Perot has lost appeal, but still serves voters

In 1992, Ross Perot courted millions of Americans with his big criticisms of government, big charts and his colorful claim that NAFTA would produce a “giant sucking sound” in the U.S. economy. He emerged, pocketbook in hand, to save America’s struggling economy. Then he dropped out. In 1996, Perot has tried to rekindle his heroic image, but it hasn’t worked. In four years, Perot has changed from a knight in shining armor to the castle mouse — a constant, squeaky voice that will not let go of certain issues and will not be overlooked by the media.
Perot offered voters a refreshing alternative to politics-as-usual in 1992. His popularity reflected Americans’ growing impatience and dissatisfaction with the two major parties. To many voters, he offered hope that the state of politics, not just the election, could change drastically. On a smaller scale, Perot attracted attention because he could explain the nation’s problems frankly and in a simple language its citizens could understand. But Perot’s flamboyant entrance to the political stage did not come without criticism.
To some, he was simply a billionaire who represented the idea that in America, money could buy everything, even the presidency. And more importantly, many media commentators said that a vote for Perot would only serve as a swing vote in the election — that Perot really had no significant chance of winning after he dropped out and re-entered the race. But despite everything, Perot still managed to capture 19 percent of the popular vote.
Between 1992 and 1996, Perot has piped up on a few issues now and then, but has been curiously silent since his foreboding predictions about NAFTA never came to pass. The economy’s steady improvement over the last four years and Perot’s lasting image as a quitter have impacted his credibility. This year’s attempt to repeat his 1992 campaign theme has subsequently fallen flat. Polls show Perot’s support at a lowly 6 percent.
Perot has run much of his 96 campaign on the issues of campaign finance reform and a balanced budget amendment. But he has spent an equal amount of time complaining about his exclusion from national debates. These squabbles distracted him from the issues at hand, painting him as a bitter critic instead of a leader on broader issues such as education, taxes and the environment.
But while Perot isn’t a contender in the ’96 race, he still plays a valuable role. His attacks have aided voters by keeping attention on sensitive issues. He has taken campaign finance reform by the horns with concrete plans to ban political action committees from federal candidates and require Senate candidates to raise campaign money exclusively from their home state. He has hounded President Clinton for accepting foreign campaign funds and lambasted Bob Dole’s proposed 15 percent tax cut. Perot may have lost the support and recognition he had in 1992, but his presence provides voters with additional perspectives and information. His prominence four years ago has focused new light on third parties and the issues they represent. Ross Perot will never again capture the hearts and minds of so many Americans, but his new function as a persistent dissenting voice serves voters well.