Ross Perot has thrown his hat into the ring, or at least halfway into the ring, since the billionaire has only promised to use his wealth and fundraising abilities to start a party which may or may not put him at the head of the ticket. The week before, another billionaire, Steve Forbes, announced that he would spend $25 million of his own fortune to make himself President over the heads of millionaire politician Robert Dole and millionaire S&L investor Bill Clinton. Waiting in the wings is millionaire author and former soldier Colin Powell, who with the slightest effort could milk a whole herd of contented fat-cow contributors.

Money talks and Phil Gramm knows what walks: in announcing his candidacy. Senator Gramm boasted of his bulging bank roll as his single greatest asset, and both Bob Dole and Lamar Alexander have seen his bet and raised. The voters who did not turn out to support Jerry Brown must have thought he was kidding when he declared that our democratic elections are for sale to the highest bidder. Poor Governor Brown was virtually booed by the press when he merely hinted that Bill and Hillary Clinton had some strange dealings with Whitewater Savings and Loan.

What does it mean for America, when only billionaires or people who sell themselves to billionaires can run for high public office? History gives us the answer. In 193 A.D., the death of the emperor Pertinax incited a bidding war among rich Romans eager to buy the support of the Praetorian Guard whose swords could make and unmake emperors. The high bidder was Didius Julianus, who stayed in power for only two months until he was murdered by his successor, a very tough soldier who turned the empire into a military dictatorship.

Power is for sale in America; we all know it, but it will not be too long before some people—generals or business tycoons or gang lords—will get sick of the charade and get down to the serious business of ruling by decree.