American politics have always been contentious. When people pine away for the good old days of political civility, well...they just never existed. Going back to the early days of the republic, candidates routinely lied about each other and passed around unfounded scandalous rumors. Even "Honest Abe" Lincoln secured the Republican presidential nomination by having his minions literally bribe people to pose as delegates and pack the convention hall. One thing is for certain, however: the country is seeing its most vibrant protest movements since the late 1960s, when the toxic mix of Vietnam, civil rights, women's rights and other emotional issues seemingly had everyone at each other's throats. In a New York Times article, writer David Bianculli recalls how the Smothers Brothers became unlike vessels of the counterculture movement. The clean cut comedy duo was hired by CBS to provide gentle family humor (Tom and Dick Smother's shtick always revolved around sibling rivalry.) What CBS didn't expect was political satire the likes of which the network never imagined. Suddenly younger people had a TV show that was geared for them and the Smother Brothers set off national debates in barber shops, diners and the family dinner table. CBS didn't like it one bit. The network was the home of such popular, non-threatening fare as "The Andy Griffith Show", "Green Acres", "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Petticoat Junction". Now, CBS magnate William Paley was getting complaints from top politicians. That set in motion a delicate situation: CBS would routinely try to censor segments of the show, but by doing so they were undermining the very audience that had made it a hit. Compromises were made but the politicos were not satisfied when seeing guests such as Pete Seeger and George Harrison intermingled with safe, traditional stars such as Jack Benny. (Seeger sang "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy", a thinly-veiled protest song about the Vietnam War that the network tried to cut.)
Ultimately, CBS caved and cancelled the show in its fourth season, using a bogus excuse that resulted in the Smothers Brothers getting a $900,000 payout- big money back in the day. Although the brothers skewed to the political left, one of their first targets had been Democratic President Johnson, who was constantly attacked for his Vietnam policy. His successor, Republican President Richard Nixon fared even worse. Johnson had complained personally to William Paley but after leaving office, made peace with the brothers by acknowledging that satire was an essential part of American politics. As for Nixon, it was learned later that he had siphoned funds from one of his presidential war chests to pay for a private investigator to find dirt on the Smothers Brothers. He never succeeded and Nixon would resign a few years later in the most notorious political scandal of the 20th century. Perhaps the brothers' ability to make both Democrats and Republicans feel uncomfortable was their greatest talent. Click here to read and view clips.