WILL the Ross Perot movement, United We Stand America, be able to stand united in the coming years? Are Mr. Perot's followers a citizen's lobby, a third political party, or a one-time protest group? The answer to these questions probably depends on how well the Clinton administration faces the federal deficit and national debt, the issues that Perot ran on.
Yet to stay viable, both United We Stand America and Perot himself must mature politically. The test of United We Stand America will be how broad-based it becomes, and how well it responds to changes in the political landscape. Will it develop a set of articulated principles - or still reflect a generalized voter dissatisfaction with both "trickle down" and "tax and spend" economics, and with government gridlock? Can United We Stand America take some of the plans Perot says are "lying all over Washington " and show how they can be made practical - at the national, state, and local levels?
Perot may have to attract a more diverse set of individuals to his movement. According to spokesman Orson Swindle, Perot will be "the spiritual leader" of United We Stand America. But any real third party, or even serious citizens' lobby, must cultivate many more voices and options. Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party attracted a wide range of political and intellectual talent, including large numbers of college presidents, heads of scientific groups, and social reformers like Jane Addams. Senators such as Albert Beveridge of Indiana spoke eloquently for Roosevelt's third-party principles.
Grass-roots movements must eventually move past their initial "charismatic leader" phase. Over time, the ideas and policies of an entire party must be filtered through more than the sensibilities of one person. Who will become the political heirs of Perot? Perot's running mate Vice Adm. James Stockdale says America needs a third party. Yet will he remain Perot's No. 2? Almost surely not. Perot could join forces with former Senators Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman - reformers who are also trying to find wa ys to bring the federal deficit under control.