when I hear white Dallasites saying that County Commissioner John Wiley Price doesn’t speak for black Dallasites, and when I hear disgruntled voters and non-voters cheering on H. Ross Perot, the voids of Hemingway’s Jake Barnes come back. "Oh, Jake," says the amoral Lady Brett Ashley. "We could have been so good together."
"Yes," Barnes; replies. "Isn’t it pretty to think so?"
Different as they are, Price and Perot show how we love to paint the world as a simpler, prettier place than it is. Ever since Price took office in 1985, his critics have argued almost desperately that he is a freakish fringe creature whose tirades and forays into violence do not represent the wishes or beliefs of his constituents. Surely, the critics say, Price’s voters do not want someone who spends so much time in trouble with the law on charges of assault, camera-smashing, rape, criminal mischief, etc.
Isn’t it pretty to think that Price is a marginal, isolated radical? That way nobody has to take his criticisms seriously. Price’s overwhelming primary victory (63%) over state Rep. Fred Blair, a well-known former City Council member, should put an end to such talk, but probably won’t because it’s based on emotion, not reason.
Price deserves to be taken seriously, not rationalized away-which is not to say he is always right. If Price’s critics were to accept that he is truly popular, they would have to accept an unpleasant reality: Large numbers of black citizens approve of both the messenger and his angry message. Price’s voters clearly want a leader who has many arrows in his quiver; conciliation, cooperation-and the threat of violence. They want the whole package, even if the package includes threats about shooting down cops in the streets and bitter attacks on a "racist" media.
Perot’s legions of fans, like Price’s many critics, are driven by wishful thinking. Perotism, a giant belch from a million aching guts, grows from our belief that politics corrupts everyone who touches it. Only a leader pure and strong, a man beholden to nobody, can gallop in and fix the system. He will smash the citadels of privilege and patronage, wrench the Potomac from its channel and send it gushing through the health spas and private barber shops of Capitol Hill.
For Americans lost in the labyrinth that now stands between us and our government, Perot is the man to slay the Minotaur. He’s a man of blunt talk and a bullying, pseudo-Socratic style. Often, it seems that Perot would rather belittle reporters than explain his ideas-and that’s fine with voters who are sick of the media. His style is natural for an all-powerful CEO-the kind of man who once summoned two Dallas cops to his office to browbeat them for detaining his daughter-in-law who was carrying a gun in her glove compartment.
Perot’s main appeal is that he seems to promise an end to what Americans hate most: politics, with its half-and quarter-truths, its paranoia and confusion. We’re always looking for a reason to flee from politics. Perot is our current escape route.
And he makes it look so easy. When he condescends to share his secrets, Perot talks about running the country the way he ran his businesses. If he runs and wins, expect an autocratic, top-down management style. Forget about those campaigns to increase voter registration. Ross will lift the onerous burden of citizenship from our shoulders. He’ll recruit the "top men" in various fields, get them up to Washington and let them do their thing-but they’ll report to him, not some check-bouncing clods who consult the opinion polls before they cross the street.
Isn’t it pretty to think so? But 1isten closely, and you’ll hear an intriguing contradiction.
Perot also talks about national town meetings to be held via interactive television. "If we’re going to war, we’re going to talk about it, " he said on the Donahue show. "We’re going to be united. " Fine, no more Vietnams. But how united, Ross? Do we need 90 percent approval to crank up the bombers? 75? Surely 51 percent won’t do. That’s the bad old politics of the past.
And do all 280 million of us get to talk, assuming that different points of view will be allowed at the unity meeting? Or will Perot frame the questions and call roll? If a lot of folks from West Dallas get together and want Domingo Garcia to speak for them, is that OK? Or does Dallas just get one speaker?
Can Ross be saying that at the end of the Perovian Reformation we will still have... politics? Persuasion, coalition, nose counts? In other words, is it possible that we can only fix the system by sticking with it. walking through the labyrinth ourselves to slay that damned Minotaur?