The Paulsen Effect

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, October 30, 2012 No Comment(s)

Watching the recent presidential debate, in fact the entire presidential campaign that began four years ago, one is reminded of the late Pat Paulsen, who ran for president any number of times. His campaign was based on saying whatever worked at the time. Example:

Paulsen: “I was in Palm Beach yesterday. What a bunch of phonies. It is so good to be here in Fort Lauderdale with real people. This is where I want to retire someday.”
Interviewer: “But yesterday in Palm Beach you said you loved Palm Beach people, the real Americans compared to all the phonies in New York. You said you wanted to retire there. In fact, everywhere you go you praise the place you are in and knock the place you were in the day before. How do you account for that?”
Paulsen: “I was misquoted.”
Interviewer: “But they have you on film.”
Paulsen: “I was misfilmed.”

He managed to say such stuff with a straight face. Pat Paulsen, of course, was a comedian, a masterful satirist. The people running for president appear to be serious. But they take a page from Paulsen in that they seem unflappably comfortable in saying anything they think their audience wants to hear, even if it is diametrically opposed to what they said the day before.

Mitt Romney seems to be worse than the president in this regard, but both men seem able to balance contradictions with ease. Perhaps one pundit went too far the morning after the first debate when he said Romney is a liar and should be charged with perjury. Better to use a little of Pat Paulsen’s diplomacy and simply call Romney the biggest phoney who ever lived. And we actually liked his father, who was unfairly cast out of serious politics when he said he was “brainwashed” about the Vietnam War. That was the truth; everybody was brainwashed. That is another way of saying somebody lied.

Just because a man has no principle does not mean he can’t be a good president. Richard Nixon was a notorious liar and also a saccharine panderer to our lesser angels. Recall the line: “I’m glad you asked that question. Pat and I were talking about it at home just the other night. She was knitting a flag. I was reading the Constitution.” And yet people give him credit for opening up a dialogue with China and starting the warm relationship where they lend us all their money.

Distasteful as it may be, we ought to get used to candidates saying what they think we want to hear, even if it contradicts everything they said the day before. This scenario is no reflection on the current candidates, and we never called Romney a phoney.

1st Candidate: “I believe we need to help the middle class and let those of us fortunate enough to be wealthy pay a little more.”
2nd Candidate: “That goes for me, too. Except for the rich. I don’t want to raise taxes on anybody, and you can’t raise taxes on the rich without raising taxes on the middle class. I love the middle class, even if most of them are moochers looking for a handout.”
1st Candidate: “You just insulted the middle class.”
2nd Candidate: “No, you did. I love the middle class. And I never called them moochers.”
1st Candidate: “They have you on film.”
2nd Candidate: “I was misfilmed.”
1st Candidate: “You stole that line from Pat Paulsen.”
2nd Candidate: “No, you did. I stole it from a magazine writer.”
1st Candidate: “Then the writer stole it.”
2nd Candidate: “Writers never tell the truth.”
1st Candidate: “Do you ever tell the truth?”
2nd Candidate: “You can’t handle the truth.”
1st Candidate: “You just stole another line!”
2nd Candidate: “Did you say shoot all the immigrants?”
1st Candidate: “I never mentioned immigrants.”
2nd Candidate: “I never said you did.”
1st Candidate: “Oh, shut up.”
2nd Candidate: “You shut up.”
1st Candidate: “You have bad breath.”
2nd Candidate: “You have body odor.”
1st Candidate: “Your girlfriend smells worse.”
Moderator: “Gentlemen, screw you both. We are out of time.”
1st Candidate: “Ask the moderator if you don’t believe me. He just woke up.”
2nd Candidate: “What moderator? You mean that schmuck sitting there?”
1st Candidate: “You just called the moderator a schmuck.”
2nd Candidate: “I never said a bad word about anybody.”
1st Candidate: “It’s late. I hate debating. It’s beneath me. I’m going home.”
2nd Candidate: “Me, too. Let’s go out and have a drink. I never wanted to run anyway. The devil made me do it.”
Moderator: “Thank you gentlemen for this insightful exchange. And God bless America.”


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