Ross Perot had come and gone before a monthly magazine had time to take him seriously-another victory for long deadlines and broad views. Many of our friends and colleagues nearly sprained their ankles hopping onto the Perot bandwagon, but I could never work up any enthusiasm for someone whose stock answer to the big questions was “I don’t know; haven’t thought about it; have to look into it.” Here was the people’s candidate running against big government, and when push came to shove, he turned his policy positions over to “experts” (read: lackeys of the regime) and his campaign over to mercenaries who arc not even trusted by their own parties. In the end it was the defection of an overpaid gun-for-hire that sent the billionaire back to the vault to count his money. 

The only interesting question is why so many intelligent and decent Americans spent so much time and energy organizing a grass-roots campaign. There are two answers to this, the one of major and the other of minor importance. The less important answer lies in Perot’s character. Despite all the allegations of business chicanery, government contract fraud, and personal arrogance, Perot was obviously a better man, in every sense, than Messrs. Bush and Clinton. To call him a man at all sharply distinguishes him from the two-party candidates. Even if all the dirt thrown against him could be made to stick, it would only prove that he made his money the only way it can be made today by pulling government strings. In the main, however, Mr. Perot showed him self to be shrewd, tough, and blunt. 

Perot’s vices all stem from his virtues. By repute he has the character one would expect in a naval officer-turned entrepreneur: decisive, energetic, and courageous. Inevitably, such men are prone to be quick on the trigger, opinionated, and arrogant. Contrast this with Mr. Reagan, who talked like a cow boy hero, but all it took was a minor incident in Lebanon for him to lose his nerve and alter his Middle East policy. Faced with a similar terrorist incident, Perot might have called in an air strike. Perot struck his followers as an authentic character, by which I mean he was all of a piece, like a strong cheese you can either love or hate but cannot simply “appreciate.” Politicians, on the other hand, arc almost by definition inauthentic and insincere. vVe can applaud their performances in the same way that Tonight Show audiences clap for comics whose jokes do not make them laugh. But we would never accuse them of meaning what they say. 

But the real importance of Mr. Perot’s campaign was as a rejection of the two-party state. The revolution begun by Pat Buchanan (like that of Jerry Brown in his own party) was destroyed by the television networks, the major newspapers, and the conservative movement. But nature abhors a vacuum, and it was almost inevitable that someone should step forward to appeal to the vast number of citizens who will not dignify this system by voting. I am reminded of the old Japanese proverb about the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate: Nobunaga cracked the egg, Hideyoshi cooked it, and Ieyasu ate it. The regime established by Ieyasu brought order to Japan for over two hundred and fifty years. Our own regime is undergoing a crisis almost as severe as the Japanese civil wars of the 17th century. It really does not matter who wins the White House in 1992. What does matter, ultimately, is what individual, what movement will end up eating the egg that Buchanan and Perot have cracked. At this point the traditional parties like the conventional left/right cleavage have outlived their usefulness. If Pat is listening, it is time for him to come out of the shadows and declare his challenge to both parties for 1996.