Saturday, July 13, 2019

R.I.P. Ross Perot

R.I.P. Ross Perot, who died this week at age 89.

If I'm being honest, I was surprised to find out he was still alive up to now. I'm even more surprised to find out he was only 89. He seemed that old when he rose to prominence back in the 90s.

For those of you wondering who the hell he was, Perot was a self-made Texas billionaire, presidential candidate and source of endless comedy material for talk show hosts and SNL (particularly Dana Carvey).

Perot famously ran for president in 1992 as an independent candidate, alongside George Bush 1.0 and Bill Clinton. Although he lost, he somehow managed to score an absolutely astonishing 19% of the popular vote! Holy Crap!

He ran again in 1996 against Bob Dole and incumbent Bill Clinton. He lost again, racking up just 8% of the popular vote that time. Still an impressive feat for an independent candidate.

Most people have forgotten or are unaware of Perot's involvement in the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. 

Back in 1979, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Fund was attempting to build a monument to the fallen soldiers of the conflict. Unable to raise enough funds on their own, they turned to Perot for some reason, who ponied up $171,000 (what an oddly random amount). 

The organization then held a nationwide contest to come up with a design for the Memorial. The competition was the largest in US history up to that time, receiving 1,421 entries. 

The winning entry was designed by a 21 year old Yale architecture student named Maya Lin. Rather than a traditional statue, her monument featured a long, V-shaped wall made out of black marble. The Wall would be engraved with the names of every soldier killed in the Vietnam War. In an interesting twist, rather than list the names alphabetically, they'd appear in the order in which the soldiers were killed. Viewers standing in front of the Wall would see their own reflections superimposed over the thousands and thousands of names of the fallen.

It was a high-concept design that was immediately controversial (making me wonder why they chose it in the first place). Perot was the Wall's biggest opponent, as he absolutely hated the unconventional idea. He wanted a more traditional monument, featuring bronze statues of soldiers, ala the Marine Corps War Memorial (you know, the one with the guys trying to raise the flag). 

Perot offered up several dull, boring alternatives, and was appalled when veteran groups announced they actually liked Lin's design.

Perot then tried a different tactic, calling Lin's Asian heritage into question. According to him, it was shameful and outrageous for a Vietnam War memorial to be designed by an "egg roll." Yeah, he really said that. Oh, Ross. You lovable billionaire racist, you. Of course Perot failed to mention that Maya Lin was born in Ohio, not freakin' Phnom Penh.

Despite all that unpleasantness, Perot lost his argument and the Wall was eventually built. Even better, the design turned out to be massively popular, as millions visit it every year and are emotionally overwhelmed by it. 

Take that, Ross Perot!

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