Ross Perot is Dangerous

Though I am longing for an effective and credible third party candidate to come along, I would not vote for Ross Perot under any circumstances. Here's why.

A billionaire president is just a damned bad idea. That much money warps people. It would take a human being more humble and stable than any who has ever existed to resist the changes worked by one billion dollars.

Recently, I sat in several meetings with investment bankers who were eagerly pitching for our company's business. There was a lot of laughter in the room and after a while I began to feel I was an uncommonly humorous and well-liked person. Of course, what I was hearing was the mechanized, sycophantic laughter of the salesman. Billionaires get this all day long from everyone they talk to. The accumulation of one billion dollars is rarely accomplished without some talent, but it also involves a good deal of luck. Humans being what they are, a humble billionaire is almost unknown on earth.

Billionaires tend to stop believing that the rules apply to them and start to think that they can do anything they want. Bill Gates is another example. This man, who was probably a somewhat nerdy, easy-going and friendly guy as a programmer, is a rapacious general today, rolling over the competition. That's what the money does.

Billionaires don't acquire good habits for democratic leadership. A leader's task is to examine the needs of all constituencies and find ways to balance them wherever possible. Where there is an ideological deadlock, a leader resolves it with persuasion tempered by understanding, and leads by example. Billionaire businessmen, by contrast, follow a harsh military model: smash, grab, consolidate. Ironically, today's military, as exemplified by Generals Schwartzkopf and Powell, are kinder than today's military-style businessmen: they worry about their troops and don't want to expend them needlessly. Most billionaires have long since learned how to do anything necessary to get to the goal.

Some readers will object that there is an inconsistency in my thinking. I accuse Bill Clinton and Bob Dole of being owned by influential campaign contributors (many of them billionaires, like the Koch brothers who Dole protected from indictment.) A billionaire, by contrast, should be independent of financial inducements.

A President, or any other politician, is responsible to voters. An elected official, like Bob Dole, who pays lip service to his constituents' desires but is most motivated to serve wealthy contributors even when their needs contradict the people's, is a danger to democracy. But so is a billionaire who is so well-enclosed in his own ego and his money that he is equally unresponsive to voters. A billionaire has simply never learned how to represent any constituency other than his own desires.

A story from the 1970's illustrates Perot's military leadership style. He was asked to take over a failing New York stockbrokerage. When he found that he couldn't see eye to eye with the brokers, he fired them all and replaced them with young ex-military men, whom he was confident he could train to be brokers. He failed, and permanently alienated Wall Street at the same time. Some of Perot's fans certainly see this as a sign of his leadership skills. It all depends on the glasses you wear; it is a nice example of the military model: be decisive, take no guff, throw out the troublemakers. President Reagan followed the same model in firing the air traffic controllers. Neither man listened to the disturbed constituency or looked for a middle ground; both left hatred and a weakened structure in their wake.

Ross Perot is probably a pretty good man as billionaires go; he may be more intelligent than some, is certainly less dishonest or rapacious than many. He has shown himself, in his first campaign, to be a bit strange, conspiratorial, possibly unbalanced. But the main reason he shouldn't be president is that he doesn't have democratic habits and that electing him would involve concentrating too much financial and political power in one place.