Perot Says President Has a 'Defective Brain'
By Terry M. Neal
And he was just getting started.
Perot's speech, at the Reform Party's second national convention here, kept many of the hundreds of people on their feet.
"Our first president was a man who could not tell a lie," Perot said. "Two hundred years later" -- here he paused for effect as the crowd giggled in anticipation -- "we have a president who cannot tell the truth, and I'm going to explain it to you now."
In the direct style that has become his trademark, Perot added: "I think it's plain that the president should resign and spare the country the agony of impeachment and removal proceedings."
Perot went on to say that Clinton was an Academy Award-winning actor who was threatening world prosperity and American security with his refusal to resign. He suggested that Clinton attacked targets in Sudan and Afghanistan last month to divert attention from the sex and perjury scandal engulfing his presidency. And he said Clinton's "mental defects" and the harm he has done to his country put him in a league with Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein -- "just to mention a few."
The crowd -- hundreds of delegates gathered to continue building what they believe will be a viable third-party option for disgruntled and disenfranchised voters -- loved every minute of it.
Known for most of its short existence as the political baby of Perot, the party continues to struggle to attract attention as Perot has diminished his profile, despite what its members believe is a growing revulsion at the dominant two-party system. Many here this weekend said Clinton's behavior with Monica S. Lewinsky and Congress's partisan handling of the issue has highlighted the ethical vacuum in Washington.
Reform Party member Pat Choate -- Perot's running mate in 1996 -- blasted Washington on CNN's Talk Back Live Friday as a "corrupt system, dominated by special interests," and said "people are going to be looking for alternatives. So third parties have a very good chance."
While Perot's and Choate's speeches were greeted enthusiastically, the convention this year seemed more subdued than the founding convention last year in Kansas City, as the daunting logistics of organizing a major third party has settled in. While the number of delegates was roughly the same, the number of observers was down from last year.
Major subjects of discussions this weekend include how the party will go about nominating a presidential candidate, how candidates can generate media attention and how to gain ballot access.
Officials insisted that the party is thriving as well as could be expected considering the challenge of creating the first major new party in well over a century.
More than 130 candidates in 28 states are running under the Reform Party label this year in elections from local city councils to U.S. Senate. Most of the candidates have little chance of winning, many party members acknowledge. But some, such as Jack Gargan, a retiree facing Rep. Karen L. Thurman (D-Fla.), insist that the polls and other indicators suggest they are "neck-and-neck" with their opponents.
Most Reform Party candidates around the country are running on shoe-string budgets and can expect little financial help from the national party, which has about $130,000 in its coffers -- a fraction of what Republicans or Democrats can raise in one event. Gargan, who finished third as an independent in the 1994 Florida governor's race, said he has been trying to raise $20,000. But he said his platform of voting "the will of the people instead of my personal views" will win him the election.
"We've set reasonable goals," said party chairman Russell J. Verney. "The most important thing in this election is that we expand the public debate."
A handful of Reform Party candidates have won small town political seats and judgeships. Most notably, David Beiler, a former editor at Campaign and Elections magazine, won a seat on the Stafford County (Va.) Board of Supervisors last November.
Since last year, when the party elected officers and created a constitution, Perot has kept a low profile as the organization has worked to build an image beyond him. Perot poured millions of dollars into his two campaigns for president and provided start-up money for the party. But he has not contributed money this year, and the party has banned unlimited soft-money contributions, Verney said.
If this weekend's convention was any indicator, most party activists still share Perot's basic beliefs that politics have been corrupted by special interests influence, campaign finance abuses and career politicians who ignore complex problems such as the national debt and trade deficits.
But beyond that, the group of delegates here this weekend represented an astonishing array of ideologies and seemed on the surface to have little in common beyond a feeling of disenfranchisement from the two major political parties.
A number of black, Hispanic, women and gay delegates attended, and several said they were attracted to the party by Lenora Fulani, a New York political activist who became the first African American and woman to get on the presidential ballot in all 50 states in the 1988 presidential election.
Fulani the party's dominant principal should be diminishing special interest influence so average citizens can have more input. "I'm a reform person," she said. "Whatever our diverse opinions are, we don't have a process by which we can be heard."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company