Now that the presidential nomination conventions of the two major parties have finished, the hard work of campaigning in the run-up to Election Day has begun. During boomers’ formative years, TV shows, magazines, ad agencies, PR firms and marketing companies all saw the potential of promoting their characters in fake political campaigns to a generation whose oldest members were just beginning to reach legal voting age.
The voting age was 21, as noted in the song, Eve of Destruction, when Barry McGuire sang, “You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting.” The earliest boomers were angry that they could be drafted into the army yet could not take part in the voting process. It would not be until July of 1971 before the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and the age was changed to 18.
Many comics, writers and actors saw that 1968 battlefield as a theater of the absurd, so it was a natural evolution that popular characters would be paraded out to run for president. There had already been a tradition of fake campaigns dating back to the 1920s, when there was a Betty Boop for President campaign for the cartoon character, and the 1930s, when humorist Will Rogers mounted his faux run for the presidency.
Here are some favorite TV, comic book and cartoon characters who ran presidential campaigns in the Boomer Generation’s formative years of the ’60s and ’70s:
Howdy Doody, 1948
For many boomers, their first television memories are of the puppet Howdy Doody. In 1948, when the first boomers were just three years old, Puppet Playhouse Presents Howdy Doody ran a TV episode that featured a Howdy Doody for President theme.
Huckleberry Hound, 1960
The year John F. Kennedy was elected president, Huckleberry Hound had a running storyline in a comic book outlining his campaign for president.
Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla, 1964
In a crossover attempt in two comic books, Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla “ran” against each other for president. Buttons and campaign memorabilia were printed and distributed through the comic books. Each purchase was considered a vote for the candidate. Yogi’s vice presidential pick was Huckleberry Hound. Dozens of these buttons and pins are still available online today.
Pat Paulsen, 1968, et al
You can’t mention presidential candidates, real or not, without mentioning Pat Paulsen. He is perhaps the most persistent non-candidate in election history. Paulsen ran for president in 1968, ’72, ’80, ’88, ’92 and ’96. These were official attempts, though his campaign speeches were all tongue-in-cheek. He “ran” on the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party, but got on the ballot as a Republican and Democrat in many state primaries. Paulsen actually finished second to George Bush in 1992 in the North Dakota Republican Primary, and finished second to Bill Clinton in 1996 in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary.
It all began in 1967, when Paulsen, a comic and musician, was singing parodies of folk singers in comedy clubs. His friend, Tommy Smothers, caught his act one night and offered him a job writing songs for his TV show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Paulsen started on-air appearances on the show as a befuddled and disgruntled editorialist with deadpan humor. Tommy Smothers suggested he take his character into a presidential campaign and the rest is history. In our era of sound bites, we can recall that in political campaigns, the tag line served as the sound bite of its day. Paulsen had favorite tag lines used in his campaigns. In 1968 he had one printed on buttons that pictured his head on the body of a bald eagle. The tag line read, “I’ve upped my standards … Now up yours!” In live appearances and TV interviews, he was fond of saying, “If elected, I will win.”
In 1970, Paulsen was given his own show, Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour. It only lasted 13 weeks, but on the very first show, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was a guest. It was a testimonial to the influence of comedy on elections.
Dick Gregory, 1968
Comedian and Civil Rights activist Dick Gregory launched his campaign in the 1968 election. He had fake dollar bills printed with his face on them. The headlines above and below his portrait said, “For President of The United States of America — Gregory — One Vote.” The satirical implication was obvious — he was buying your vote.
The popular Charles Shultz comic character had a storyline of the dog running for president, but the campaign went up a notch when The Royal Guardsmen released a song called, Snoopy for President. It sounded suspiciously like The Royal Guardsmen’s Snoopy vs. Red Baron and other Snoopy Christmas songs. In fact, we recall The Royal Guardsmen today only for their Snoopy songs.
Alfred E. Neuman, 1968
In Mad magazine’s 11th Annual Edition of More Trash From Mad the cover features a drawing of LBJ stepping out of the presidential limousine. His car sports an Alfred E. Neuman for President bumper sticker and the gate post, with the address 1600 visible, had a poster for candidate Neuman. The bumper sticker and poster came with the issue.
Again in 1972, a Mad cover featured Alfred E. Neuman for President. This time, the candidate himself was pictured with a straw convention hat that had been smashed over his head. The band around the hat held the pitch, Alfred E. Neuman for President.
Archie Bunker, 1972
Though his “campaign” was not part of the All In the Family TV show itself, Archie Bunker seemed a natural to run for president, with his over-the-top opinions on everything. The Archie Bunker campaign was a PR move, complete with campaign buttons. You’ll find the buttons for sale online.
These are just a few, since there were many more before, during and after the ’60s and ’70s.
Do you recall a favorite cartoon, comic book or TV character who ran for president, boomers? Did you obtain campaign memorabilia back then?