by David Jackson
I hope I wasn’t the only one that noticed Ross Perot passed away in July.
What with the political left screaming to have President Trump fitted for a strait-jacket and the political right trying to find ways to deport U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others, it seems to be a chore to find meaningful news these days.
Perot, a billionaire businessman from Texarkana, Texas, was best known to members of my generation for two things: Running for president as an independent in 1992 and the classic “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring Dana Carvey as Perot and Phil Hartman as Navy Vice-Admiral James Stockdale, Perot’s pick for vice president. Stockdale’s fumbling, clueless appearance at the 1992 vice presidential debate where he asked “Who am I, why am I here?” inspired the classic comedy skit “Joyride with Perot.”
Although Perot did not win any electoral votes in the 1992 election, he won 18.9 percent of the popular vote — the highest percentage of any third-party candidate since 1912. It can be argued that he made a lot of strategic missteps during the race that hurt his already slim chances, but he did enjoy a great deal of popularity — he actually led the Gallup Polls as late as June 1992. Perot connected with many people left unimpressed by the incumbent Republican and the field of Democratic challengers.
So, as we brace ourselves for the 2020 presidential election, almost certainly to be the nastiest, most divisive race in recent memory, a thought came to me: Why don’t we have any legitimate third-party candidates in a landscape that practically begs for one?
Political discourse in this day and age is, well, ugly. There appears to be more interest in coming up with creative ways to insult the other side than there is in trying to find common ground. The idea of compromise seems to be something along the lines of “as soon as you get your head screwed on right and start seeing things my way, we can talk.”
Readers of the Lewiston Tribune will note that more often than not, the Opinion page features several letters to the editor by members of the right explaining in great detail why members of the left should locked in mental institutions and vice versa.
How many of us have heard variations on conversations like this over the past year?
“I wish President Trump would stop tweeting so much and I don’t really like how he treats everyone, but I’ll be damned if I’ll ever vote for a pinko liberal like ….”
“We do need some kind of border security and the economy is in pretty good shape … but I cannot support President Trump’s constant lies and ceaseless bullying. Anyone but Trump.”
Anyone but Trump. Anyone but Hillary. Anyone but Obama. Anyone else see a trend here?
We’re not voting for someone, we’re voting against someone. Which means we end up stuck with someone whose main attraction was that they were the lesser of two evils. Shouldn’t we be able to do better than that?
Yet, despite this state of polarization, there appears to be no serious third-party candidates on the horizon for the 2020 presidential election. More than 700 people have filed with the Federal Election Commission to run for president next year, according to a July 22 story in the Tribune. (And, no, not all of them are Democrats). Other than seemingly obligatory candidates from the Libertarian Party, the Green Party and a couple of other regulars on the ballot, there appears to be no serious candidate outside of the Republican or Democratic parties.
A couple of well-known, wealthy businessmen, Mark Cuban and Howard Schultz, have talked about throwing their names in the ring, but nothing formal has occurred to date. So it appears, for now, that we will once again be asked to choose the lesser of two evils to be the leader of the free world.
Would having a third choice be any better than what we have now? Maybe. Maybe not. But isn’t the idea of having more choices generally better than having fewer choices?
Granted, it’s not easy to run for president if you aren’t a Republican or a Democrat. There is a laundry list of reasons why any third-party candidate is starting off with two strikes against them, with money being at the top of this list. It costs a lot of money to run for president, especially if you don’t have a national political party raising funds to pay the bills.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy pursuit. If you aren’t a fan of the current political climate, it actually seems kind of important. I just hope the idea wasn’t buried with Perot.
David Jackson received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Idaho in 1993 and lived in Washington, D.C., for two years, completing internships for former U.S. Senator Steve Symms and former U.S. Representative Mike Crapo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.