Perot, Jesse and the Black Vote
Jude Wanniski
June 23, 1992


When all is said and done, by the time Election Day rolls around in November, it's quite likely that a majority of African-Americans who cast ballots will vote for Ross Perot. As all of us have been observing for the past week, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton made a conscious decision to bash the Rev. Jesse Jackson via an obscure rapper, Sister Souljah, as a means of energizing his campaign. "Clinton, in Need of Lift, Deftly Plays Racial Card," the headline read in The New York Times of June 17. Clinton had been invited to the convention of Jackson's Rainbow Coalition "to promote unity," Jackson said, "but he came to establish distance." The ploy was clearly read as a means of elevating his candidacy in the eyes of the white Reagan Democrats, on the assumption that black Democrats would remain, as always, in the fold. With Perot an independent alternative, this is a terribly risky gamble. I've believed that Clinton might eventually win the three electoral votes of the District of Columbia. Now, I'm not so sure he will win any. Clinton, who backtracked again this morning on the "Today" show, saying he really didn't mean it, is becoming a pathetic figure, but he can hardly help it. We are witnessing the crack-up of the old New Deal coalition, under the intense pressure of the independent Perot campaign, and Clinton just happens to be the guy left to turn the light off at the end of FDR's long tunnel.

The fact that most educated white people seemed pleased that Clinton had "stood up to Jesse Jackson" is simply evidence that educated people, perhaps including everyone reading this epistle, are members of the failed Ruling Class. It is remarkably easy for educated, upper-class Republicans and Democrats to feel superior to culturally deficient African-Americans. Liberal Democrats instinctively applaud Clinton for raking over Sister Souljah's nasty rap and thereby showing his distance from Jesse Jackson -- in the same way Republicans applaud Vice President Quayle for tut-tutting about the unwed mother, Murphy Brown, who happens to be white, but whose name happens to be brown. The fact is, the greatest failure of the Ruling Class is manifest in the existence of an Underclass. As the white oligarchs of the two parties cannot explain the existence of an Underclass that raps and robs and riots and burns, they drift toward cultural rationales. Jesse Jackson, who knows better, is simply treated as a nuisance by the bipartisan Ruling Class, when in fact he is the undisputed political leader of 13% of the American people, in the direct lineage of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In many ways, Jesse Jackson's leadership role is more difficult than King's because of the steady decline of the American economy over the last 25 years, from the last days of the Johnson Administration. It's not easy putting yourself in his shoes if you were born white. With a little mental effort, though, you might imagine what it must be like to be the undisputed political leader of the 13% of the nation that is at the bottom of the pile, with less than one half of one percent of the nation's total capital. I think of him as a black shepherd of a vast flock of black sheep, racing about to keep unruly strays like Sister Souljah in the fold. If the nation did not have Jesse, it would be an even less comfortable place than it now is. The fact that most white people I know think less of him than I do merely reflects their inability to put themselves in his position. He is clearly not doing a very good job representing the concerns of the 87% of Americans who are not black. But that's not what his leadership role calls for. If he were Secretary of State in a Perot Administration, where I could easily see him devoting his considerable energies to spreading entrepreneurial capitalism throughout the underdeveloped world, he would have a much different persona, if only because he would suddenly have to represent the interests of all of his fellow Americans. I've always admired people who think big, and he does that. To the Ruling Class he's a nuisance, though, because he really does want change, and the Ruling Class wants the status quo, as the alternatives involve risk.

As all men are created equal, it's clear our perceived differences depend on which rung of the ladder men are born on. Those who are born at the top of the ladder, who in this country are almost all white, like President Bush and Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady and Budget Director Richard Darman, et al. have a natural tendency to believe that the people at the bottom of the ladder want to climb up, steal their possessions, and kick them off. The higher up the ladder, the greater the tendency of the Ruling Class to peer down into the sea of faces below and determine ways to keep them there. Even if you are born poor and white, on the second rung of the ladder, as I was, there is a tendency to believe the people on the lowest rung were born with theft in their hearts. Of course this is not true. Simply put: If people are allowed to become rich, they will. It is necessary for the Ruling Class to actively suppress the aspirations and abilities of the folks below. To limousine liberals, a Great Society is one in which the Middle Class is taxed in order to buy bread to throw down to the masses. Even the Reagan supply-side tax cuts of the 1980s, which lowered tax rates on labor but raised tax rates on capital, did nothing much to change the relative positions on the opportunity ladder. It chills the Ruling Class to hear Jesse Jackson remark that "Capitalism without capital is just an ism." It no doubt chills them to hear Ross Perot advise, as he did after the L.A. riots, that his solution would be to eliminate the capital gains tax in the inner cities. In no time at all, those black folks would be coming up the ladder, believe you me. My friend the HUD Secretary, Jack Kemp, has been trying for 12 years to get capital into the inner city. He still believes the bipartisan Ruling Class will suddenly decide to do the right thing before temperatures climb in the South Bronx, East St. Louis and Detroit. The dark forces of cultural inertia are overpowering, though, and I continue to assume Kemp will ultimately find it more comfortable with Perot.

The Ross Perot Threat to the Ruling Class is of course a Global One. The United States is still the richest and most powerful nation on earth. We are atop the Pile of Piles. Everywhere we observe the agents of the Ruling Class attempting to pay people if they promise to remain on the lower rungs. This very afternoon the International Monetary Fund is meeting with representatives of the Russian Government, negotiating the conditions of the first tranche of its aid to its newest member. The funds will be released if the Yeltsin Government at least promises to try to remain poor. The next tranches will require sacred oaths by Boris Yeltsin that he will keep his people on the bottom of the ladder. In the European Community, the Ruling Class was of course shocked that the people of Denmark rejected an integration plan designed by the best and the brightest of European elites to keep ordinary people in their place. There was great rejoicing when the people of Ireland, promised a big bag of money if they accept the treaty, voted for it by a large margin. Throughout Europe and now Japan, tax rates on capital are steadily inching upward, as those at the top pull up the ladder.

They will try to do as much damage as they can before Perot can take over the Oval Office and let down the ladder here and everywhere, which is what he intends to do, as he has told us again and again in many different ways. It's a horrifying thought to the Ruling Class, all that Change, all those People. The word has spread like wildfire that Perot, the most democratic of men, is a fascist, a word used to describe the least democratic of men. It is already conventional wisdom that he routinely hires private detectives to snoop on everyone he knows, including his children. His lawyer of 20 years, Tom Luce, insists Perot has never hired a private detective to snoop on anyone, but what does he know? The newspapers have already written this as fact. If Perot is to be kept from the Oval Office, he must be painted at least Mussolini black if not Hitler brown. It is okay for the national press corps to say anything it wishes about Perot, because, like global warming, he is a definite threat to the planet.

Of course he is no threat at all, but an unmistakable, historic agent of Change. Jesse Jackson, who has met with him, surely noted that Perot treated him with the respect he deserves -- not because he wants his support, but because he respects the undisputed political leader of 13% of his fellow citizens. The crucible of history will bring them together this year, which is why the people who will benefit most from a Perot presidency, the people at the bottom of the pile, will vote for him in greatest number. Ed Rollins, who is Perot's campaign manager, still does not quite grasp the potential. But he will. It will take a while for the Ruling Class to adjust to the changes ahead, as we must after turning on the lights in a dark room. History has a way of being abrupt, on the way down as well as on the way up. Up is better, as I believe we will see.