Saturday, November 5, 2005

Where Are You, Ross Perot?

I’m not a fan of big solutions and certainly not where government is concerned.  My support gravitates toward the small, local tryouts of this or that scheme to make things better.  It’s an innovation thing.  I don’t think much innovation comes from committees and think-tanks and larger-than-life philosophies. 


Having said that, our government in Washington is in such deep obligation to deep pockets that I’m not sure small fixes can get us back.  The back I’d like to see us get to is representative government that does a job for constituents instead of lobbies.


RossperotRemember Ross Perot?  The funny-looking guy with the big ears and the bigger wallet who wanted to be President in ’92 and ’96?  Ross was a patriot and a true believer in American democracy whose only failing was that he wasn’t personally suited to be president of the country.  Even if he had been, president isn’t the branch of government that needs fixing, it’s the congress.


But a billionaire could go a long way toward the fixing by not running.  Perot famously said "If someone as blessed as I am is not willing to clean out the barn, who will?" He’s right as rain, but it’s a cleaned-out barn we need and not a new farmer.


I suggest (and suggested to Perot at the time) that rather than throwing hundreds of millions at a failed run at the presidency, supporting a national campaign of congressional candidates would be the way to go.  It would take a hell of an organization, but Perot showed he was capable of energizing just such groups. They are hungrier yet today.


The idea would be to create a widely publicized national convention of independent candidates, sworn to uphold and support a platform built around a single issue; removing all the money from Washington politics.  A platform promising to eliminate every conceivable method of transferring money or favors in return for votes.  Three days of national, flags-flying, bands-playing exposure to what money has done to Congress.  That would be exciting TV. Beyond that specific platform obligation, candidates would be allowed and encouraged to represent the political views, liberal or conservative, of their constituencies, but all that would happen back on their home ground. 


The common pledge would be dismantling PAC and lobbyist money. A single-issue national campaign aimed not at abortion or religious rights, deficits or tax reform, but at the most devastating individual influence that’s crippled participatory democracy in the last fifty years; the cancer of paid-off representation.  A cancer is defined as uncontrolled growth and cancer is not too strong a word to define what Washington increasingly denies; a bought-and-paid-for legislative branch.


So, Ross is not the right guy to do this.  His time is past and he wanted the big job, the bully-pulpit.  The work that needs to be done is grass-roots preparation, years ahead of a national convention and that’s not the stuff of limelights, but the building of a party base.  The genius, the hard part, the most difficult of tasks would be a hands-off policy. To not require of Democrat, Republican or Independent candidates any hewing to a common philosophical credo other than disconnecting Congress from its moneyed life-support system.


There might be someone out there with less ego than Ross, a George Soros or Warren Buffet, perhaps a Bill Gates.  Someone willing to bankroll half a thousand Representatives and a hundred Senators, who understands that the inviolable part of our legislative process is its obligation to constituents and we are losing that, if it is not already lost, gone to the highest bidder.


Such a man (or a woman), if he or she can be found, would no doubt attract hundreds of millions of dollars in voter contributions.  Such a man would also be a lightning rod for personal attack, as the nations lobbyists fight to the death for control of Congress, battling us for our government.  It would take a true patriot, someone willing to stand personal abuse without hope of personal gain. A giant, willing to stand back from a personal liberal or conservative agenda to fight the bigger battle.


"If someone as blessed as I am is not willing to clean out the barn, who will?"


That, certainly, is the question.
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See Taking My Country Personally on my personal web site.