Both the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street movement have common supporters, at least the least doctrinal members. The great booms of the 1980s and 1990s created prosperity but at a price. Gaps between the middle class and the very rich grew and power began to be distributed to fewer and fewer groups. Suddenly judgments were made by narrower constituents from everything from college curriculum to public smoking all the way to foreign policy priorities. Wealth crowded out the middle class in the 1990s and did not budge.
H. Ross Perot's candidacy in 1992 was the first sign that something was amiss. Then a techno billionaire from Texas with charts and graphs was able to, after a most unorthodox presidential campaign, still garner almost 20 percent of the vote. Better than George Wallace, a superb politician, who managed only around 14 percent in 1968. Perot was neither left nor right in his thinking, but he billed himself as a problem solver, a bridge between ideological chasms. Until he dropped out the first time in July 1992, Perot was in the thick of the fight and briefly a front runner.
Now comes Herman Cain - the Godfather's Pizza mogul with a different by design and is geared to appeal to the same alienated groups that Perot tried to reach. Say what you will, Cain is not usual - his television ads are original and aimed at many grievances. The smoking ad is directed primarily at people who are tired of being lectured about their habits. That smoking is harmful has been established, but these voters are tired of freezing and being shunned because they like tobacco. The hectoring upper classes appear that they want it all and leave everyone behind. Tyranny after all starts with good intentions.
Tea parties in the main are libertarian and Occupy Wall Street are anti-corporate but they are exploring themes based more in Perotist ideas than say a Ralph Nader. Nader was an ascetic tut-tutler, with no real ideology but busy-bodyism. Cain taps into a populist disgust with being bossed around by them so-called betters. Bad enough that your employer controls all you life around the workplace, now they are ensconcing themselves in your living room.
The problem, however, is what direction these political figures propose to take the country. Perot's movement was hijacked by a weird coalition of nationalists, libertarians and yes the occasional racists. He essentially denounced his own creation, the reform party. It went off the deep end in 2000. When Perot saw his movement as patriotic and middle class in direction and composition. His 1996 race focused on protectionism especially with Pat Choate on the ticket. It bagged only 8 percent of the vote.
Cain faces an identical predicament in that he has to meld all faces of discontent without being caught up in narrow agendas. His emphasis on being different has worked and so far Cain has been smart not to take on so-called Washington heavies. Look at poor Perot, he was ruined by Ed Rollins and the late Hamilton Jordan. Rollins then in 2011 decided to make Michelle Bachmann normal - oh that's two in a row-but don't forget Mike Huckabee - that's three. His originality is Cain's strength. He breaks all the rules - he doesn't live in Iowa or New Hampshire - he goes national. So far it is working.
Perot was manipulated into running like a boring cookie cutter candidate prior to July 1992. He broke with the pattern and surged in October. Cain could learn a lot from Perot's experience. Although the unimaginative candidates - Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and even Barack Obama - won, even they tried to "feel the pain" of the voter. Perot then and now Cain, proposed to try not to condescendingly understand the American electorate, but to actually reflect what many believe. From the sidewalk to Wall Street, the people have expressed frustration and as Mary Elizabeth Lease put it in 1896 "let the blood hounds of money that have dogged up thus far - beware."