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Caseythoughts "Plus ca change, plus ca roste la meme chose!!!"

One of the few phrases I remember from two years of high school French, and an interesting bit of folk wisdom. And for those of you who took another language (my other was three years of Latin) the translation, figuratively, is: "The more things change, the more they stay the same!"

I had planned to use that quote in a completely different context this week until I saw the obituaries in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal: H. Ross Perot, aged 89. Remember 1992? 1996? How about: "You can make more money making computer chips than you can do potato chips!"

Well, let's not hark to his words so much as what he did, with the above quoted French philosophy comment about how nature, politics and people can coincide.

Upon hearing of his passing, my steel trap of a brain remembered a book and interview from my show in 1993. The book was titled 'Perot and His People' subtitled 'Disrupting the Balance of Political Power'. The author was Carolyn Barta, whom I interviewed on my show. Miracle of miracles (including my remembering something which might have otherwise faded from memory) I still have the book and found it a gold mine of thought about the 1992 election, third parties and an election which Bill Clinton only won with 43% of the popular vote. The book is copyright 1993which will be important to remember.

The author was op-ed editor of the Dallas Morning News, former president of the Press Club of Dallas, and a winner of numerous journalism awards. No slacker, she, and certainly ranking up there in the Texas political journalism pantheon with Molly Ivans (whom I also had the privilege of interviewing prior to her death).

So, here's a couple of thoughts and factoids from Ms. Barta's book on the Perot phenom, with accompanying notes about how things have, and may not, have changed: 1) 1n 1992, a national survey found one in ten surveyed had been laid off in the previous year, and 2) another one in three were 'very worried' that a major wage earner in their family would lose his/her job. This seems to correlate with something that Perot did not foresee: the rise of angst about computerization, automation and the concurrent loss of jobs due to robotics in this 21st century which has its own political ramifications.

'America: What Went Wrong' was a nine part newspaper series in the Philadelphia Inquirer in October 1991. It generated the largest response from readers (pre-internet and email, note) from readers in the newspaper's history. Over twenty thousand letters, notes, phone calls and requests for reprints prior to the eventual demise of the print news business.

With just the above references and reference points, at that time H. Ross Perot steps into a presidential race with jobs and federal ineptness as his mantra, and a race which was George HW Bush's to lose following the Persian Gulf 'victory'.

But that 'victory' and parade fever swiftly turned to angst over what James Carville, Clinton's main advisor, called 'It's the economy, Stupid', and Carville was right. But Carville wasn't running for president with a hundred million bucks to spend. Perot had the money, the faithful acolytes, the volunteers and a message to a previously unheard and unknown crowd known as 'Perot's people', and a nascent form of economic nationalism not seen or heard since William Jennings Bryan.

Frank Luntz, a well known pollster and commentator, delineated the people who heard, registered (many for the first time) and voted for Perot with a vengeance in the general election. Luntz said these people were mainly suburban, as well as from moderately prosperous rural areas and in 'anonymous small towns and small cities' (quoting Barta's book, here). Luntz went on to say in his study of the 1992 electorate that they were widely distributed rather than concentrated in one or two regions, different than Trump's concentration of voting in the Rust belt and mid-west. In addition, Luntz found that Perot captured more than 25% of the under-thirty male vote (!!) and 22% of all first-time voters, while he convinced disgruntled voters (those who feel that their votes didn't count) to return to the polls in 1992.

To quote Barta, again: "...[Perot] intuitively recognized the dissatisfaction that was just beneath the surface and brought it out into the open. He energized and empowered people as they hadn't been in decades." Sound familiar in more recent times?

Again, polling numbers: Perot's people were primarily under forty five, overwhelmingly white and considered themselves neither Republican nor Democrat...a group of people reporting in post election surveys to be highly distrustful of politicians and felt the country in 1992 was on 'the wrong track.' Again, the more things stay the same. Deja vu, all over again?

Perot captured 19 per cent of the national vote on election day, even after he had temporarily dropped out of the race in September claiming 'dirty tricks'. The tally was more than any other third party candidate (a term which only has relevance in the 20th and 21st century, as even Lincoln could be considered a 'third party' candidate with 4 tickets running and winning with only 39% of the vote in 1860) since Teddy Roosevelt crashed Taft's party in 1912 and handing the election to Woodrow Wilson with interesting historical implications. In pure numbers, Perot garnered 19.7 million votes, and received more than 20% of the popular vote in thirty one states, though winning none in the Electoral College balloting.

Here'as another quote from Perot: "The system has nothing to do with selecting a good president. The system has everything to do with stunts, sound bites, dirty tricks etc etc etc..." I think John Adams, Aaron Burr, Andrew Jackson, Al Gore and a host of other winners and losers in our presidential elections could have made that claim in context of the technology of the time.

How about this from Barta, again: "Perot believed reporters were lazy, and sucking up to them...was beneath him. He particularly saw no reason to court the print media when he believed the wave of communication was in the electronic madia, where he could do his own thing, without regard to journalists." This was 1992, please note. Does all this sound achingly and worryingly familiar? The more things stay the same...

James Carville, commenting on the passing of Perot: "If Trump is the Jesus of blue-collar populism, then Ross Perot was its John the Baptist". I don't believe Carville (whom I also interviewed in 1993) was speaking blasphemously, but in his typical manner of being slightly outrageous with his political metaphors.

Ed Rollins, the mastermind behind the Reagan revolution in 1980: "[The Perot campaign] was the forerunner of the Tea Party movement and eventually the Trump candidacy."

i think this is all very important to contemplate and digest slowly. The current administration is, of course, not apparently cognizant of Perot's main focus (blissfully ignorant of history except when it suits them). Perot's main object of scrutiny was the burgeoning, bloated, out of control federal deficit, national debt and apparent tone-deafness to fiscal realities and the warnings of many as the century was coming to a close. To this day (and our current national debt is $22 trillion and about to hit the debt ceiling again in weeks) Washington and even budget 'hawks' are, as Perot controversially said: "[the debt is like] the crazy aunt tucked away in the room upstairs that nobody talks about". That comment drew jeers (and the media leading the catcalls) and laughs from diverse corners, but he was right. That sentiment and opinion garnered 19% of the electoral vote in 1992, but Trump tapped into something other than the deficit and debt and captured the same audience, the same emotions, and gave vent to much the same unexplained fears.

2016 raised all the noise, anger and furor of 1992 and 1996 from its moribund state. Remember United We Stand, America? That was Perot's party in 1996, which presaged the Tea Party movement in 2009-10. Trump raising trade issues with Mexico echoed Perot's "great sucking sound" with the North American Free Trade Agreement, and, of course, the concomitant border issues, which is really, if you think about it, a great sucking sound in reverse, but still playing on the same fears of the American white middle class.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The feelings of alienation, disgruntlement with the 'system', disgust at party politics and feelings of isolation were working in 1992 and Perot recognized it as he became the object of a cult of personality (as our communist friends would say) which he eventually came to abhor and renounce.

Did Trump know this? I will venture to say 'doubtful', but he soon learned to stoke those fears like a moribund campfire, or a caged animal, feed the rage, poke it to his advantage, and actually liked the idea of a cult of personality. Perot and Trump both have/had massive egos, but there seems to be a difference, which may have been exacerbated by the power of actually being elected, even if both were considered to be long shots. I maintain that Trump is as much a 'third party' candidate as Perot, or Teddy Roosevelt, or Strom Thurmond or John Anderson ever were.

One other thing (at the least) needs to be recognized, if I may. Trump is nominally a 'Republican', but would be called a 'RINO" (among other epithets), A 'Republican In Name Only'. He's a one man party, as Perot was and Trump's followers (derogatorily and ignorantly called his 'base') are not generally crazy, as Perot's were called unfairly.

But the 'base' was formed and cultivated in 1992 by H. Ross Perot, and finally found its so-called representative in Donald Trump twenty some years later. All politics take more time than one 'news cycle'.

America is still in a bull market, still at its lowest unemployment rate in history, 500,000 jobs have been created in three years and there is no way to deny that we care economically strong, though running into strong headwinds. We still wallow in the debt that Perot decried, and America is still mired in addiction and myriad forms of spiritual and physical distraction. We remain as isolated as ever, with Fortress America peering over a wall of our own making while we tell the world to 'stick it'. Our individual psyche is as isolated as a country as we are as individuals, and we continue to moan about our powerlessness to 'change things' while political gatherings get a sugar high from yelling 'Lock her up', and 'Build the wall'. The so-designated opposition claims that we were 'never that great anyway'. People listened better not too long ago, it seems, and Perot asked us to listen, even if we didn't care for the message or the messenger, we listened.

We were in a place in 1992 when the world looked to America as a leader when the Berlin Wall fell and Soviet communism fell of their own dead weight. An upstart considered 'crazy' by the mainstream media won 19% of the popular vote from disaffected but still hopeful citizens, not 46% of the vote from people much angrier and sometimes hidden and misunderstood motives in 2016.

We're in much the same place today, but perhaps no longer the beacon of hope except to the hordes of hopefuls behind barbed wire in Texas and Arizona. Anger seems to froth over on all fronts of our political landscape, but much more dangerously and lacking in real positive hope than that not too long ago yesterday when Perot shook up the political world with his un-orthodoxy and down-home drawl.

Perot saw the dangers, loved America and gave some hope to millions, as quixotic as it may have seemed, and still seems, in retrospect. But, some things do change, and we'll never know what Perot might have thought about the 'revolution' he started in 1992 and its apparent results in 2016. Maybe it's too late to know, or too soon to tell, but I'll bet Perot might have been worried in his latter days.

And if Carville was right about Perot being an American 'John the Baptist', I think the political reality was that the one who now occupies the White House and the headlines (that 'Perot the Baptist' preceded) is actually the one who is unworthy to untie Perot's sandals, in a unique reversal of the political realities.

Rest in peace, H. Ross Perot. There won't be another one of you in America for awhile. Maybe you were the last of a breed. If there's an afterlife, you're probably shaking it up in some way. I, for one, will miss you. So, I daresay, will America.

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