Introduction/Background: Mason Williams, Smothers Brothers, and Pat Paulsen
Mason Williams, "Pat Paulsen's Solutions for Gun Violence and Other Challenges"
Mason Williams and Nicholas Johnson Offer Gun Violence Solutions
Remember the wrist bands, "WWJD," for "What would Jesus Do"?
"Pat Paulsen for President."]
Because I had run into a grocery store clerk in Galveston the week before who had no memory of the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" (he was also unaware of which grocery aisle contained the store's offering of bread), it occurs to me that perhaps you, too, would appreciate a little background.
You remember "the Sixties," right? No? OK. Well, the 1960s and early 1970s were times of great creativity and upheaval in America. We had more "movements" then than . . . you get the idea. Large numbers of citizens were involved in protesting, demanding, and often obtaining their rights and goals regarding African-Americans' civil rights, women's rights, and bringing a halt to the Viet Nam War. Whether life imitates art, or the reverse, it was also a time of innovation in graphic art, music, literature, drama -- and television programming.
Given that my term as an FCC commissioner ran from 1966 through 1973, my "15 minutes of fame" pretty much overlapped these years, and caused me to be involved in one way or another with many of the passions of these times -- including one of those innovative TV programs, the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," one of CBS' most popular shows throughout the 1966-68 seasons.
There were conflicts between the show, primarily Tom Smothers, and the CBS' "censors," primarily involving politically edgy content. Ultimately, CBS' Chair Bill Paley ordered the cancellation of the program in April 1969. A film depicts those controversies, "Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," in which I play a bit part, and a summary of which is presented, ironically, on "The Paley Center for Media" Web site.
I believe it was during that time frame Tom Smothers flew to Washington and visited with me in my FCC office. My memory is that he said CBS was telling him that he was violating National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and FCC requirements.
NAB "Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters) was a 1951 set of ethical standards, with something almost literally a copy of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, seldom if ever taken seriously (and subsequently abandoned by the NAB in 1983, following pressure from members), with no specified sanctions for violation.
If you'd like to know more about this historic and influential program and its place in American television history, here are some links: The Smothers Brothers' Web page; "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," wikipedia.org; "Smothers Brothers," wikipedia.org; Mason Williams' Web page; and "Mason Williams," (including discography), wikipedia.org.
"Pat Paulsen for President," and "Pat Paulsen," wikipedia.org. Tom Smothers has said that Pat Paulsen "was the most important comedic talent I’ve met in my life.” [Photo credit: "Pat Paulsen for President," and other sources.]
Carl Reiner acting as master of ceremonies. You get the idea. [Photo/poster credit: Mason Williams.]
Here are the videos:
This one is narrated by Henry Fonda:
This next one is a memorial tribute (Paulsen lived 1927-97), with "Classical Gas" as the soundtrack, Pat Paulsen's rendition of "God Bless America" as a close, and a couple of brief bits from the prior video:
As the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour head writer, it fell to Mason Williams to write material for Pat Paulsen as well. So who better to ask than Mason Williams how Pat Paulsen might go about controlling gun violence.
As it turns out, although Pat Paulsen has not been with us in a temporal sense since 1997, Mason Williams is still able to channel Paulsen's thoughts from the great beyond. Here, then, is . . .
by Mason Williams
“I’d pass a law that states that from here on, anyone who wants to buy a gun has to be willing to be shot with it. It would be a little like the “golden rule” in reverse: “Do unto yourself what you might do unto others.” In this case, I’d probably call it the “lead rule”. This would solve several aspects of our gun control problems.
1. It would probably get rid of anyone wanting to own ten guns.
2. You wouldn’t need a permit, you’d have the scar from the bullet-wound. No need for a permit means less bureaucracy and therefore less paperwork. This would save a lot of time & money.
3. Local gun shows would probably have to go out of business. You wouldn’t want to buy a gun from some guy who would take you out behind the building and shoot you with it before he sold it to you. You would want go to a reputable dealer who’s a good shot, a marksman.
4. As to the part of the body where you would be shot, that would of course be your decision. This is, after all, a free country.
Pat is asking Congress to act quickly and pass this proposal into law, not just to save lives, but in order to clear the decks for his other proposals. He is concerned about the indication a number of public prosecutors are planning on bringing an "aiding and abetting" criminal behavior case against the National Rifle Association. The theory of the case is that the NRA's efforts to increase the sales of their members who are gun manufacturers and gun show owners, while weakening such regulations as exist, and stonewalling efforts to staff the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, have the effect of aiding and abetting the crimes of those who use guns in the course of robberies or as the preferred instrument for homicides. Candidate Paulsen is concerned that the focus on these protracted and contentious criminal prosecutions, and their attendant publicity and public participation, will detract from what he considers essential legislation for the American people.
Here are some of his other proposals.
Education vs. The escalating cost of putting young people in prison. We need to spend more money and effort to provide a better education for our young people. A great many of today’s high school student’s drop out early only to begin a life of crime. We need to convince kids that if they stay in school and get smarter they’ll be less likely to get caught. This obviously means fewer kids going to prison. This will take a lot of pressure off of the costs of running our prisons.
The smarter kid is a fiscally responsible crook for us all! Who knows, they could even go on to have a career on Wall Street.
Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. It's the Republicans who are, for the most part, anti-abortionists. They have no qualms about butting into your personal life, but they do have the basic philosophy of staying out of private business affairs.
Therefore, I’d recommend passing a law to have all of the women in America become corporations. This way, if the hypothetical Jane Doe Corporation got pregnant & decided to “downsize” it would be strictly her “business,” and the Republicans, being honor-bound to abide by their tradition of staying out of people’s business affairs, would have to make her business decision none of their business.
Given the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United (that turned all corporations into persons), although the women would no longer be able to rely on the Nineteenth Amendment for their voting rights, they could simply vote as corporations.
And here’s the “two-fer,” since there are approximately 150,000,000 women in the United States, this would provide an enormous business opportunity for the lawyers of America.
Drugs and Social Security. I’d solve our nation’s drug problems & our Social Security problems in one fell swoop.
I’d propose that only Senior Citizens deal illicit drugs! (They could certainly use the money!) Think of the big load this would take off of the Social Security Reserves.
They’d probably even be willing to report their income and pay taxes on it!
It would also probably stop much of the violence associated with drug dealing. Who’s going to blow away somebody’s grandmother? Sure, there might be a walker-by-swatting with a handbag once in a while, but I’m sure the cops could handle it. I also think that older, wiser people would be more apt to show a little concern for their clients: “Now sonny boy, don’t take too many of these at once!” Or, “No downers with alcohol.” “These together will kill you.”
So there’s an extra, additional bonus here! The users won’t overdose and cost us, the taxpayers, a fortune in treatment and rehabilitation. In this case you get three solutions for the price of one!
There you have it, folks. Mason Williams channeling Pat Paulsen from the great beyond, bringing solutions to a political Washington seemingly mired in mud, members of Congress accorded less respect by the American people than the regard they have for cockroaches and communists. We are desperately in need of the leadership only Pat Paulsen could provide.
Now . . .
Nick: Mason, why do you think people want assault rifles?
Nick: OK, good point. What else?
Mason: I think we ought to encourage and enlist the NRA members to help police themselves.
Nick: Are you serious? How is that going to work?
Mason: The goal would be to encourage the NRA to help solve gun violence problems rather than resisting all solutions. Not that they should go out hunting for criminals -- no good guys with guns going after bad guys with guns -- but agreeing to intensified restrictions that are inconvenient to all when they're applied.
Nick: Lots of luck with that one.
Mason: No; listen now. Suppose in a town like Butte, Montana, there are very few, if any, firearm suicides and homicides. Why should the gun owners in Butte be inconvenienced with regulations and prohibitions on gun ownership? My guess is that most of the congressional opposition to gun controls come from communities, counties, and states like that. Eliminate that opposition, focus the regulations on localities where they are needed, make sense, and could save lives, and the whole effort becomes more politically possible.
The NRA claims to be willing to back sensible regulations that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals and psychopathic killers. Giving the NRA a base on balls in that 75 percent or more of geographic America where responsible gun owners outnumber the armed criminals and psychopaths might just be attractive to them.
Nick: Hey, you may actually have something there. But how would it work?
Mason: Well, once a community reaches a certain threshold of gun violence, that would trigger a set of laws and regulations. But they would only apply to that area. It would be like conditions triggering a curfew; something nobody wants to happen. Maybe Congress or the FCC could require radio and TV stations to report firearm deaths, and broadcast what we used to call public service announcements about shootings.
For example, if the selective enforcement would come into play maybe those who own hunting rifles or pistols would not be bothered, but those who own assault rifles would be subject to more scrutiny.
Don't you see? This would provide an incentive for NRA members to do everything possible to keep these rules from going into effect, an incentive to be left alone. In fact, the whole community would have a vested interest in not bringing these Draconian measures down on itself.
But I see a couple possible problems.
Nick: What's that?
Mason: Nick, it's always the same dilemma. You can't legislate common sense or personal responsibility. Laws tend to be absolutes. The reason is, you can't have loopholes without absolutes, and folks like loopholes. Common sense doesn't have any loopholes.
Besides, could Congress do that? Can you have different standards that apply in different ways to different areas of the country?
Nick: The first example that comes to my mind is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Lyndon Johnson when I was a part of his administration. It was an effort to outlaw voting practices throughout the South that resulted in the disenfranchisement of African Americans.
That Act had a built-in formula for distinguishing various areas of the United States. What the Act called "covered jurisdictions" were forbidden to make any changes in their voting laws without the Justice Department's prior approval, or "pre-clearance." Covered jurisdictions were states and counties in which less than 50 percent of the population was registered to vote, and that had used a "device" to restrict voting. Other parts of the country were not subject to that review, and triggering of restrictions.
That doesn't answer your question, but it's at least an example of something somewhat similar. Another might be the FCC regulation, when I was there, that exempted the smallest radio stations from the burden of lengthy paperwork for their license renewals. They could just submit a postcard. That didn't involve geographical areas, but did provide a disparate standard in the application of the law and regulations.
Mason: Those examples hit the mark; they establish legal precedents.
I remember reading an article in the New York Times opinion section that was about how, more and more, people are coalescing into what is called groups of "like minded people," like organizations, or gated communities. And one of their findings was that the larger the group got, the more it embraced the views and perspectives of its most extreme and radical members, rather than the collective average of the group. ("[W]hen like-minded people get together, they tend to end up thinking a more extreme version of what they thought before . . . [a] kind of echo-chamber effect . . .. '[B]iased assimilation' . . . means that people assimilate new information in a selective fashion. . . . [I]nformation that supports what they initially thought [is given] considerable weight. . . . [I]nformation that undermines their initial beliefs, they tend to dismiss . . .." Cass R. Sunstein, "Breaking Up the Echo," New York Times, September 18, 2012, p. A25.)Maybe the NRA has fallen into this category. Maybe the NRA is just a group of like minded people who are held hostage by the extremist views of its most radical members.