But these traits are so intense that they literally threaten his sanity. He refuses to admit wrongness or fair defeat, and if he can't change reality in the broader world, he seems to need to change it in the press -- or in his own mind. Ross Perot is truly a great man, that is a man of great strengths and great, crippling flaws that he is unable to acknowledge, much less cure. This man has already enjoyed tremendous power in his life; were he to achieve his goal of becoming president, as was very possible in 1992, he would surely become a heroic failure to rival anyone in Shakespeare or the Greek tragedies.
If you really want to understand Perot as a person -- good, bad and weird -- get the superb new biography "Citizen Perot" by Gerald Posner. It's at bookstores and libraries everywhere. This book is everything we aim to achieve -- detailed, well researched, fair, original and tough. Much of our information comes from that book anyway. So help Posner make some money and buy his book, his certainly earned it.
"If he thinks he is right, that's all that matters." -- Ross Perot, Jr. (Posner, p128).
"I'm not going to get into that with you because it's none of your business. I'm not going to -- hey, look, I don't have anything to prove to you people to start with." -- Perot, answering questions about the Black Panther/N. Vietnamese hit squads (Posner, p66)
Hypocrite: Got Rich Off Exorbitant Government Contracts
Perot got rich off government money -- Medicare and Medicaid, to be exact, two of the programs contributing the most to the
deficit he talks about so much.
How much does his company (EDS) make off the government? Consider this; in 1980, EDS won a contract that paid over $390 million per year for administering Medicare -- just in Texas! That's not the cost of the actual health care -- it's purely administrative expense for doing the paperwork. Medicaid is separate, and EDS has similar contracts with states around the country -- using software that they charged the federal government for developing, but kept the rights to.
EDS barely turned a profit before it began government work. In 1964, its fourth year, the company made $4,100 on revenue of $400,000. In 1965, when it started government work, that rose to just $26,487 on revenues of $865,000. By 1968, EDS grossed $7.5 million, and made a profit of $2.4 MILLION - nearly 30% profit.
Ever since, the company has faced critical audits, congressional investigations, and charges of poor quality work and exorbitant fees. But they
built a dominant position in a new industry by investing heavily in political connections, notably with the Nixon Administration, and by personal
contacts (Perot himself was a consultant for EDS' first Medicare client, Texas Blue Cross.)
They have maintained profits from government work with their near-monopoly power and, in part,
with vicious, sleazy attacks on any potential competitors. (See Posner, chapter 4, "Welfare Billionaire")
Perot's need to control shows up in many aspects of his life. The most recent and political one
is his Reform Party's convention. He tricked Dick Lamm into running against him, knowing he needed
Reform to seem like a real, open party rather than his personal tool. But when Lamm took him seriously,
Perot pulled every string to make sure Lamm lost, denying Lamm the party mailing list among other things.
Many Lamm supporters never received their mail-in ballots, in fact.
Perot's 1992 organization, United We Stand America, wasn't much better. There was a large, genuine surge of dedicated volunteers who joined that organization. Perot fired anyone who got too independent, leaving a large number of alienated ex-supporters, and several lawsuits. There was even a convention of dissatisfied ex-United We Stand supporters this year.
But his need for control extends to even his loved ones. Perot had private investigators check out his daughter's boyfriends, for example. (Posner, p95).
Abusing His Employees
Perot is by all accounts a great motivator, a man who demands great loyalty and extreme hard
work from employees, but also can repay it with striking acts of generosity (though rarely much
in the way of wages.) He has done things like fly a new employee's wife to Johns Hopkins Hospital in his
Lear Jet, after she injured her eye.
At the same time, the relationship he creates is one where Perot is all-powerful, and bestows his generosities from on high. He works people extremely hard for little money, and subjects them to instrusive scrutiny, including private investigators, wiretaps, drug tests and lie detector tests.
In this regard, he bears a striking resemblance to Ralph Nader, of all people, who also inspires great loyalty, pushes himself at least as hard as he pushes his employees, burns people out for little money, and seems to feel he has a right to monitor and control their lives.
For example, discussing salaries has been an immediate firing offense from the first days at EDS, Perot's company. The company dress code, up into the 1970s, required white shirts only for men (he considered blue shirts effeminate), no pants or flats for women, and no "mod looks," as the contract put it. But the intrusion went much further.
EDS tapped phones and used detectives to investigate its own employees, according to Posner. He traced license plate
numbers in the parking lot to see who came late or left early, just as Nader telephones employees at home on sunny weekends
to test how long they work. And in "particularly heated" fights for contracts, employees on the bid team would be
physically searched to ensure they did not remove any paperwork that could assist the opposition. (Posner, p94-5)
The Iran Rescue: Bragging about a fiasco
How "Crazy" is he?
Comedians and Perot's critics routinely brand him as "crazy", and Ross himself acknowledged the charges,
rather gracefully, by dancing with his wife to the tune of Patsy Cline's song "Crazy" in the last election.
It's such a broad term as to mean nothing; no one is saying he belongs in a mental institution.
So IS he crazy? And what does that mean? None of us are psychiatrists, but a close look at Perot shows four traits that do in fact alienate him from reality. He is obsessive, delusional, paranoid and never wrong (in his own mind.) Like many conspiracy fans, he can explain away any unpleasant facts with "secret information" or conspiracies by his enemies.
obsessiveness is evident in his focus on American POWs and MIAs from the Vietnam War. He became concerned about them in the late 1960s,
as a sincere and fervent supporter of the Vietnam War. He led a quixotic mission with food and other goods for American POWs in North
Vietnam, which failed due to opposition from that country, Moscow and even Washington (after Perot refused to go along with Nixon Administration
PR goals.) Fair enough.
But Perot has remained convinced ever since that large numbers of POWs are being hidden in Asia, despite massive evidence to the contrary. (In fact, there is strong evidence that most of the MIAs weren't even missing; they were shot down while flying illegal missions over Cambodia, Laos, etc. and the government called them MIAs rather than admit the missions.)
The Reagan Administration even gave him access to top secret classified documents in an attempt to answer his relentless criticism of them for not bringing the MIAs back, but Perot only saw what he wanted to, and remains unconvinced. In fact, this was the origin of his feud with George Bush; as VP Bush drew the unpleasant job of telling Perot they were cutting off his top secret clearance, and Perot typically started a no-holds-barred feud with Bush, which in part led to Bill Clinton's election.
One of Ross' most dangerous traits is his unwillingness to admit facts he doesn't want to believe. If someone does this in an argument, but they know
they are not right, we call them a liar. Ross does not seem to be a liar, though he says untruths. Instead, he refuses to believe the information he
doesn't like. He changes his perception, not the reality, and this is the most "crazy" of his well known traits.
His own son, Ross Jr., says "If he thinks he is right, that's all that matters." (Posner, p128). There are many examples. Perot has his company's headquarter's grass spray-painted green during Dallas' dry spells. (p91) When some employees who had won the company's "Recruiter of the Year" award left EDS, Perot wanted to erase their names from the engraved plaque.
EDS briefly lost their biggest contract to a competitor, Bradford, at one point. Perot told his board "They are crooks! They bribed someone and we will find out who!" EDS's president, Mort Myerson, replied "I know one of their executive vice-presidents, and it's on the up and up." Perot's response was "That's the kind of soft-headed thinking that makes EDS lose business." (The company won the contract back with an effort combining political pressure, lawsuits, and an attack team that followed Bradford executives and the state officials who awarded the contract, dug up dirt on them, videotaped some Bradford officials with prostitutes, etc.) (Posner, p127-138).
Perot's paranoia is pretty well known, due to his announcement in 1992 that he was quitting the presidential race (in which he was a very strong contender) because
Republican's were planning to disrupt his daughters wedding (by forging photos of phony lesbian sex.) But it has long been typical of him.
He thinks he lost his 1993 debate to Al Gore because Gore had a hidden earpiece, through which he was being fed answers, or possibly questions. (Posner, p330). While he was serving on a Texas anti-drug commission in the early 1980s, he became convinced that Charles Harrelson (the father of actor Woody Harrelson, from "Cheers") had been hired to kill him by drug dealers. (The elder Harrelson is in fact a career criminal doing time for killing a federal judge.) The FBI dismissed his fears as baseless.
In 1992, Perot claimed that the North Vietnamese government had hired the Black Panthers to assasinate him, back in 1970, because of his efforts on behalf of POWs. He even said that "one night they had five people coming across my front lawn with rifles", and that a guard dog bit a big piece out of one attacker's butt.
However, Harold Birkhead, the man who ran security (including the dogs) at Perot's house at the time, says he never saw or heard about anything like that. And Paul McCaghren, who headed Dallas police intelligence in 1970, also dismisses the notion. "... it did not happen. There were only about 8 people here [in Dallas] that belonged to the Black Panther party. Two of those people worked for us, and they told us every day what was happening." (Posner, p66)
Just before Perot's 1993 debate with Gore, he announced that the FBI had alerted him that a six-member Cuban hit squad had been sent to murder him. "The organization is a Mafia-like group in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement", Perot claimed. (Posner, p327-8) The FBI had told him about an anonymous tip that he would be assassinated, but public figures get weird threat calls all the time. What is striking is that Perot believed the claim, embellished it and announced it publicly.
He's Never Wrong (in his own mind.)
Obnoxious, superior moralizing has long been a part of Ross Perot's dealings with other people, especially with religion, drinking and sex. This goes back all the way to his Navy stint, which he tried to
get out of because he was schocked that there were godless, hard-drinking, carousing men on his ship.
At the same time, he can't acknowledge his own dark side. He can be ruthless when fighting his enemies, and his horror at other men's human failings is more than tactical. A private investigator who worked for him says "Perot loved to collect information, those personal facts of a perverse nature. Perot was titillated by it." (Posner, p95)
And yet, he can't even acknowledge his own self-interest. To hear him tell it, his motives are always pure. He never takes a job or, for example, runs for President because it might help him. He is always asked, even begged by people who need him, and graciously agrees to help. This is how he describes everything from his first job for IBM to his 1992 campaign.
Government Insider: Payoffs and Favors
Getting rich off of Medicare and Medicaid is not the only political benefit Ross has received from politicians he donated to. He milked the Nixon Administration for everything
from meetings with Nixon himself, and getting his mother into a White House prayer breakfast, to having the Social Security Administration drop investigations and release disputed
money to EDS ($400,000 in one case).
In return, Perot gave lots of money to Nixon, lent him computer expertise and assigned employees to work on his campaign. When the IRS investigated the last part, because Perot deducted their salaries as a business expense, Nixon officials intervened and helped him out. (p52, Posner)
One particular case involved a bunch of federally owned land, on the shore of a public lake, that Perot rented for $110 per year to graze his horses on. The lease was set to expire, especially since Perot violated several terms (e.g. by blocking public access to the lakeshore.) The White House put on heavy pressured. John Ehrlichman said he had "carefully reviewed the facts" and it was "most difficult for me to understand" why the lease should not be renewed.
Another Nixon aide, Tom Cole, was more blunt in a memo dated April 9, 1969. "H.R. Perot of Dallas, Texas was the most substantial Nixon backer in 1968. Besides outright financial contributions, a number of Perot employees' time was donated to the campaign. ... Perot is extremely interested in having this lease approved. I leave the matter in your good hands." The lease was renewed. (Posner, p56)
Ironically, by 1972 Nixon officials had written Perot off as a blowhard who promised lots of money but never delivered. A memo details his reneging: a $50 million publicity campaign on TV, $10 million for a pro-Nixon think tank, $500,000 for the National Center for Volunteer Action, and $250,000 for the 1970 Congressional elections.
One thing he did deliver on was money for a different publicity campaign supporting the Vietnam War, in November 1969. The campaign was timed to follow Nixon's "Vietnamization" speech on November 3rd,
and create the impression of a spontaneous wave of public support. Perot paid for a big newspaper campaign and a TV special starring astronaut
Frank Borman. Nixon aides William Safire and Alexander Butterfield edited the scripts that Perot's team wrote. Perot created an organization to collect contributions and build a mailing list:
he called it "United We Stand." (In 1992, he called his organization "United We Stand America.") (Posner, p52-72)
Deal With Clinton, a Feud With Bush, or Both?
There is one allegation against Perot that we DON'T believe. We have received several emails from Republicans convinced that Perot has a direct deal with
Clinton, usually one where Perot gets federal contract money in return for helping Bill. I don't believe it. Perot got rich in the 1960s and 1970s from contracts he received
from the Nixon Administration, which he supported heavily. Perot doesn't need Clinton for wealth, and hasn't hesitated to attack the President on NAFTA or (just recently)
ethics -- in fact he's hitting Clinton a lot harder than Dole is.
Clearly Perot helped Clinton win in 1992, but evidence points to a different reason: hatred of George Bush, over the POW/MIA issue.
"Citizen Perot: His Life and Times", Gerald Posner (Random House: NY) 1996 ISBN 0-679-44731-8 FANTASTIC book -- buy it!
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