It’s not a stretch to say that many people my age (read: old) are interested in politics today because of the late Pat Paulsen.
In 1967 the folk duo of Tom and Dick Smothers debuted a television variety show of music and sketches written by young writers Steve Martin, Rob Reiner and Don Novello (a.k.a. Father Guido Sarducci). The ratings of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” were driven in large part by the musical guests. Cream, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who and Buffalo Springfield all appeared on the show.
In the first year of the show, the Smothers Brothers hired comedian Pat Paulsen to offer weekly editorial comment. Paulsen won an Emmy for his deadpan double-talk on the hot political topics of the day.
Paulsen chastised people complaining about Social Security benefits, saying the program had been enacted 30 years before to take care of old people, “but they’re still around.” He opposed gun control, because “who knows when you’re walking down the street and spot a moose.” He blamed all of the nation’s problems on the unenlightened immigration policy of the American Indian.
In 1968, Pat Paulsen decided to run for president of the United States for the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party. In his campaign announcement, Paulsen stated that he did not have lofty ambitions for himself and would rather be known as “the common, ordinary, simple savior of America’s destiny.”
Paulsen’s campaign slogan was simple: “I’ve upped my standards. Now up yours.”
As a candidate, Pat Paulsen had “the unforgettable skill of Rutherford B. Hayes, the upright intentions of Warren Harding and the loving spirit of Calvin Coolidge.” It was written that his campaign consisted of “more grass than roots.”
Paulsen’s campaign appearances drew large crowds of young people disenchanted with American politics.
Is all of this starting to sound familiar?
Lighten up, America
In South Carolina this weekend, led by a marching band, a gospel choir and “uncoordinated” campaign cash from a super PAC, Stephen Colbert took the Palmetto State by storm. Taking advantage of the fact that former presidential candidate Herman Cain was still on the primary ballot, Colbert told South Carolina voters that a vote for Herman Cain was a vote for Stephen Colbert.
Colbert and Cain appeared at a joint campaign rally that drew nearly 5,000 people, mostly college students. Colbert told jokes. Cain’s message was simple: “Lighten up, America.”
Like his predecessor in faux politics, Colbert is drawing crowds, but not votes. Despite the super PAC expenditure of funds, Herman Cain (or is it Stephen Colbert?) got only 1% of the vote in Saturday’s primary. After the 1968 race, Pat Paulsen ran for president many times in primaries for both parties. The best he ever did was in the 1992 GOP primaries, where he collected a total of 10,984 votes.
On Saturday, people understood the set-up, laughed at the punch line and then went on to cast serious votes for president.