Don't Do It, Ross

WHEN Ross Perot announced his decision not to run for president in July, he did so out of principle, he said. A Perot candidacy would distort and confuse the US political process in an important year, he had decided. And he loved America too much to let that happen.

We heartily agreed with Mr. Perot's decision in July. Today we see no reason for the scrappy Texas billionaire to change it. It is hard to see how Perot's return, with no possibility of his being elected, would do anything but distort the political process.

Sad to say, there may be a delusory quality about Perot's new tack. After his recent contrived "town meeting" in Dallas, where paid "volunteers" met to hear the Republican and Democratic delegations talk economics, Perot was elated that the campaign was "off personalities and onto the issues." Perot's chief aid, Orson Swindle, echoed this elation.

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Yet after all Perot has put everyone through, a toss of his hat into the ring would make exactly Ross Perot - not the federal deficit - the main issue. Americans elect a president, not an issue.

A Perot reentry would raise so many questions about the candidate that one would need wings to fly above them all: First, how is one to evaluate this behavior - in and out and into the race? What does this say about a future chief executive?

Second, beyond his deficit-reduction plan, what does Perot believe about the grave social and foreign policy issues of the day? He never did tell us. Since he was spared the inconvenience of a political convention, we still don't know his platform on issues such as abortion.

Third, there's Ross's lifelong problem of working with people. If Perot can't even get along with his professional campaign advisers (recall the departure of Ed Rollins), how is he going to get along with Congress, let alone his chief of staff?

There is a way out. Perot can still save face and serve everyone well. He can announce he won't run. If Perot really cares about the deficit, he can join the serious public-education and lobbying efforts of Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman.

Perot doesn't want history to remember him as a quitter. That's now assured. But he shouldn't become a spoiler, either. -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/92/sep/day30/30204.

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