ROSS PEROT has gone into his "saturation bombing" mode against the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
During his independent presidential campaign, Mr. Perot used the military term as a metaphor for the massive TV campaign to inform voters on issues that he promised to conduct if elected.
Although he finished third in the race, the Dallas billionaire capitalized on his 19 percent share of the vote by establishing United We Stand America (UWSA). The political advocacy organization has signed on more than 1 million dues-paying members in five months. Perot has already used UWSA as an alternative bully pulpit to attack President Clinton's economic program as long on taxes and short on spending cuts.
Now he is turning his attention to NAFTA. During the campaign, Perot was the only candidate to oppose the treaty that would add Mexico to the existing free trade union of Canada and the United States. He predicted then that, upon passage of NAFTA, voters would hear a "giant sucking sound" of American jobs moving south.
The sound voters have been hearing lately is Perot denouncing NAFTA on "Donahue," "...talking with David Frost," and the network morning TV shows. In addition, Perot plans to broadcast his third half-hour infomercial since January. "Keeping Your Job in the USA" will air Sunday on NBC.
Darcy Anderson, UWSA national director, said the group has not ordered its priorities, which also include pushing for a line-item veto, and passing a balanced-budget amendment, term limitations, and campaign reforms. But NAFTA is an immediate concern because it is coming up for action.
Representatives of the three nations are now negotiating side agreements on environmental and labor issues. They are expected by the end of June, a congressional staff member says.
Enabling legislation could be submitted to Congress in September. That would begin a 90-day countdown, by the end of which Congress must vote on the legislation; a vote, though, is expected much sooner. The treaty is set to take effect New Year's Day. If Congress has failed to pass it by then, it could pass it later and make it retroactive to Jan. 1, the staff member says.
Mr. Anderson says Perot's anti-NAFTA stance "reflects the sentiments of our membership," although UWSA has not actually polled its members. A questionnaire put to TV viewers found that "well over 60 percent" agreed that "recent trade agreements have hurt the US," he says.
In San Jose, Calif., UWSA volunteer Valli Sharpe-Geisler has turned her office fax line into a "NAFTA hot line." A former "couch politician," she has collected and analyzed hundreds of documents related to the treaty. She is convinced that NAFTA would undermine the American middle class, whom she considers to be "the consumer base of the world." "If you don't have a consumer base, how is democracy going to thrive?" she asks.
Robin Marra, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University here, doubts that anyone really knows whether the US will win or lose more under a treaty as complex and sweeping as NAFTA. But taking a stand on it poses little risk to Perot as a potential 1996 presidential candidate, and it has the advantage of keeping him in the public eye, Dr. Marra says.
Recruitment will not be a specific aim of Sunday's broadcast. However, each spot on TV has had that effect. Anderson says 2,000 people joined UWSA when its toll-free number was shown on "Dateline NBC" recently, even though the story was negative.