Sunday, November 04, 2007

November 4, 1879:

Will Rogers' Birthday

Stephen Colbert is hardly the first comedian to "run" for president. Writing last month in Slate, Christopher Beam and Chadwick Matlin had this to say about comedians with hats in the presidential ring: "A few people have compared Colbert's candidacy to that of Pat Paulsen, the comedian who ran on the Straight-Talking American Government ticket in 1968 with the promise that 'If elected, I will win.'

"But Paulsen wasn't the first, either. Back in 1928, humorist Will Rogers announced his presidential bid on the 'Anti-Bunk Party' ticket in a column for Life magazine. His campaign promise was essentially the opposite of Paulsen's: If elected, he would resign. He later challenged Herbert Hoover to a joint debate 'in any joint you name.'

"The difference between Colbert and Rogers is that Rogers insisted he was running in jest. 'Now when that is done as a joke it is alright,' he wrote. 'But when it's done seriously, it's just pathetic.' But that didn't stop people from supporting him. Henry Ford backed Rogers, as did Babe Ruth and Charles Gibson, Life's owner, who wrote the magazine's official endorsement. Rogers refused to get on the ballot..."

Dick Gregory would be another fairly recent example of a non-serious bid for the presidency, running as he did in 1968 with the Freedom and Peace Party, a splinter from the Peace and Freedom Party (or was it the other way around?). A century earlier -- predating Rogers quite a few decades -- was comedian Dan Rice, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1868. More on him, "the most famous man you've never heard of," is here and here.

November 4 was also an election day in 1856, 1884, 1924, 1952 and 1980, resulting in the elections of Buchanan, Cleveland, Coolidge, Eisenhower and Reagan. The next presidential election will be on November 4, 2008.

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