persons defined by Times-Mirror.rnWhen the Perot campaign peaked inrnlate spring of last year, it seemed indeedrnto have moved nonvoters out of a quiescentrnstate of disaffection. Whilernprotest voters have on occasion punctuatedrnpresidential races (evidenced byrntheir lukewarm support for JimmyrnCarter and certainly for George Bush),rnthey then appeared on the verge ofrnbeing formed into a massive socialrnmovement involving new levels of directrnmedia impact and organizationalrnsophistication.rnPerot, having learned well the lessonsrnof David Duke and Pat Buchanan (evenrnemploying the pollster of tliat candidaternduring the first phase of his breakthroughrnrun), seemed poised by June torndecimate the arrayed armies of the twornmajor parties. Yet, somewhat akin to thernmerciful action displayed by the Germansrnat Dunkirk, he allowed the retreatingrnforces to escape to fight himrnonce again.rnThis pullout led to an endless paradernof “I told you so” editorials and opinionrncolumns in the nation’s mainstreamrnpress. That former Perot supportersrnwere seen as less than rational, less thanrnknowledgeable, or even less than motivatedrnto act politically now a])pcars thernmost obvious type of distorted reality.rnYet, with few exceptions the conventionalrnmedia, along with academic politicalrnscientists, offered a most cautionaryrntale: beware the outsider.rnLate last June the New York ‘limes editorializedrnthat Ross Perot, “the candidaternof no political party . . . might conceivablyrnhave defeated an incumbentrnPresident in the Republican primary andrnbe the front runner in the Democraticrnprimary.” Describing such a future possibilityrnas “searey,” the newspaper wentrnon to ask why it is that Americans “sornhate politics.” Ascribing it partly to thernrecession, the savings and loan scandal,rnand the Los Angeles riots, it concludedrnthat Perot was the personification of thernpopular “None of the Above” mentalityrnand would not sustain a serious campaignrnfor November.rnIronically, when Perot withdrew inrnmid-July he had already begun to losernsupport, his image as a Washington outsiderrnhaving been eroded by the media.rnWhatever the reason that prompted thernpull-out (and it may have been a calculatedrnone, but was more likely due tornpersonal considerations of the candidaternhimself) Perot’s carefully timed reentryrnwas greeted by the mainstream mediarnas a rather ineffectual step that was butrnanother indication of the irrational politicsrnhe represented.rnBack in 1972, “Nixon Democrats”rnturned to George Wallace before emergingrnas “Reagan Democrats.” Thus, arnthird-party movement in Middle Americarncan hold both major parties at bay,rnbut must be careful not to sacrifice itsrnown existence to achieve meaningful politicalrnpower. If the Democrats, underrnthe leadership of the “baby-boomerrntwins,” can capture the heart of MiddlernAmerica, they will have insured the destructionrnof the “hard right”/”soft right”rnor neo-versus-paleo split that dogs thernconservative movement in America today.rnIf there is any shred of ideologicalrnor value consistency left among conservatives,rnit must rest on winning the allegiancernof Middle America. If the policiesrnand ideals of Ronald Reagan orrnthose thinkers identified with antistatistrnbeliefs can claim a role in American polities,rnthey must do so, not as mere intellectualrnor administrative interestrngroups, but as articulators of the best interestsrnof the Middle American majority.rnWhat can be asserted is that thernvolunteers who formed the cadre ofrnPerot’s campaign were by far the mostrnformidable army of Middle Americansrnyet to confront the political Establishment.rnMoreover, these millions have escapedrnthe fate of seeing their movementrndestroyed or co-opted like earlier grassrootsrn”people’s lobbies,” such as the NationalrnUnion for Social Justice built inrn1935 by Father Charles Goughlin tornchallenge FDR’s New Deal or GeorgernWallace’s “States Rights Party” of 1968.rnBoth efforts have been recorded in thernhistory books as failures, yet each managedrnto mobilize several million citizens,rnregardless of religious or party identity.rnHas Perot’s campaign helped radicalizernMiddle America? Perot’s mid-coursernwithdrawal, while viewed by many (includingrnlarge numbers of his volunteers)rnas a betrayal, proved highly instructive.rnDespite what he claimed not to be,rnPerot was the most media-dependentrncandidate of them all—one created andrnlater buoyed bv television appearances.rnHis “return” in early October was to producerna greatly increased base of supportrnamong young potential voters, a fact validatedrnby his subsequent voter-supportrnpattern.rnWith nearly half of all voters underrnage 30 calling themselves “independents,”rnboth major parties now appearrnto hold minority’ status. With the sharprndecline in party identity, cross-pressurernfactors may be virtually absent from thernlexicon of political scientists. Ratherrnthan realignment of party loyalty, wernmay now simply sec the majority definingrnitself as free from the strictures ofrnany partisan commitment.rnRoss Perot’s campaign has demonstratedrnin remarkable fashion that if hernchose to, he could lead a Middle Americanrn”revolt.” No longer will any conservativernbe able to undertake a majorrnnational campaign without also articulatingrnwhat some call the “populist”rnyearnings and agenda of Middle America:rna more directly responsive nationalrngovernment. Thus what Perot has donernby generating his remarkable, albeitrnshort-lived, insurgency is to destroy effectivelyrnthe dichotomy of liberal andrnconservative movements as the definingrnreality of American politics. He has createdrna unifying theme for a new politicalrnalignment: one centered on the populistrnyearnings of Middle America.rnRoss Perot has demonstrated the powerrnof Middle America. Perhaps the Texanrnhimself did not comprehend the significancernof his own campaign until hernwas well caught up in its potential. LikernPat Buchanan, he did not have the socalledrn”street smarts” to follow its dictates.rnPolitical campaigns are felt thernstrongest not necessarily by the voters,rnso much as by the candidates. Comprehensionrnfollows conversion, not the otherrnway around. Perhaps Mr. Perot has yetrnto digest what he hath wrought.rnEven if we or they didn’t really believernin it, the reality of Middle Americanrnanger became apparent to all inrn1992. During the lengthy presidentialrncampaign, “middle-class anger” andrn”populism” were catch-phrases used byrnall the parties and candidates. The problemrnwith any kind of elite, includingrnthose claiming credentials to speak forrnthe nonelite, is that it too often means arnclubby peer group distant from thernworld it claims to know (or even tornspeak for).rnAs usual, the people lead us to therntruth. Whether Mr. Perot knew duringrnhis campaign or now understands thatrnhe is the voice of MARs, history appearsrnto have asked him to play this role forrnnow. Are there other bidders?rnDonald Warren is a political sociologistrnand author o/^Tlie Radical Center (1976).rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn