Cincinnatus, and George Washington—rnin their decline nations arc ruled by hypocritesrnlike Pericles, Sulla, and FranklinrnRooscN’elt. But in the last phase, whenrnempire is an acknowledged fact, the divinernruler is revered for his unbridledrnpotency. Alexander, so the story went,rnburnt Pcrsepolis to please his whore;rnJulius Caesar was “every woman’s husbandrnand every man’s wife.” But thisrnmuch can be said of Julius: he insistedrnthat his wife be above suspicion. Wouldrn”Champ” Clinton even care?rnIf the character of a nation is definedrnh the character of its rulers, then thernnew roval family is a frightening mirrorrnof what we have turned into, all of us.rnEven the older generation, schooled inrnthe more gentile hypocrisy, accepts thernnew status quo. The outgoing President,rnno Cato the Younger, rested hisrncase on passage of the Disabilities Actrnand support for AIDS research. Tornmanv Americans the President was justrnBill Clinton vith arthritis. He couldn’trnrun as fast, but he was going in the samerndirection. If only he had said, at thatrnfateful moment in the first debate, “Yes,rnGoernor Clinton, I am questioningrnvour patriotism,” if George Bush hadrnmade just that token gesture ofrnhvpocris’ toward the figment of republicanrnvirtue, he would have earned mvrnvote and deserved the support of honorablernmen and women. But if he couldrnhave even read such an answer off therncue cards, he would not have beenrnGeorge Bush.rn—Thomas FlemingrnH . L . MENCKEN, in 1923, noted thern”amalgamation of the two great parties.rnBoth hae lost their old vitality, all theirrnold realitv; neither, as it stands today, isrnanything more than a huge and clumsyrnmachine for cadging jobs. They do notrncarry living principles into their successiverncampaigns; they simply grab up anythingrnthat seems likely to make votes.rnThe old distinctions between them havernall faded out, and are now almost indiscernible.”rnTo Mencken’s delight, RobertrnLa Follettc carried the banner of the OldrnRepublic into the 1924 campaign, butrnthough Fighting Bob won 17 percent ofrnthe national vote his Progressive Partyrncaptured only the 13 electors of Wisconsin.rnLa Follettc died the next year,rnand despite quadrennial entreaties hisrnheirs (Senators Burton K. Wheeler ofrnMontana and William E. Borah of Idaho)rneschewed the third-party route.rnDoes anyone not on a public payrollrnor a network-news staff disagree withrnMencken’s indictment today? WhatrnJerry Brown keenly calls the “IncumbentrnParty” has purged national polities of itsrnsap and vim. Doughty insurgents whorn”work within the system,” as we are instructedrnto do from childhood, arernsmeared by Establishment toadies, usuallyrnhack journalists and DistinguishedrnSenior Fellows with an eye for the mainrnchance. Just ask Jerry Brown and PatrnBuchanan, the best—and therefore mostrnmud-bespattered—of the primary lot.rnEven muckier obloquy greets he who,rnlike Ross Perot, goes it alone.rnMr. Perot is a dangerous man. Hernseemed harmless at first, palavering withrnLarry King and showing off his NormanrnRockwell collection. But folksy Rossrnturned out to be a Texarkana patriotrnwho acts on Wendell Berry’s dictum,rn”Denounce the government and embracernthe flag. Hope to live in that freernrepublic for which it stands.” No naif,rnhe knovs something of the national-securityrnstate and doesn’t much like itsrnsordid doings: the Nixoir-Kissinger abandonmentrnof American POWs, the Reagan-rnBush skullduggery in the MiddlernEast. Raising these matters during therncampaign, Perot tripped the alarmrnand—woof! woof!—got sicced by thernservile hounds of the corporate press,rnwho tugged at and soiled his trouser legsrnall the way to November 3rd. “Paranoiac!rnConspiracy fantasist! Nutcake!”rnthey yipped, until half of America believedrnit.rnNo yvonder so little public discussionrntakes place in these United States, outsidernthe free-speech zones of talk radiornand the coffee shop. The corporationsrnthat monopolize the information industryrn(one percent of oyvncrs sell nearlyrnhalf of all daily newspapers) stifle wholesomernparochial impulses within theirrnsubject populations. Dull and shrewdrnalike understand Gore Vidal’s epigramrnthat “the price of freedom is eternalrndiscretion.” Fittingly, the only outletrnthat gave Perot a fair shake is owned b-rnan old-fashioned buccaneer capitalistrn(CNN’s Ted Turner) whom the opinion-rnmolders despise.rnPerot weathered the blizzard of slanderrnabout as well as can be expected.rnHis witty, bantam presence was the onlyrnreason to watch the televised “debates”rnthrough which he salvaged hisrngood name. His peppery disrespect ofrnpert, insecure lady newsreaders was marvelousrnto behold. His proposal for anrnelectronic town-hall—a direct descendantrnof the war-referendum amendmentrnonce championed bv La Follettc,rnWilliam Jennings Bryan, and most famouslyrnIndiana Democrat Louis Ludlowrn—terrified editorialists, who muchrnpreferred the insipid gruel of Perot’srnsoberly responsible and tax-happy UnitedrnWe Stand movement.rnSo where do we go from here? Thernoutline of a Perotist third-part’ platformrnis isible: it features an array of citizenpoliticianrnmeasures, including term limitsrnand restrictions on lobbing; deeprnspending-cuts and entitlement reforms;rnthe withdrawal of most if not all U. S.rntroops and subsidies from Europe andrnAsia; and a Main Street can-do civic responsibilityrnethic that is the healthiestrnface of Babbittry. 1 his is a queer admixturernof populism and goo-gooismrn(irot unlike La Follettc Progressivism)rnthat misses the boat on the biggest “issue”rnof all: how to return education,rncharit’, government, and everything elsernto a human scale. Nevertheless, therernis enough common-sense radicalismrnhere to excite genuine enthusiasm in thern57 percent of Americans whom pollsterrnGordon Black tells us would welcome arnstrong third party.rnWill such a movement be capaciousrnenough to include Jerry Brown and PatrnBuchanan? Despite their liabilitiesrn(Brown’s fickleness, Buchanan’s friendshiprnwith the computerized-mail racketeers),rneach represents a worth’ strainrnof American populism. I wonder: dornthese decent men realize how muchrnthey have in common?rnPatriots of left and right used to havernthe guts to stand together: Robert Taftrncampaigned for Robert La Follettc, Jr.;rnMencken championed political prisonerrnEugene V. Debs; William ApplemanrnWilliams rehabilitated Herbert Hoover.rnWhy don’t their heirs at least sit downrnfor a chat?rnPat and Jerry and every other stoutheartedrnfoe of the Incumbent Partyrnshould be cheered that 19 million Americansrnleft the polls humming the oldrnPopulist tune, “I was a part man onerntime, the party would not mind me / Sornnow I’m working for myself, the party’srnleft behind me.”rnThe forces unleashed by the Perot rebellionrnmay dispel, especially if Ross isrndefanged by wily Willie’s blandishments.rnPerhaps United We Stand willrnFEBRUARY 1993/5rnrnrn