JACK SPENCER: A nugget of wisdom from 1968: Pat Paulsen

Imagine the following statements being made by a candidate in a presidential campaign.

“I do not claim that I can solve all of the world’s problems by myself; if I did, I’d have to run as a Republican or a Democrat.”

“It is time to forget all of this petty bickering and settle down to an old fashioned mudslinging and name-calling campaign.”

Comedian Pat Paulsen staged mock presidential campaigns — heavily laden with satirical jabs at politicians — in almost every presidential year between 1968 and 1996. But his first one in 1968, which was launched on the nationally popular Smothers Brothers variety TV show, drew the most attention.

A documentary about that campaign, narrated by the late Academy Award-winning actor Henry Fonda, includes segments of a speech Paulsen gave to lawmakers in the Michigan House of Representatives. The documentary is currently viewable on Youtube.

In his address to the Michigan lawmakers from the Speaker’s podium beneath the blue Michigan emblem Paulsen said: “I have conducted my campaign thus far in true American political tradition. I lied about my intension to run; I have been consistently vague on the issues — this is not good enough, apparently. Therefore I promise you all, my fellow Americans, I will continue to make promises I will be unable to fulfill.”

The documentary is divided into six parts. The Michigan portion appears in the fourth part and lasts about 2 ½ minutes. Paulsen is shown meeting with former Michigan Governor George Romney just prior to giving his speech.

Overall, the documentary is less than hilarious, but it does include several quotes likely to spark a chuckle or at least a smile. Here are some of them.

When his campaign was in the early phase in which he denied he was running, Paulsen said of the press, “They seem to assume that I’m lying when I state that I’m not a candidate for the presidency. It’s true that all of the present candidates once denied they had any intension of running. But the fact that I am also a liar doesn’t make me a candidate.”

Regarding fundraising Paulsen said: “My fundraising projects are based upon the guiding principles set down by President Abraham Lincoln; he said, ‘you can fool some of the people all of the time.’”

On Civil Rights Paulsen said: “I think we should send all of the Negros back to Africa, all of the whites back to Europe, and start all over again. (Apparently the word “Negros” was still in vogue back in 1968.)

On urban sanitation Paulsen said: “I have suggested to the state legislature an amendment that, if passed, will provide for a woman to come in three days a week to clean your city.”

Regarding censorship (which Paulsen pretended to support) he said. “Many people hold that censorship is a violation of free speech — bull feathers. The Bill of Rights says nothing about freedom of hearing.”

In his mock election campaigns Paulsen represented the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) party. Its symbol was a mounted deer head with a straw hat dangling from its antlers. One of the party’s mottos was “We Can’t Stand Pat.”

Throughout the1968 documentary there are scenes in which Paulsen arrives at various states and, in each case, says he wants to eventually move to that particular state. Paulsen may not have moved to Michigan, but for years he appeared regularly at the Cherry County Play House in Traverse City of which he became a part-owner. The Play House was moved to Muskegon in the 1990s.

Paulsen was born July 6, 1927 and died April 24, 1997. This week will mark the 17th anniversary of his passing. Many would argue that his satire stemmed primarily from the liberalism of the 1960s; nevertheless most of it struck comedic chords across the full political spectrum.

It is said that laughing is good for the soul; and that would seem especially true regarding politics. We should laugh at every opportunity, lest we’d weep too often.