Magazine article Insight on the News

A Public That Feels Betrayed Will Give Perot Staying Power

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Public That Feels Betrayed Will Give Perot Staying Power

Article excerpt

The political meteor of Ross Perot is far from burning out. A demagogue with his skills usually flares briefly in America. Then the novelty wears off and people realize that aside from his entertainment value, he's no more thoughtful about the country than a gopher.

But the transit of the Texas billionaire will extend beyond that usual brevity, beyond the threat to have members of his national posse comitatus string up, electorally speaking, the dudes who voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The pressies, being pressies, will continue to flock to Perot podiums and elicit his views on everything from health care to a three-car crash in Wahoo, Neb.

Among the media, though, there is a growing conviction that Perot is a flake, a wildly mutant cousin of Boobus Americanus. In the condescending but occasionally accurate judgment of the bigfeet of the news biz, ol' Ross is not varsity material.

Nevertheless, reporters will find it difficult to ignore the cartoonish figure and his B-movie, folksy argot. Not just (a large "just") because Perot logged 19 million votes a year ago.

It doesn't matter, in this odd equation, that he is testy, autocratic, prone to what Winston Churchill called "terminological inexactitude" and shuffles facts like the pea in a shell game -- those traits fit most career politicians.

No, Perot's durability will be due to a more basic, and more worrisome, phenomenon -- the man is enunciating for multitudes their disgust with the way political railroad is being run.

They perceive an unholy network that is impervious to anything other than getting to the public trough--the clustered barnacles of the pollsters and consultants, campaign pros and media advisers, in cozy symbiosis with the press and with the special interest legions who couldn't care less if Barney the dinosaur were president, as long as they had an ear inside the White House.

Corrosive cynicism spreads in a time of discontent.

A profile by Michael Kelly of David Gergen, President Clinton's guru of guile, in the Oct. 31 New York Times Magazine anatomizes the musty soil in which the weeds of cynicism sprout. (It was Kelly who recently, in the same magazine, put on display Hillary Rodham Clinton's schoolgirlish incoherence through the vicious technique of simply quoting her at length about the "politics of meaning.")

In the Gergen piece Kelly writes, "Washington has become a strange and debased place, the true heart of a national culture in which the distinction between reality and fantasy has been lost, a culture that has produced Oliver Stone as a historian, Joe McGinniss as a biographer, Geraldo Rivera as a journalist, Leonard Jeffries as a geneticist and Barbara Streisand as an authority on national policy. …

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