In Memoriam: Admiral James Bond Stockdale—And Perot`s Great Chance

As a young girl hoping to embark on a career in

politics
, I watched the first 1992 Vice Presidential
debate with great interest.

Al Gore
(D) and

Dan Quayle
(R) were joined by Admiral James
Stockdale, the candidate of

Ross Perot`s Reform Party
. A viable
third-party
ticket was uncommon in national
elections. It might hopefully revitalize an otherwise
fading process.


Of course

it would—Stockdale
(who

died this week
) was a great American war hero, a
Medal of Honor winner and one of the most highly
decorated officers in the history of the

U.S. Navy
, a

prisoner of war
in

Vietnam
for seven and a half years.

Theoretically, this was an ideal leadership team.
But more than anything, I just wanted to hear what
Admiral Stockdale had to say.

Admiral James Bond Stockdale was a name I`d first heard
much earlier, from my father, a career Navy man.
Stockdale was the keynote speaker at my father`s
graduation from

Officer Candidate School
—and one of the few people
about whom my father speaks with reverence.

I
thought Stockdale`s heroism would somehow set him apart
from the pack.

The debate certainly set him apart but sadly not in the
most flattering manner.

Here
is the text of the debate that night, where
Stockdale uttered his much-derided opening remarks:
"Who am I? Why am I here?"

He was

clearly addressing
the large portion of the viewing
audience who likely had not heard of him.

Side note: The idea that there is an American alive
unaware of

Stockdale and his valor
makes me sick.

But I`m not at all surprised. A few years later, when I
was actually in politics, I had a conversation with a
woman in her late 30s who worked for-then California
Governor,
Pete Wilson
.

We were tossing around names as possible speakers for an
upcoming Republican fundraiser. I said "How about
Admiral Stockdale?"

And it happened: The abrupt pause; the rapid
eye-blinking that reveals a certain level of confusion.

She had no idea who I was talking about.

I
remembered rule #2 of my

Political Minion
Survival Handbook
…appearing
more knowledgeable than senior staff could land me a
two-year stint behind the constituent mail desk at the
Caucus.

I
suggested a different, well-known speaker for the event
and quickly fled the scene.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining…

After the 1992 debate, while I watched in horror, as
this champion of freedom was eviscerated by media dogs,
I gained what I consider invaluable political insight:

Americans don`t want leadership, they want
entertainment
.

Americans don`t want war heroes who promote national
unity through wise, experienced discourse to inhabit the
White House. They want men who discuss their

underwear preferences
and pot-smoking predicaments
on
MTV
.

Roughly 20 million people voted for

Perot/Stockdale
. More than twice as many voted for
Clinton/Gore. The proof is in the pudding.

Nevertheless, the Perot movement was a definite footnote
in history. It`s the sort of thing that historians may
one day cite as evidence that our national two-party
duopoly was coming under fatal strain—especially if
veteran Reagan operative

Lyn Nofziger
is right in his little-noticed but
shocking suggestion that "open
borders
and

illegal immigration
"
could provoke a successful
Third Party movement as early as 2008. (Nofziger`s

blog
doesn`t have permalinks, scroll down to his May
19, 2005 entry).

Indeed, the Perot movement was one of those moments when
it appeared that immigration might break into politics.
In a
Wall Street
Journal
article
on the furor following Peter Brimelow`s 1992 National Review

"Time To Rethink Immigration?"
cover story, Tim Ferguson actually
predicted (presumably advisedly) that Perot would run on
the immigration issue.

In the event, Perot confined himself to

denouncing NAFTA
. But Peter tells me that Reform
Party groups provided him with some of his most
successful venues when he was promoting Alien Nation
in 1995.

Perot chose not to seize his great chance. And look what
happened to him.

Rest in peace, Admiral Stockdale. My children at least
will know your name.


Bryanna Bevens [email
her] is a political consultant and former chief of staff
for a member of the California State Assembly.