Pat Paulsen had a dream.
It was the same dream every kid growing up in the 1930s had, that maybe someday, if he applied himself, and tried really hard, he might become president. The presidential bug first bit Paulsen when he was attending elementary school in South Bend, Washington.
From that day on, Paulsen knew he had a special purpose in life.
But, similar to other young adults in his situation, life got in the way. Swept up in the patriotic fury of the day, he enlisted in the Marines right out of high school. He was shipped overseas, but escaped combat duty because the war had ended. Instead, he spent his days babysitting Japanese prisoners of war.
When his tour of duty ended Paulsen tried his hand at numerous jobs. Most of them didn’t last long. He worked as a truck driver, a Fuller Brush man, and at a string of other jobs long since forgotten. After these early disappointments, he turned to acting. The next twenty years Paulsen found himself crisscrossing the country, singing, performing standup comedy, and oftentimes throwing in his blend of rye political commentary.
Paulsen’s big break was a long time in the making.
His old friends, Tom and Dick Smothers, hit the big time in 1967, when they were signed to do their own television show—The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Paulsen was a shoe in for a regular spot on the show. He was versatile. He was funny, and best of all, he was willing to work for peanuts.
What most viewers remember about his performances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was his deadpan delivery of newscasts and political commentary. His editorial on gun control was short, and to the point. “Without guns, how could we shoot anybody?” During another episode on gun control he accidentally fired his gun.
Tommy Smothers was the first person to suggest Paulsen should run for president. He thought it would be a great skit for the show.
Humble man that he was, Paulsen made his position perfectly clear from the start. “I will not run if nominated, and if elected, I will not serve.”
After that, things just sort of spiraled out of control.
No one was sure if his presidential run was part of the show, or a serious attempt to grab the office. The odds are Paulsen was as much in the dark as anyone else.
His campaign gained momentum over the coming weeks. Viewers tuned in, anxiously awaiting news of what was next for the sad faced politician. Tommy Smothers served as his campaign manager. Henry Fonda narrated a series of short documentaries following Paulsen on the campaign trail.
As a candidate, Paulsen was one hundred percent honest with the public, “I will continue to make promises that I will be unable to fulfill.”
When asked for his position on Vietnam, Paulsen’s response displayed his mastery of the subject. “Yes, we have a problem there.”
But, as always, he remained true to himself, a comedian to the end. “Do I consider myself a better comedian than LBJ, yes, but…I couldn’t run the country as funny.”
Paulsen’s style was honest and on point. He didn’t shirk from the big issues. He told the truth as he saw it.
When asked how he felt about civil rights, the candidate scratched his head, while he considered the issue. “I think we should send all the Negroes back to Africa, and all the whites back to Europe, and start over.”
Houston. We have a winner!
Like every other politician, fundraising played an integral role in Paulsen’s campaign. He was constantly on the lookout for innovative ideas—his lemonade stand raised over ten dollars in one afternoon, selling the cool beverage at five cents a drink. Candidate Paulsen hawked cookies door-to-door at ten cents each. And, of course, he hosted the obligatory big ticket dinners. While other candidates charged fifty and one hundred dollars a plate, Paulsen asked for a modest eighty-nine cents.
My favorite fundraiser was Paulsen’s presidential kissing booth. The candidate personally manned his booth. Plain kisses went for twenty-five cents, fancy kisses commanded fifty cents. Of course, there were complications, like the guy with fifty cents in his hand, and a smile on his face as he approached the booth.
Under most circumstances, Paulsen was fearless.
He offered to debate the other candidates on their home turf though he had some misgivings about making that offer to Governor George Wallace. He preferred to meet the Governor on neutral ground in Harlem rather than in Alabama.
And, of course there were some questions about his political affiliations. Paulsen ran under the aegis of the Straight Talking American Government Party, better known as the S.T.A.G. Party.
Senator Bobby Kennedy made a guest appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour during the campaign. The two men squared off mono-a-mono. Paulsen asked if he could count on Kennedy’s support in the election. Bobby asked Paulsen what office he was running for. Soon after that, Paulsen blurted out he didn’t think he could get elected. Bobby laughed, and walked off stage muttering some unintelligible words to himself.
That election went to another comedian who would run the country even funnier than LBJ. Undaunted by his loss, Paulsen attempted five more runs in the coming years.
Time took its toll on Candidate Paulsen. He looked older during the 1988 campaign. His hair had greyed, bags circled those dark mournful eyes, but the fire was still there. He faced the camera, and let loose. “I’m sick of the bitching and moaning.” It was a challenge to shut up America, and finally elect someone who will solve the problems, not just dish out the political doubletalk.
Paulsen made his final run for the Presidency in 1996. He signed out permanently in 1997.
He was the last honest political wannabe. A serious candidate, laughed off at the polls.
Wake up America!
This is an excerpt from my book, Life Without the BS: Rants, Raves, and Other Crazy Stuff. It's my take on life, politics, and all the other crazy stuff we deal with.