And in 1992 he became one of the most unlikely candidates ever to run for president. He had never held public office, and he seemed all wrong, like a cartoon character sprung to life: an elfin 5 feet 6 inches and 144 pounds, with a 1950s crew cut; a squeaky, nasal country-boy twang; and ears that stuck out like Alfred E. Neuman’s on a Mad magazine cover. Stiff-necked, cantankerous, impetuous, often sentimental, he was given to homespun epigrams: “If you see a snake, just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.”
Under the banner “United We Stand America,” he spent $65 million of his billions in a campaign that featured innovative half-hour infomercials about himself and his ideas. They were popular, with ratings that sometimes surpassed those of prime-time sitcoms. Ignoring negative newspaper and magazine articles, he laid siege to radio and television talk shows. Switchboards lit up with calls from people wanting to volunteer.
Before long, millions were responding to his calls to cut government deficits, red tape and waste, to begin rebuilding the crumbling cities and to restore his vision of America: the small-town life idealized in Rockwell’s homey portraits of ballpark patriotism, barbershop wisdom and flag-draped Main Street, a world away from corrupt Washington.
While Mr. Perot had done business with every administration since Lyndon B. Johnson’s, the federal government was one of his favorite targets. Washington, he told its own denizens, “has become a town with sound bites, shell games, handlers, media stuntmen who posture, create images, talk, shoot off Roman candles, but don’t ever accomplish anything. We need deeds, not words, in this city.”
In 1979, as an Islamic revolution swept Iran, Mr. Perot mounted a commando raid on a prison in Tehran to free two employees being held for ransom. A riot was orchestrated at the gates, and in the chaos of an ensuing breakout 11,800 inmates escaped, including both employees. The episode was chronicled in Ken Follett’s best-selling book “On Wings of Eagles” and in a 1986 mini-series on NBC.
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