Mark Curtis's blog

The Fascinating Political Legacy of Ross Perot -- “Sunday Political Brunch” July 14, 2019

Ross_Perot_on_C-SPAN.jpg

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – It’s always a sad occasion when a well-known figure in the world of politics in my life and career passes away. Whether I liked or voted for a politician, or not, is beside the point. They are people who simply fascinated me along the wild landscape of my 40-plus years covering news and politics. The late Ross Perot fills the bill. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Perfect Storm” – On one side of the aisle, you had Republican President George H.W. Bush, who at one point in his tenure had the highest approval rating in presidential history. The Cold War had been won, and Saddam Hussein was vanquished. On the other side you had a brash and controversial, yet nationally-inexperienced Governor Bill Clinton (D) Arkansas. But Clinton, a savvy politician, seized on Bush’s declining popularity for breaking the “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge, and an economy that dipped very briefly into recession. The public was ripe and ready for a viable third option.

“Plan C” – Ross Perot was a multi-billionaire Texas businessman, with a solid pro-military resume. He was an outspoken populist, who railed on massive government waste, and a deepening national debt that could crush the economy. He was also no fan of NAFTA, the North American Free-Trade Agreement that Bush and Clinton both supported. Perot believed NAFTA would send good-paying American manufacturing jobs to sub-standard wage countries such as Mexico, Central America, China, and beyond. His stump speech resonated especially in the rapidly declining Rust Belt where factory jobs were already fleeing the U.S.

“The Stage” – Bush and Clinton grew up in politics. It was their lifeblood from an early age. Like many of their ilk, they stuck to consultant and focus-group driven themes and stump speeches. In short, they were canned politicians marketed like soda brands and fast food. Perot was an outlier. Yes, he said wild and wacky things (even quite inaccurate), but he shot from the hip and spoke from the heart and people found his candor refreshing (sound familiar)? If nothing else, he had entertainment value. Over 30-million people would tune in for his half-hour infomercials. He struck a nerve! Even “Saturday Night Live” lampooned him, which is a back-handed compliment and a badge of honor in politics.

“The Tale of the Tape” – At one point early in the race, Perot was leading Bush and Clinton in the national polls, but then he dropped out, believing other polling data showing he could not win in the end. In July 1992, he suddenly dropped out of the race, only to jump back in by October, just one month before the election. In the end, Clinton took 43 percent of the vote, Bush 37 percent and Perot 19 percent. The Electoral College vote was Clinton 370, Bush 168, Perot 0. I’m speculating here, but I think Perot’s indecisiveness – quitting in July, and re-entering in October – proved costly. One thing polls clearly showed as important, is that Americans want leaders to be decisive, as tough as the decisions may be.

“Did Perot Cost Bush the Election?” – I covered that election extensively, before and after, and always believed the, “Perot Cost Bush the Race” theory to be urban legend. My theory was that Clinton supporters were driven by a desire for change, as were many Perot backers. Bush was the status quo candidate. Now, I concur that Perot’s strong military leanings and more conservative economic policy would have sent a significant number of voters to Bush, but they would be outweighed by the “change” voters who slid to Clinton. Do the math. Bush would have needed to attract 14 percent more of the total vote to hit 51 percent of the electorate in a two-person race. Clinton needed to garner only 8 percent more.

“Food for Thought” – I have always felt in the minority in my opinion on 1992. My conservative friends (and even a lot of Democrat friends) have firmly believed over the years that Perot torpedoed Bush. But in researching this week’s column I found a fascinating video that bolstered my opinion (which was already formed back in 1992). FiveThirtyEight research has produced a fascinating film: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-ross-perot-myth/. I encourage you to watch it!

“The Final Countdown” – The Nate Silver mini-documentary cites an exit-poll study in 1992 by Voter Research and Surveys. It says Bush and Clinton would have split the Perot vote with 38 percent each, but that 24 percent of Perot supporters would have simply stayed home. If true the popular vote would have been 52.5 percent for Clinton, 46.5 percent for Bush. Even with Perot in the race Clinton won a 370 vote Electoral College landslide, a tough margin for Bush to overcome.

“Ross Perot and Me!” – I covered Ross Perot’s race for president in 1992 and his second attempt in 1996, but I only actually met and spoke with him once. In the summer of 1993, I was working as a Congressional Fellow and Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D) Wisconsin. President Bill Clinton was now in office, but NAFTA was being debated in Congress and Ross Perot still had a lot of fight. He came to lobby Sen. Kohl to vote no. After the meeting I approached Perot to show him a card my dad had just sent me for my 34th birthday. On the cover was a funny cartoon caricature of Perot that said, “I don’t care if you are a Republican or Democrat, just go have a Happy Birthday!!!” Inside another Perot cartoon read, “Besides, who needs a party anyway?” He loved it, laughed and then autographed it! I’ll treasure the memory forever!

Do you have thoughts on the life and legacy of Ross Perot? Just click the comment button!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five surrounding states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for the White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: C-SPAN.org

July 4th Political Trivia! Hey, It's Fun!! "Sunday Political Brunch" - July 7, 2019

White_House_Fireworks.jpg

(Charleston, West Virginia) – It is the long Fourth of July weekend, so we we’ll dispense with the serious politics today. Instead, we’ll share some fun facts and trivia about our country’s birthday and heritage. I first published this on July 4, 2013, and it's one of my most popular columns! Enjoy!

“Double Vision” – Not only did both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson sign the Declaration of Independence, they both also later became President of the United States. But the most interesting coincidence they shared is that they both died within hours of each other on July 4th, 1826. The two were bitter rivals, who did not like each other at all. Legend has it that Adams's last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” But it wasn’t true. His archrival beat him to the punch, having died five hours before Adams.

“Three's a Crowd?” – Oddly enough, Adams and Jefferson were not the only Presidents to die on the 4th of July. James Monroe, our nation’s fifth President, died on July 4, 1831. So the second, third, and fifth Presidents all died on the 4th, and all are counted among our "Founding Fathers.” What are the odds?

“Happy 2nd of July!” – In truth, the Declaration of Independence was actually approved on July 2, 1776, but was not published in the newspaper until July 4. John Adams still wanted all the celebrations on the 2nd, but was overruled.

“A Signature Moment” – Everyone knows John Hancock’s famous bold signature. In truth, he was the first and only one actually to sign the document on July 4th. It took another month to collect the signatures of the other 56 people who approved it.

“Around the Globe” – July 4th is not just a tradition in the U.S. People have celebrated it, in one way or another, on every continent. In 1934, American explorer Richard Byrd and his crew set off fireworks in Antarctica, even though it was 34 degrees below zero!

“Paint the Town Green!” – For many of the early years, red, white and blue were not the tradition. Colored fabric was rare and expensive in the early days of our nation, so there weren’t many flags. Instead people used greenery to decorate their homes and towns in celebration.

“Happy Birthday, America, and…” – The nation may celebrate its birthday on the Fourth of July, but also born on July 4th were our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, and former "First Daughter," Malia Obama.

“God Bless…Kate Smith?” – Famed songwriter Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” for a play he was scoring in 1918, but the tune was dropped from the production. It sat on his shelf collecting dust for the next 20 years. In 1938, singer Kate Smith asked Berlin if he had any patriotic songs she could sing for Armistice Day (now Veterans Day). Berlin handed her “God Bless America! The rest, they say, is history!

As always, I welcome your thoughts! Click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2013, 2016,2017,2019 MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: PBS.org

Syndicate content