A Few Good Presidents

I think we can all agree that so far this election season is the most insane in living memory. If this were a West Wing season, we would all be complaining that Sorkin was jumping the shark and creating only caricature Republicans to push his left-wing agenda. But it’s real. It’s all real. And whoever wins in November is going to get the keys to Air Force One for real.

The current political mess inspired me to reflect on some of our best political leaders – the fictional ones. Yes, before we had the catastrophic Selina Meyer and philanderer Fitz Grant, a few fake presidents were actually pretty good. I give you my favourites…

1. Laura Roslin, Battlestar Galactica

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Though perhaps not the most democratic leader, with only a reluctant acceptance of the set-term presidency that Lee instates, Laura Roslin leads a dwindling civilisation to a fruitful new life: the dying leader who leads her people to the promised land. That’s pretty good going.

The Secretary of Education who has the presidency thrust upon her after a nuclear attack wipes out everyone else in the line of succession, Laura Roslin navigates her new role with increasing adeptness as the series develops. She is dealt a terrible hand when she comes into power, and handles the near-total destruction of her people with grace and poise. She’s tough, though, more than proving herself capable of handling the demands of governing a race whose survival depends on her every decision (while her own survival deteriorates). As a leader, she is compassionate, she is pragmatic and she respects the people she represents. These are, in my humble opinion, the fundamental qualities of a good president.

Also – and I realise this may not seem particularly relevant but stick with me – she is an ace at flirting. Congrats to BSG for being the first narrative to get me invested in a middle-aged love story. No matter how adorable Admiral Adama is however, Roslin keeps her eyes on the prize always. She resists his charms, always focusing on her endgame: Earth. She selflessly puts her own happiness aside and endures about twenty different cruel plot twists that would make anyone else straight-up finish Gaius Baltar and comes out the other side a moral, uncompromised, revered president. Her legacy is so much bigger than her, and she always recognises that. She is single-handedly responsible for saving every life in that poignant wide-shot of a fertile land at the end of the series finale. (I guess that also makes her responsible for the Lil Wayne myspace page that’s advertised in the ‘100,000 years later’ scene, but we’ll let her off.) Without Laura, basically all the humans would have met their nasty end. Good job, Prez.

(FYI, “How long do you have to live, Karen?” was the original “What’s good?”)

2. Jed Bartlet, The West Wing

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Everyone’s favourite power-walking president with a penchant for national parks trivia and a subtle air of superiority, Bartlet has often been heralded as the liberal fantasy president. No one puts on their jacket with more flair than our man Jed. And that’s what you want in a president, right? Flair? Well, he also has the best administration of any White House narrative – a charming band of idealistic lawmakers ready to make a difference and talk fast doin’ it.

Highlights of the Bartlet administration include: appointing Bill Adama Roberto Mendoza, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, and the first female Chief Justice, seeming to successfully negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, his not-so-secret (or real) plan to fight inflation, that one time he rocked the debate, and probably other things involving jobs and education and, hang on, did they ever follow through on that idea about making college affordable? Or curing cancer? Anyway, point is, he did a lot of good, lefty things and said a lot of good, lefty things. Perhaps most iconic was his ‘Dr.’ Jenna Jacobs smackdown on the issue of homophobia:

Martin Sheen elevated Aaron Sorkin’s writing every time he was given a speech and together they created one of the most memorable, compelling characters on television. Bartlet was a reminder of what a president could be during the bleak days of the second Bush presidency. He revived people’s interest in the political narrative. Flawed, but so charismatic and so affable that you couldn’t help but love him.

3. George Washington, Hamilton The Musical

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Whether or not he’s fictional enough to qualify, I care about Hamilton so much I could shoehorn it into any blog post at this point. I could probably shoehorn it into a blog post about bees dying out, or Josh Schwartz’s teen drama The O.C., or a listicle of the best pizza restaurants in town. Anyway, Washington makes the cut okay! – mostly because Chris Jackson has that silky smooth voice and, mmm, I could listen to it all day.

George Washington is the antithesis of the hotheaded, fast-talking Hamilton. He’s like a lovable grandpa. I think that’s why Jefferson, Madison and Burr are so salty during ‘Washington on Your Side’ – they’re like the unpopular grandchildren, all too aware that they’re only getting the weird taxidermy deer head and maybe a casserole dish in the inheritance, while Hamilton gets the house and the car. Washington is as important to the Hamilton narrative as anyone, and it’s hard to imagine A. Ham’s career without the abiding support of America’s first president. In the musical, Jackson portrays him with wisdom and warmth. Though he’s not the most prominent character in the play, and is admittedly overshadowed by the dynamism of characters like the Marquis de Lafayette and Hamilton himself, there’s an affable majesty to Washington that makes his famous farewell in ‘One Last Time’ as emotional as it’s intended to be. It’s an important moment, and a fitting tribute to one of the most remarkable political decisions in American history.

4. James Marshall, Air Force One

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I like to imagine that originally this movie was your typical Washington narrative: lots of on-and-off of suit jackets, dramatic press conferences with lots of flashing bulbs as the person behind the lectern looks off pensively into the distance, and unnaturally fast dialogue about polling and memos. And then Harrison Ford came along and it became a brainstorm of whacky action movie ideas.

It seems par for the course that Harrison Ford always gets progressively sweatier during his movies, but Air Force One really is the pinnacle of ridiculous action hero Harrison Ford. He was 55 when he made this movie, and it didn’t long follow Patriot Games, The Fugitive and Clear and Present Danger. That’s the sort of age where, if you’re as successful as Harrison Ford, you can either sunbathe all day atop piles of money, or stick to those Nancy Meyers romcoms about white people with really fancy kitchens finding love later in life. Instead he went full badass with President James Marshall. I love the Bartlets and the Roslins of the world but let me float this out there: I don’t think they could have survived this movie. Let us not forget that Jed Bartlet once rode his bicycle into a tree. He can’t take down terrorists himself. Marshall, on the other hand, has it under control.

Despite all that good terrorism-fighting, Marshall only makes number four because a) we don’t really get a great deal of insight to his policies, and b) Donald Trump’s endorsement is a real strike against him.

5. Leia Organa, Star Wars Expanded Universe

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Listen, I’ve thought this over a lot and really struggled to come up with a solid fifth president BUT THEN I discovered that apparently in some expanded universe Star Wars book Leia becomes “President of the Senate”. Close enough. The rules are vague here. And who would make a better president than Leia? I don’t need to see her in action to know she’d be great. She’s great at everything. Leia is like the George Washington of the Star Wars universe – in the sense that every time she appears onscreen I sing, “HERE COMES THE GENERAL. (Rise up!)” and because she would be so widely adored that her people would talk her into running for president.

To clarify, she’s only fifth because President Leia only really lives on the outskirts of canon. Leia, in a thousand other ways, is my #1. Sidenote: considering the press coverage of Hillary hairstyles over the years, imagine how many column inches Leia’s hair would fill for the Galactic News Network.

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