WHAT would an America run by H. Ross Perot look like? Mr. Perot, the latest candidate running for president, would run America from the top down as a business executive runs a business. He is a manager who wants to apply what he calls "the engineering process" not merely to trestles and cantilevers or electronic circuitry, but to political decisions governing our lives, liberty, and property.
At the same time, Perot says he would want considerable feedback from the stockholders (the voters). In his March 18 speech to the National Press Club, in an interview the same day with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN, and on the March 25 Phil Donahue Show, Perot outlined plans to replace the representative institutions of a constitutional republic with what he calls an "electronic town hall." Apparently this would be some sort of electronic plebiscite in which the public pushed buttons to pick among different plan s - possibly while President Perot himself described the plans on television.
Perot told Mr. Lamb that he wouldn't let the Constitution stand in the way of federal election reforms he wants: a time limit on campaigns and a ban on exit polls. Perot revealed something of his mindset when Lamb suggested that Perot's proposals would violate the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech and press. Perot replied: "We'd probably have to get about 30 lawyers on that one." If there's an obstacle, just send in the hired-gun attorneys. "We can amend this dang Constitution, if we have
to," Perot told Lamb.
Nor would Perot let the Constitution interfere with his policies on street crime and on drugs. He told the National Press Club how much he admired authoritarian-run, crime-free Singapore ("a jewel of a city; when you're there, you're looking at tomorrow").
The Constitution protects citizens against warrantless searches and confiscation of firearms; it requires "equal protection of the laws," regardless of race. During a crime wave in Dallas in 1986, Perot set up round-table meetings between police officers and people in the news media. In those meetings, according to Todd Mason, former Dallas bureau chief for Business Week, in his 1990 biography of the businessman: "Perot espoused cordoning off minority neighborhoods and searching door-to-door for weapons and narcotics."
On NBC's "Today Show" on Oct. 25, 1989, Perot called for suspending constitutional rights and declaring martial law to combat the drug trade: "You can declare civil war and the drug dealer is the enemy. There ain't no bail ... [drug dealers] go to POW camp. You can start dealing with the problem in straight military terms."
PEROT would be the Boss of America. The economy in America is a process of interchange between thousands of separate business firms as well as consumers. But when Lamb asked Perot about economic issues, his answer revealed that he would treat each company as if it were a division of one big Perot-managed firm: USA, Inc. "You're going to have to work on [the jobs] problem on an industry-by-industry basis," he said. "You're going to then have to have a plan company-by-company, on the big companies in troub le." Such a national industrial policy would make as many mistakes as Soviet-style central planning. Can-do claims and executive-suite jargon can't disguise what amounts to subsidizing losers.
In fact, subsidizing losers is Perot's program for education as well. Rather than advocating parental choice and privatization that would break the debilitating monopoly of the public-school system, Perot advocates reforms that haven't worked, like higher pay for teachers.
Doron Levin, in his 1989 book "Irreconcilable Differences," describes Perot during his 1983 education-reform efforts in Texas as supporting higher taxes "like some New Deal Democrat" in order to give more money to public-school teachers and administrators.
Last but not least, under Perot there would be a crackdown:
* On people who dare to invest abroad. ("[Capitalists'] job is to create and protect jobs in America - not Mexico," Perot says. Such investment may bother Perot because it would fall outside the control of Perot's hands-on management of the US economy.)
* On people who dare to defend themselves and their families with firearms. (Perot told the National Press Club that he favors gun controls "much tighter" than the Brady Bill.)
* On young people who dare to evade compulsory national service, building roads or emptying bedpans for the federal government. (Perot said in a 1983 interview in the Saturday Evening Post that the US government should make it a "requirement" that "every 18-year-old" young man or woman should do one to two years of such work.)
* On company presidents who dare to earn more than Perot finds acceptable. (Perot says he favors confiscating CEO salaries that he considers excessive.)
* On people who dare to pay less in taxes than the IRS thinks they should. (Perot told the National Press Club he wants the IRS to acquire a "decent computer system" that would ensure that it would take in $100 billion more in taxes.)
Why does a feisty, outspoken business executive have such a Big Government agenda? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Perot is America's first poverty billionaire. Perot made his money by satisfying not ordinary customers in the marketplace, but welfare-state bureaucrats. He developed and administered computer systems to process Medicare and Medicaid claims in states around the country. Perot's Big Government agenda is really no surprise.
H. Ross Perot might well make Amtrak run on time. But he'd run over our liberties to do it.