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H. Ross Perot, the cranky Texas billionaire who ran for president twice and was taken somewhat seriously once, died today at the age of 89. His family announced his death, but didn't say what the cause was, so let's assume the Trilateral Commission finally got him. He had a fondness for conspiracy theories, and would have appreciated that. The main thing Yr Dok Zoom remembers about Perot is that long before Ron Paul became a national figure, Perot had an uncanny talent for sounding just right enough about some things -- for about ten minutes -- that when he unleashed the full-on nutso stuff, it came as that much more of a surprise.


Perot made his billions in computers, first with IBM and then as an independent who built up two businesses he later sold for billions. (We once worked in a call center run by one of those companies, EDS, long after Perot had sold it. Talk about a brush with a brush with a subsidiary of fame!) Perot jumped into the 1992 presidential race as a small-government libertarian who was OK with gay rights and abortion, but also wanted decisions about both -- and other social issues -- to be left to the states, with no federal "interference." His selling point was that he was a successful businessman, and dear god why are people still fooled by that "run the government like a company" bullshit?

So yes, it's nice that Perot was unapologetically in favor of a woman's right to choose (even government funding for abortions), and of comprehensive sex ed -- including condoms being distributed in the schools -- and yes, he was right that NAFTA was bad for American workers before that was a common view. But with Perot, the crazy was always lurking right near the surface, and from time to time it was fully visible. Maybe because of the tides. Charlie Pierce reminds us just how much crazy we're talking about here:

Before he broke through into the national consciousness in 1992, Perot had been a devotee of the fiction that thousands of American POWs were still being held in North Vietnamese jails. He also believed that, because of his work in this area, the North Vietnamese government had hired the Black Panthers to kill him. He said his guard dogs chased five of the killers off his lawn. His own security people, as well as the FBI, said this never happened.

There was also that charming moment when he gave a speech to the NAACP and addressed a black audience as "you people." Perot followed that with a classic not-pology, saying "It never occurred to me that they would be offended, and if I offended anybody in any way, I certainly apologize."

And let's not forget another particularly awful legacy of Perot's campaign: His obsession with the national debt and deficit spending caught on, and as Mr. Pierce puts it, "That he scared the Democrats into deficit hawkery for the next two decades is his second-worst contribution to American politics." Perot's worst contribution, says Pierce, is that he managed to be taken seriously despite all the loony stuff.

And let's not forget how Perot's weird paranoia surfaced during his third-party run for president. In July 1992, Perot suddenly dropped out of the race, claiming he didn't want to run the risk of a split Electoral College leaving the election up to the House of Representatives. But then on October 1, Perot jumped back in, because his supporters/his ego demanded his common-sense economic pie charts, and neither George H.W. Bush nor Bill Clinton had adequately addressed the issues.

Naturally enough, there was still more crazy to go with it. Perot claimed the REAL reason he'd had to drop out was to thwart a plot by Bush and GOP operatives to ruin his daughter's wedding, which is a perfectly normal thing for a presidential candidate to say. In late October, Perot explained the nefarious scheme:

Perot charged that three people told him that top Republicans were planning to use an altered photograph of his daughter to humiliate her at the time of her wedding, scheduled for Aug. 23. He also said that after he quit the race, he learned of supposed Republican attempts to wiretap his office and electronically manipulate his international business communications to harm him financially so he could not rejoin the presidential contest.

Yes, there was more:

'They were going to smear her with a fake photograph that they had done with a computer where you put a head on another body and they were actually going to have people in the church disrupt the wedding,' he told the Boston Herald.

He said he was concerned the attacks on his daughter would distract attention from his economic message, and he was anxious to protect his daughter's privacy.

Perot told "60 Minutes" he was certain the whole conspiracy -- which somehow involved an attempt to portray his daughter as gay, not that there's anything WRONG with that -- was "was run at the top," although he also had to admit there wasn't an ounce of evidence. He also hinted Bush's campaign had planted agitators in campaign crowds:

"[Watch] how they disrupt rallies; watch how they tried to disrupt the Democratic Convention....They got a bunch of neo-Nazis in there to do this kind of stuff," he said.

And you kids thought he was just a guy with big ears and a funny voice!

Despite all the disturbing weirdness and the campaignus interruptus, Perot still managed to get 19 percent of the vote nationally, the best outcome for a third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. He ran again in 1996 and formed the "Reform Party," which also gave us Gov. Jesse Ventura and Donald Trump's first brief flirtation with running for president.

But Perot's real legacy was demonstrating that a complete loony who believed in demonstrably outlandish things could run for president and be taken seriously by millions of people. So congratulations on paving the way for the current media creature in the White House, we guess.

And now it is your Open Thread! Challenge: get through the evening without saying "Giant sucking sound."

[WaPo / Esquire / NPR / WaPo / UPI]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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