The Age of Innocence
F or an intoxicating time, it was if a cult had been born -- a kind of American Shinto in which leader and followers alike sought the innocence of a lost ancestral past. Never mind that that innocence had never really existed in our public life; never mind either that the gnomish man offering himself as redeemer was utterly unprepared for what he had got himself into. Ross Perot had been transformed overnight into a shaman for the television age, a healer who proposed to cure the ills of a nation with sound business sense and plain Texas talk. His magic was that he appeared to believe it himself -- to imagine, until events taught him otherwise, that innocence not only could compete with experience in the fallen state of our politics but could finally prevail.
Perot was an intuitive genius at self-promotion, but his surprise at the ruckus he had kicked up with his nonannouncement was unfeigned. He hadn't even mentioned to the men closest to him that he was going on the King show, let alone what he meant to say when he got there. His lawyer and friend of twenty years, Tom Luce, tuned him in only by accident, flipping channels during a workout in his television room at home. When he heard the curtain line, Luce nearly fell off his treadmill. What Ross appeared to be telling America was that if they built a candidacy, he would come.
"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded when Perot got back to town. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Aw, don't worry," Perot told him. "Nothing will come of this."
Luce asked if there was any research he should do, any people he should call. He had run for governor of Texas himself two years before, and while it had worked out badly -- he ran third in a three-man Republican primary -- he had made some good political connections.
Perot said no -- the whole thing would blow over in a day or two.
It didn't. Perot and his shapeless populism had tapped into a vein of history literally as old the American nation, the revolt of the burghers against a distant and unfeeling crown. He had been driven in part by