SQUIRRELED away in a Dallas office building, a team led by former Kodak executive John White works on one of the most-sought items of the 1992 campaign: Ross Perot's position papers.
Mr. Perot, the Texas computer entrepreneur whose presidential campaign zoomed ahead of President Bush's in a political nanosecond, vows to tell everyone his policy positions within weeks.
Meanwhile, he chides reporters for trying to pin him down too quickly on how he would fix the nation's economy, repair the educational system, and trim the fat out of government. "Give me a little time," he pleads.
Analysts say that Perot's followers, now in the millions, are drawn by two major appeals - neither directly related to specific issues.
First, he simply is not one of those other two fellows, George Bush or Bill Clinton. Frustrated with both major parties, many voters are pleading, "Give us someone new. "Second, Perot talks the talk, and walks the walk, of a can-do guy who will shake things up. He promises action, and his successful business background and blunt words tell Americans that if he gets to Washington, big things, exciting things, will happen.
As Perot gets better-known, Americans are taking sides on the feisty billionaire, even without details on issues.
For example, surveys by two magazines, Fortune and Inc., find that Perot is cleaving the business community into two groups: those who want to protect what they have and those who want change. Executives prefer Bush
Among big business executives with much at stake in the current government-industrial complex, Bush leads Perot, 78 percent to 11 percent, in a Fortune survey. But among small, growing firms, executives prefer Perot's shake-em-up style by a 43-to-40 percent margin, according to Inc.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters, Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) of New York predicted not long ago that once Perot reveals specifics of his plans, his support will erode. Meanwhile, for those who cannot wait for his official position papers, a survey of recent interviews with Perot already provides evidence about which way his presidency would go in several major areas:
Abortion. "When the dust clears, it's a woman's choice," Perot says. But he doesn't condone promiscuity. "We're not rabbits. Each human life is precious," he says. "Let's take reponsibility for our actions...."
Jobs. Perot calls this "the core issue." He says: "We're losing whole industries to other countries. We cannot be a superpower unless we can pay our bills."
He notes that small businesses create most new jobs. Government must find a way to get them more credit and capital, he says. Perot also advocates mentoring by retired businessmen for small businesses, especially in the inner cities.
As for big business, Perot would loosen "shackles," such as anti-trust laws, which are hurting US competitiveness.
Free trade. The United States, Canada, and Mexico are negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement to increase the flow of goods across their borders. But Perot is worried. He says American workers could be hurt.
He recently said: "Just to suddenly throw the doors open will really, really, really wipe out the jobs of millions of people in this country."
He also said that Mexican labor is "a 25-year-old with little or no health-care expense working for a dollar an hour. You cannot compete with that in the USA, period."
Priorities. Perot says: "We've just spent the last 45 years worrying about Russia. Now [let's] spend a little time worrying about home."
Japan and Germany. Perot frets about the growing economic might of both nations. Five years ago he said: "We've got to beat Japan. We've got to beat Germany."
Perot objects that the US economy has borne an unfair share of the costs of protecting those two nations from military aggression. "They have had an enormous economic advantage because they didn't have to pay for their defense," he says. Perot suggests presenting each with an annual bill for $50 billion to offset US military expenses.
Environment. If the choice is jobs versus the spotted owl, as it was recently in the Pacific Northwest, the owl might be well advised to take flight in a Perot presidency. When asked about balancing the economy and the environment, he told a Washington Post reporter:
"Let's assume you don't have a job and I don't have a job and the only thing we can do is cut every tree in the area and ship it to Japan to feed our children. We're going to want to cut every tree in the area and ship it to Japan to feed our children.... Nobody will think about the spotted owl if they're starving, except maybe to eat him."
Pay raises. Perot says the people should vote on all proposed pay raises for the president and Congress.
Taxes. Perot concedes higher taxes might someday be necessary, but he says it is unlikely.
"You've got to stop raising taxes," he says.
"You've got to bring discipline. So unless there's some kind of incredible emergency that I can't envision, absolutely not [raise taxes].... The more money you give these boys to spend, the more they'll spend."
Balanced budget amendment. "You don't need an amendment," he says. Instead, Perot would support a new law like Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, mandating a balanced budget. But this time the law would have no loopholes. Halt deficit spending
Perot says that if the two major political parties want to get rid of him right now, they should quickly halt all deficit spending. At the same time, he says they must eliminate the power of special-interest money in Washington.
Federal workers. Perot says Washington employs too many people, from the White House to Capitol Hill. "It's huge. It's too big," he says. If elected, he would prune staffs and focus on front-line workers who get the job done.