Yes, among the candidates for the presidency, the only one doing advertising that evinces a modicum of respect for his opponents, for the public and for the democratic process is noted fruitcake Ross Perot.
No surprise there. It was true last time, too, when his infomercials momentarily changed the very nature of political discourse in America. Changed it for the better, that is, by discussing complex issues in substantial detail and proving that 20 million people will sit attentively through a disquisition on the economy, for example, without spontaneously combusting in their La-Z-Boys.
The key word there being "momentarily," for although Perot's issues-heavy ads uplifted and influenced the debate, they had no lasting effect on the tenor of American political debate. The 1994 campaigns were as vicious and superficial as any in history, and there's nothing from the two major parties thus far to suggest '96 offers hope for improvement.
Quite the contrary. The presidential advertising race to date has been an exchange of ugly, half-truth-filled cheap shots. It is perhaps understandable that Bob Dole would be reduced to such tactics, with poll numbers giving him a comfortable but shrinking lead over Ralph Nader. But for President Clinton, this gratuitous, two-bit character assassination is an affront to the office.
So, good for you, Ross Perot. Good for you and your strangely assembled, 30-minute melange of image-building, documentary, economic tutorial and sophist sales job called "Made in the USA...Too," by Renaissance America Group, Venice, Calif.
Sure, it's a little peculiar to see you compared to Martin Luther King, which is like comparing Frank Perdue to Ghandi. And, yes, it's disturbing that you are picking up your opponents' bad habits by seizing on a stupid, impossible, hot-button issue like the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. And, yes, it is a bit chilling when you declare, "I am going to create a country where your talents are encouraged to grow, where your excellence is rewarded."
You are going to create a country? The Constitution doesn't give you that much leeway, pal, unless you're planning to toss that out with the IRS.
But how refreshing it is to hear a candidate speaking about intellectual property rights, and fair trade, and the resurrection of the manufacturing sector, which Perot insists has been ceded to the developing world.
"Don't let anybody tell you the United States must become a service economy to survive in global competition," he says. "We can, we will and we must restore our manufacturing base."
His economics are a bit wishful, and media training has denatured his eccentric charm, but who cares? While he's talking about the global economy, Bob Dole's latest ad is saying this: "Under Clinton, cocaine and heroin use by teen-agers has doubled, because Bill Clinton isn't protecting our children from drugs." And Bill Clinton's latest ad is saying this: "Bob Dole votes to deny families unemployment benefits."
And neither of those charges has any meaning whatsoever, except the larger one: We will elect a president who is willing to behave like a jerk, and treat us like idiots, in order to get elected.
What does it tell us about our democracy when our leaders look like fools next to Ross Perot?