Only Amend

"Only Amend," New Republic, 6 July 1992, 13-14.


Who is Ross Perot? He is a businessman who wants to be president and thinks he sees an opportunity to get there despite the system that stands in his way. Most conventional opinion holds, with increasing nervousness, that the system, consisting of the habits of electors and the institutions that form them, will ultimately win out. I fervently hope it is right, and we shall see. But why should Perot think he can win? What are the weaknesses in our system that make it vulnerable to an upstart runt like Ross Perot? We need to know because the “system,” as the experts call it, is actually our Constitution, and our Constitution is our way of life.

Begin with a look at Perot’s behavior up to now. Neither a visionary nor a spellbinder, Perot is a matter-of-fact demagogue of the center with contempt for the parties on both wings that create the center. Although he has more political experience behind the scenes than he lets on, he has never held public office of any kind, whether appointed or elected. Other American presidents have come from outside partisan politics–Dwight Eisenhower the most recent–but they at least were generals with experience of public responsibility and public accountability. Perot is a businessman with experience in dodging the government or using it. To him, government is either an obstacle or an instrument, deriving no respect in itself for having been constituted by a free people. He calls it the “Establishment,” a term bequeathed to our political speech by the lovable late ’60’s. And who wants to defend the Establishment or the system that sustains it?

Nobody wants to defend the system because the system, according to the …