Leading Article: Flawed man, valid message

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The Independent Online
ROSS PEROT served a useful purpose for a few months. But it is good that he has formally withdrawn from a race he never formally entered. There can be only relief that he will not be muddying the waters when Americans go to the polls in November. The value of his challenge for the presidency lay in the shock it administered to Washington. The astonishing manner in which his popularity ratings soared reflected the disgust felt by millions of Americans for the political game as played in the federal capital. In Washington sat an inarticulate, indecisive President George Bush, locked in combat with Congress while the country's unaddressed social ills grew steadily worse. The only action in Washington seemed to involve corruption.

Upon the horizon appeared a diminutive but very rich Napoleon with a reputation for getting things done, promising simple answers to every problem, and presenting himself as decisive, clean living, non-ideological: in short, the antithesis of everything that the capital seemed to represent. It was hardly surprising that he received something of a hero's welcome. Had the elections taken place in mid-June, and had people voted as they indicated in opinion polls, Mr Perot might well have been swept into the White House.

But the seemingly endless testing process of America's marathon election procedures was to prove its value. As the media and the Republican Party's own investigators turned their attentions towards Mr Perot, flaws were soon revealed. His claims to be an outsider untainted by wheeling and dealing in Washington were proved to be false. From his past and present associates emerged a picture of a tetchy, authoritarian and ruthless man, prone to paranoia and tending to be vindictive. Carrying scorn for policy-mongering to extreme lengths, he appeared to be without coherent opinions on social policy. His views on homosexuals and adulterers made him seem ridiculously bigoted rather than God-fearing and clean living,

In the past few days, nothing went right for him. His hopes of attracting the black vote vanished when he sounded disastrously patronising in a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Then Ed Rollins, co-chairman of his campaign, resigned, leaving little doubt that he found Mr Perot impossible to deal with. Other resignations were expected. Finally, his ratings slumped as those of Governor Bill Clinton soared, boosted by the Democratic convention in New York.

Yet the disgust at what is seen as the self-serving egotism, corruption and incompetence of Washington politicians lives on across the United States. Mr Perot proved not to be the ideal man to articulate it: such freebooters rarely are. However, the huge following he gained, not least from young people who initially rallied to his cause and sacrificed their time to promote his candidacy, demonstrated the power of his message. It must not be forgotten. Congress must get its act together. The prevailing gridlock over legislation must be broken. To assume that Mr Perot was wrong because he failed would a serious error.