I’m interested in politics because of the late Pat Paulsen.

When other kids my age were buying music records, I was purchasing LPs by the likes of David Frye (who did a spot on Richard Nixon), David Steinberg and Paulsen. I bought Richard Pryor albums too, but had to hide them from the disapproving ear of my parents.

Paulsen was, by far, my favorite.

In 1967, the folk music duo of Tom and Dick Smothers debuted a television variety show of music and comedy sketches written by 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.

As the spokesperson for the show, 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 Native Americans.

A year later, Pat Paulsen decided to run for president of the United States as the representative of the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party. The party’s motto: “We’ve upped our standards. Now up yours.” In his campaign speeches, Paulsen reiterated he did not have lofty ambitions for himself and would rather be known as he was at the time: “the common, ordinary, simple … savior of America’s destiny.”

It was written that candidate Paulsen had “the unforgettable skill of Rutherford B. Hayes, the upright intentions of Warren Harding and the loving spirit of Calvin Coolidge.” And that campaign apparatus consisted of “more grass than roots.” I suspect Paulsen may have written those observations himself.

Paulsen’s campaign was a well thought out parody of American politics at the time. His campaign stops drew large crowds of young people disenchanted with government.

If that last line sounds familiar, it should. Disenchantment with one thing or another sent people to the polls in November and to the streets in January. The only difference today is this time no one is laughing.

People today want all humor to make a point. In his book Republican Party Reptile, conservative humorist (not an oxymoron) P. J. O’Rourke rightly observed, “laughter is involuntary, points are not.”

Neither the left nor the right is willing to see humor at their own expense. And that is our fault, not the politicians. America has become a nation of people who look like they just bit into a lemon. And before anyone ascribes the cause to folks with opposing political views, take a long look in the mirror. Ask yourself when you last posted LOL to a funny line not meant to make a point.

Pat Paulsen is rolling over in his grave—laughing at us all! 

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