Paulsen For President

In the late sixties, a comedian named Pat Paulsen appeared on the Smothers Brothers TV show, and did a comedy routine satirizing political editorials. He was completely dead-pan, and said outrageous stuff, and a whole lot of nothing most of the time. The forerunner of Stephen Colbert, he was just hilariously funny during a period when politics wasn’t a bit funny or even pleasant.

Inevitably, he began “running for President.”  He traveled around the country, “campaigning” to adoring crowds.

One of his most memorable lines was the campaign slogan: “If elected, I will win.”

You can see some of his stuff in the series of videos I’ve posted above. That’s one of six.

I could not find a film clip of him doing it, but he used to get up in each town where he appeared and say, “Oh, I love Birmingham. Mrs. Paulsen and I have often discussed how when we retire, we’re going to retire to Birmingham. We love it here.”

And ditto in Denver. And in Syracuse. And in Charlotte.

And always with this serious expression and total “sincerity.”

The routine was funny enough that it has remained legendary in our family.  It’s a symbol of insincerity.  We look at each other and say, “I love this town. When we retire, we’re going to live here.” And then we laugh.

Fast forward:

I once told the story of my encounter with Dr. Bob Jones, III to a friend. Before I got even the first part of it out, he wrote: “I believe you.”

I believe you.

I was a little stunned. Why wouldn’t he believe me?  What in the world was that about?  Furthermore, he hadn’t heard the whole thing. How would he know if he believed me or not, when he didn’t even know what I was going to say?

I’ve told lots of people that story over the 51 years since it happened, and that was the first time anyone ever responded like that. When I recounted the story on the original Bob Jones University survivor’s group, a couple of guys expressed doubt about parts of it. They clearly didn’t believe some of the details. But that didn’t surprise me or even bother me.

My worth as a human being doesn’t come from what other people think about the veracity of some 51-year-old story. Besides that, any 51-year-old memory is subject to being pretty flawed, so I don’t even know if it’s totally true in every single detail.

But this knee-jerk “I believe you” thing was different. It just felt different. It felt rote, automated, not thoughtful—just reactive.

It was quite a while (like months) before I realized what was wrong.  It was automated. This friend had swallowed the line that one must never, ever doubt a “victim’s” story, ever.  One must always express total belief. So he was doing that. Only my little story had nothing at all to do with sexual abuse, and he made the error of saying it way too soon, before he’d even read it all.

My friend was channeling Pat Paulsen. He was just repeating the same thing to everyone, regardless of what crap they tell him. Doesn’t matter. What if I had gone on to tell him that Dr. Bob III had sprouted horns right in front of me, and that his skin had peeled back, and he was really a reptile from Sauron disguised as a human being?

I believe you.

It sounds so comforting and accepting and I know my friend thought it was the right thing, the politically correct thing, to say.

But it’s hollow when repeated in Pat Paulsen fashion. He went all over America making fun of politicians who do the same thing.

Almost nine years ago, we lost our son, Nathan. In the years since his death, I have heard people describe him many times. They use all sorts of words: beautiful, talented, infuriating, driven. Those are just a few.

But the most commonly used word is “real.”


One musician said this: If Nathan told you that your performance was good, you knew it really was. It meant more than when other people said it, because he didn’t say it unless he really meant it. He didn’t say it to be polite, or to make you feel good about yourself. He said it because he thought it was good.

That, to me, is the ultimate legacy.



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