log-splitters from Illinois. Perot's money does not disqualify him, but his sitting out the combat for 10 weeks makes even followers question whether he has fought enough qualifying rounds.

Perot would enliven any debates - in the role of spoiler.

Perot's biggest problem would come if he won. Harry Truman, the unlikely patron saint of '92, said of his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, that Ike would give an order in the Oval Office and nothing would happen. If Washington hasn't been listening to the people, the "shareholders" as Perot calls them, why should it pay attention to the mighty mite from Dallas? -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/92/sep/day30/30192.

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