Ross Perot Memoriam from his grassroots: The Imperfect Insurgency
Much has been said about Ross Perot’s passing but little from his grassroots. That’s us at the League of Independent Voters who got up close enough to find long-lasting appreciation and love for Ross Perot. They – the insurgents – never are perfect. But the timing of his death was so like him. It was right on the money with new independent leadership (Amash, Cuban and others still working within the parties) emerging at the very moment of his passing. Read this and Don't Mourn, Organize, y'all!
Ross Perot was the right guy for the moment to sound the alarm about the “crazy Aunt in the basement.” She is, unfortunately, still locked there and getting crazier as each day passes. You see, there is still no one, inside the government or in any major party, who acknowledges her existence is a big problem. Her $4 trillion bloat in 1992 is $20 trillion today. And, if you believe David Stockman (on this we do), our nation is locked in to a $30 trillion debt over the next ten years.
We would remind you that Perot’s imperfections were put on the world stage when he famously pulled out of the Presidential race heading into the 1992 California primary with 45% in the polls. It was months later when he reported concerns about his daughter. We felt his pain then and to this very day feel the anger at those who expressed disbelief.
Still, volunteers across the country refused to accept Perot’s withdrawal and kept petitioning to get him on the ballot. In Texas, volunteers gathered far more than the needed 50,000 signatures in 60 days and filed 200,000 signatures. They posted signs on highways urging drivers to pull off at the next exit, and they did!
The Perot cataclysm is understood by pundits in terms of its comparison to the electoral revolt of Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party. Yes, Perot was our Teddy -- despite never having held office. Like Teddy, Perot's populism and humor easily connected with ordinary people. But Perot could be as important a historical figure as Teddy for different reasons, if you believe history is determined more by what comes next.
Perot, having invested over $100 million in the failed experiment also known as the Reform Party USA, took huge risks to prove (at least to us) that you cannot fit American independents into a political party. What we, at the grassroots went on to do, following the embarrassing implosion of the Reform Party with leaders struggling for the microphone on national television, was this. We refused to mourn and we kept organizing.
Over the last 18 years, we have led a variety of experiments with "cross-partisan" organizing to begin to understand what can be done to unify Americans. For what purpose are we attempting to unify them? To wage a massive battle for electoral competition and innovation -- outside the confines of parties, partisanship and stifling ideology. We see this as a prerequisite for real change to occur.
Perot’s passing could never come at a good time, but again Perot's timing, just as new independent leadership is emerging inside and outside all parties, is remarkable. Michigan Congressman Justin Amash's announcement that he was leaving the GOP to become an independent was nearly simultaneous to Mark Cuban’s blistering talk about our nation’s finances.
In our humble opinion, our biggest failure was our lack of investment in the development of the independent voter. We have been left far too vulnerable to the two major parties, which poll, push and label us as their swing voters, locking us in the “partisan death spiral” about which Amash laments.
In our view, Perot's greatest contribution was his willingness to participate in a grand experiment that failed.
We would do well to follow the guy with the Texas twang and his famous charts in tow, by understanding the primary role of the politician is to educate us -- not to polarize and politicize us.
What is needed now is the continued voter education and the grand independent experiment, through an up-from-the-grassroots (not top-down) independent political movement to rise out of the ashes of failure. If we fail again, we'll learn and keep learning in order to bring about innovation in the democratic republic that America so desperately needs.
Long Live the Spirit of Ross Perot! Imperfect Insurgents Unite!
* The term “imperfect insurgency” was borrowed from longtime independent socio-economic planning practitioner, Fernando Centeno of San Antonio, Texas.