H. Ross Perot, the bigger-than-life self-made Texas billionaire whose 1992 independent presidential bid was blamed by many for assuring Bill Clinton’s victory over then-President George H.W. Bush, has died.
The 89-year-old Perot, who once described the movement of U.S. jobs to Mexico as “a giant sucking sound,” according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, succumbed to leukemia. Like him or dislike him, Perot made a huge impact on American politics.
Perot, once portrayed in a television min-series by the much-taller Richard Crenna about the billionaire businessman’s privately-financed rescue of two employees of his Electronic Data Systems Corporation from an Iran prison, was the stuff of legends. The 1986 miniseries was titled “On Wings of Eagles.”
During an interview, Crenna told a reporter, “I think you’d have to consider Ross Perot a real American hero.”
Perot jumped into the 1992 race in February of that year, quickly gaining momentum and eventually leading in a Gallup poll at 39 percent over Bush’s 31 percent and Clinton’s 25 percent, according to a Wikipedia biography. He dropped out of the race in mid-July but jumped back in on Oct. 1, despite a loss of faith among many of his early supporters. Still, he pulled 19 percent of the popular vote, and many believed he drained most of those votes away from Bush, giving Clinton the victory.
It was during that campaign that Perot made some remarks that still ring with many Americans who are disillusioned with government today.
According to the online biography, he appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on March 18, 1992 to rip Congress for its lethargy.
“This city has become a town filled with sound bites, shell games, handlers, media stuntmen who posture, create images, talk, shoot off Roman candles, but don’t ever accomplish anything,” he said. “We need deeds, not words, in this city.”
His use of charts and graphs during presentations grabbed the public’s attention, and his prominence rose as a result. Considered a populist, Perot had a maverick aura that he carried well.
After getting back in the 1992 race, Perot campaigned in 16 states and spent more than $12 million out of his own pocket in the process. Early in the first part of his campaign, he delivered one speech on the capitol steps in Olympia, Washington, attracting thousands of people.
That was the year Perot became the subject of a feature story in a special edition of the now-defunct Fishing & Hunting News that previewed that year’s big fishing tackle industry trade show.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Perot was described by his son, Ross Jr., as “a great family man, wonderful father. But at the end of the day, he was a wonderful humanitarian. Every day he came to work trying to figure out how he could help somebody.”
The Las Vegas Review Journal recalled how Perot first rose to national prominence “by claiming that the U.S. government left behind hundreds of American soldiers who were missing or imprisoned at the end of the Vietnam war.” He “fanned the issue at home and discussed it privately with Vietnamese officials in the 1980s,” the newspaper said.
That belief may have inspired several movies about abandoned P.O.W.s such as “Missing in Action” with Chuck Norris and “Uncommon Valor” starring Gene Hackman.
Perhaps the highest tribute to Perot is found in the Dallas Morning News story of his passing, in which the newspaper noted that he “was just 5-foot-6, but his presence filled a room.”