October 7th, 2008
11:00 AM ET

A candidate you could believe in

Pat Paulsen knew where he stood.

“I am neither left wing nor right wing,” said the deadpan comic and “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” editorialist during his quixotic run for the presidency in 1968. “I am middle-of-the-bird.”

Paulsen’s campaign, the subject of the classic mockumentary “Pat Paulsen for President,” was one of the few bright spots in that ugly year of 1968. The film makes up the final disc of a new 4-DVD box, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3,” which showcases the controversial variety show when it was at its height (and just before CBS canceled it after one too many run-ins with the network’s censors).

The DVD set is a mixed bag, with the brothers’ familiar comedy-and-folk music routines contrasted with both the sublime (some Bob Newhart monologues, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue) and the dated (the cast of “Hair,” Donovan at his trippiest). But “Pat Paulsen for President,” narrated by Henry Fonda (!) at his all-American best, still holds up.

There’s Paulsen on airport tarmacs in states such as Florida and Texas, praising the locals for their heartland values and attacking his home state of California … until he returns to California and disparages the rest of the country. There’s Paulsen offering to meet his rivals wherever they want: “I challenge [California Governor] Ronald Reagan to meet on his home grounds - the back lot at Warner Brothers.”

And, of course, there’s Paulsen at that most traditional of politicians’ events, the fund-raising dinner - in Paulsen’s case, a star-studded meal for 89 cents a plate.

(I have to wonder if William Safire was paying attention to Paulsen’s speeches. At one point, the candidate said, “Nay to the negative nincompoops who never nourished the nihilistic nerve to name a novice to nail down the nomination.” It’s a short jump from “negative nincompoops” to “nattering nabobs of negativism.”)

Paulsen failed in his 1968 run, as he did with his 1972, 1980, 1988, 1992 and 1996 runs, but his spirit lives on. “It is time to forget the petty bickering,” he once said, “and settle down to an old-fashioned mudslinging, name-calling campaign.” Modern audiences will no doubt relate.

- Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

Filed under: television

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Keej

    I’d passion to ascertain that too!

    November 19, 2009 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Konaguy
    November 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Carol

    Jeff, you are quite misinformed. Its McCain that's saying anything to get elected. When the POW thing didn't work, he called himself a maverick, then a reformer, now a fighter. Also, what happened to the Ayers attacks? What happened is Obama's numbers started going up so he stopped. Obama has been consistent about where he stands the entire campaign and he will be the last man standing on Nov. 4. Obama/Biden '08.

    October 14, 2008 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jane

    I remember watching Paulsen in 68 I thought he was so witty. We need more humor less bias and someone running for President that actually has some answers. Someone that isn't handing us over to huge Government and selling us out. Unfortunately we got two of the worst choices in my life time, So I'll be voting for the lessor of two evils.

    October 12, 2008 at 5:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. Lee

    I like the positive tone of this blog. No baiting previous comments with negative retrations. Expressiing our varing opinions is the America way. Although this process of one party or the other only is frustrating I remain an Obama supporter.

    October 7, 2008 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jen

    In fairness to Alex, I think he meant a mainstream, viable 3rd party candidate. While there are others out there for 2008, they are not visable enough to get the votes they need. To me, I have to pick between R or D because other than that I am throwing my vote away. This is not an easy year to be an American citizen since we have to vote for candidated that offer no real solutions, only insults. I wish Amercians could believe in America enough to educate themselves about the candidates they way people do for American Idol or Monday Night football. Because it seems to me, most people know a lot about those things but will know little more than what the TV ads from the whining candidates say when they head to the polls on 11/4.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Marilyn

    Sustenance people! Look at the issues yourselves. Don't wait for someone to tell you what you want to hear. And don't look only at the last few years. Look at how things have gone for 30 + years. Then make a decision based on that. The best President and Vice President will not necessarily be the best orators. The best will be the ones who have been consistent – who will stand up for what is best for the people of the United States regardless of what the popular opinion is.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. drow

    if you want a third party, you bloody well have to support a third party and not just wish for it. bob barr is running under the libertarian flag, chuck baldwin for the constitution party, cynthia mckinney for the greens. go forth, research, vote your conscience.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin in Dallas

    I remember the Pat Paulsen skits, and much like Borat, you either knew it was a parody or you didn't. The "diehards" are the same type of people that vote a party line, regardless of how ridiculous your chosen party line may be in any given election year.

    It so happens that in this Presidential campaign, the information age has trapped Republicans that are used to half-truths and pandering. I'm not saying that Democrats have never used these tactics. Rather, I'm saying that Republicans are counting on them, and the information turnaround time is too quick for them to work. A vast majority of interested voters go online and either read fact checks, check the facts themselves, or otherwise get "behind the scenes" information from their place of choice.

    In the past, you couldn't easily check voting records, the truthiness of statements (thank you for the word, Stephen Colbert), and so forth. Now, information validity can be pretty immediate, and the Republicans haven't caught up with that yet. Palin is a ridiculous, pandering choice for VP. I'm perhaps more qualified. (I can see the moon from here, so I'm an astronaut!) Biden is old school politics, but with a moderate left leaning ideology, which fits Obama well. Obama is not the most experienced guy, but he's mostly talking on topical subjects, not pointing fingers and making accusations. McCain has admitted that his wife checks email for him, and both he and his advisors change their opinions week to week depending on poll results.

    It's a clear choice, really, but being in Texas, I know that my Obama vote will merely cancel out a McCain vote. That's okay though. The closer the race can be made in this traditional red state, the bigger the impact.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tim C

    Too bad so few people took Paul seriously when they had the chance.

    October 7, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Alex

    I support Obama, but even so, the lack of a viable, lasting third-party altrenative (or even, in the case of the president, no-party alternative) is one of the major weaknesses of the American system.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Deborah Black

    We have plenty of commedians, Bill Maher, Tina Fey, Dave Letterman. Where are the serious journalists?
    There was another Senator, Joseph McCarthy was his name, who achieved power and personal gain from his campaign of terror. John McCain, is now engaged in trying to take this country down that same path. Create fear and hatred against your fellow Americans because of who they may know. By the McCain standard, much like McCarthy's, everyone who attends or works at the same University as Mr Ayers, is a terrorist pal. They should all be rounded up and questioned. Maybe the whole city of Chicago, didn't they give Mr Ayers an award, for citizenship and his good works in the community? They must all be terroritst pals.
    Where is Harry Truman, Edward R Morrow and Margret Chaise Smith? We need them desperately.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jackie in Dallas

    I remember the Smother's Brothers well, and especially the Pat Paulsen for President spoof. And remember, it WAS a spoof. It was the parent to the SNL of today. But like all good satire, it had a moral statement to make...trying to please everyone all the time, ends up pleasing only a few diehards.

    As for our current political satire, well, I think Obama would like to stay on the issues...it's his strong point. But if he doesn't address the negative stuff being thrown at him by McCain/Palin, especially Palin, he risks some of the independents and undecideds feeling as if the negative crap is true. He's damned either way.

    For once, I'd like to hear the real issues from McCain or Palin, not talking points, not spin, not (PLEASE) "I'm a maverick" or "I'm Joe Six-Pack" - I don't want either of those running my country! And I swear if Sarah winks at me once more, I'm going to gag! What pandering! I'm a woman, for crying out loud, who fought for years in the battle for women's rights, and this is what I get? Yuck.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cassie79

    Personally, I agree with whatever talking head it was that I was watching a week or so ago who suggested that all ballots should also offer "none of the above"– that way, all of us who vote solely AGAINST someone, as opposed to being FOR the other candidate, can make our voices heard. I didn't like ANY of the choices way back when there were, what, 25 running for Repubs and 15 for Dems! Maybe then we'd get better quality choices– the ones we've had the past 20 or so years have benn pitiful.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mickie

    Paulsen praised Florida and trashed California while in Florida, but then when in California, trashed the rest of the Country - so, I don't get what's so different about him. I have worked several times in the political arena and if the public knew half of what goes on behind the scenes, they would stop bashing each other for the way each of us vote. The cancer in our society is "apathy" of the people.

    October 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Jeff

    Seems like the 2008 campaign should just follow his lead and forget trying to hide behind subtleties hidden behind lies, exaggerations and mistatements of the truth.

    Tired of the campaigns focusing on negativily and not the issues. Shame on Obama and McCain.

    Is there a third candidate? One who is not as frightening and say whatever I can to get elected as Obama or would stick to his original values as McCain should have done.

    October 7, 2008 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |

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