March 22 sees the release of quirky romantic comedy Admission, starring Paul Rudd and Tina Fey. But that’s not important, because March 22 also sees the release of Olympus Has Fallen, an action thriller starring Aaron Eckhart as the President of the United States (and also Morgan Freeman as President of the United States). In the spirit of Olympus Has Fallen, the Man Cave looks at some of the best (and worst) fictional presidents and sees how they compare to their nearest real-world analogues.
Thomas Whitmore (Independence Day)
Characteristics of Administration: Willingness to engage in bi-partisan and multi-national military efforts, favors the nuclear option
Whitmore is many things—former pilot, father of one, President of the United States. So, three things, I guess. But it isn’t Whitmore’s policies that will put him in the history books. No, Thomas Whitmore is important for only one reason: he was the sitting American president when the aliens invaded. Taking charge of the global threat (because America, that’s why), Whitmore used only the best and brightest (or a TV repairman, an alcoholic crop duster, and a rejected astronaut) to combat the unprecedented extraterrestrial menace. Thanks to his fearless leadership from the front lines and killer speeches (apologies for the video quality), Whitmore solidified his place in American history as the Man Who Beat the Aliens. Except for the one that Randy Quaid killed. And except for the hundreds of thousands of American citizens he killed by authorizing a nuclear strike on American soil.
Thought we’d forget about that, eh Whitmore? Guarantee we won’t when re-election comes around.
Most Closely Resembles: Harry S. Truman
The similarities are there, if you know where to look. Like Whitmore, Truman found himself leading a coalition of nations to defeat a great, overwhelming evil. Like Whitmore, Truman was capable of giving a pretty good speech. And like Whitmore, Truman authorized the use of nuclear weapons in wartime.
Truman differs from Whitmore in one small way, namely that Whitmore authorized the use of nuclear weapons on his soil. Specifically, Texas. I understand the sentiment—who hasn’t wanted to nuke a state every now and then? And with the mile-long flying saucer floating over the Lone Star State, you’ve got a perfect excuse. But good luck trying to justify irradiated groundwater to an angry Texan. Make sure your dental records are up to date, because that’s the only way the authorities will be able to identify you afterwards.
James Marshall (Air Force One)
Characteristics of Administration: Zero-tolerance policy of kidnapping, terrorism, hijacking, and being on James Marshall’s plane
President James Marshall doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. That’s pretty standard boilerplate for a presidential administration, right up there with “support the troops.” It’s more impressive when you’re the object of negotiation. When Kazakh terrorists take control over Air Force One, President James Marshall has a choice: escape the plane and run negotiations from safely on the ground, or kill each and every bad guy with his bare hands. Trick question: THE UNITED STATES DOESN’T NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS.
Air Force One was responsible for a number of patriotism-boners not again seen until Taken came out (a film which sees Liam Neeson punch French Middle-Easterners in the throat for two hours). It was the reminder in American can-do and unfailing determination that we needed in…1997? What the hell was happening in 1997?
Anyway, Harrison Ford, terrorists, where’s his family. You really should have seen this movie by now.
Most Closely Resembles: Andrew Jackson
There are two types of men in this world: people that run away from gunfire and people that run toward it. But in 1833, there was a third man, and his name was Andrew “Crazypants” Jackson. Wait, that wasn’t his nickname. Andrew “Human Rights Violations” Jackson? Ah, wait–Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson, the Native American fighter (and Trail of Tears founder), war hero, and semi-professional duelist. When Richard Lawrence, an actual crazy person, jumped in front of Andrew Jackson and let off two pistols, Jackson responded by trying to kill Lawrence using his cane (clever readers will note that a cane is just a stick, and not usually the superior weapon compared to guns). History does not tell us whether or not Jackson uttered a badass “Get off my plane”-esque one liner before opening up a can of freshly squeezed whoop-ass, but made-up experts say it’s likely.
Note: both guns misfired, presumably because they were scared of what Jackson would do to them if they took a shot at him.
Man, forget not negotiating with terrorists–Jackson refused to negotiate with his own assassin.
“The Big Guy” (World War Z, by Max Brooks)
Characteristics of Administration: Oversaw the largest loss of territory in American history
If history remembers “The Big Guy” (implied to be former Secretary of State Colin Powell), it will remember him as the president who oversaw the largest loss of territory in American history (well, second largest; can’t forget about Thomas Whitmore). By losing all American territory east of the Rocky Mountains to the oncoming zombie swarm, the Big Guy cemented his reputation as the worst wartime president in history.
However, by standing firm and running the country from his temporary base in Hawaii (including initiating the ultimately successful counterattack), the Big Guy also cemented his reputation as the best wartime president in history. In the same way that it’s easy to fall down a hill, but hard to walk back up, it’s easy to lose your country to a mindless zombie horde, but hard to regain it.
I might have lost track of that metaphor.
Most closely resembles: Abraham Lincoln
I considered picking Colin Powell, but that would be cheating, since Max Brooks never really says who the Big Guy is supposed to be, and anyway, he’s not a president (yet!). But think about it: Lincoln also had to lead a war that saw half of the country occupied by a hostile force. He didn’t have to fight something as other as zombies, but he almost had to flee Washington. It’s doubtful he would have run all the way to Hawaii to lead the war effort, but when you’re looking for this sort of parallel, you take what you can get.
Lincoln also has the dubious honor of sharing with the Big Guy an inability to see conflict to the end; Lincoln was killed in the heady days following the Civil War, while, according to the Big Guy’s vice president (implied to be Howard Dean, and wow, remember that guy?), “Great times might not make great men, but I know they can kill them.”
The President (Escape from L.A.)
Characteristics of Administration: Hardline stance on “moral” issues, excellent choice in aging action heroes
“The President” (who is never given a name) is the theocratic despot in John Carpenter’s 1996 Escape from L.A., and by all accounts, he’s kind of a jerk. He starts by eliminating term limits and setting himself up as president-for-life, then goes about outlawing everything he considers immoral, including red meat, non-marital sex, and firearms (readers will note that the word “immoral” can be substituted with “fun” with no loss of sentence coherence). Then he makes Los Angeles a prison colony and sends dissidents there. Then he loses an EMP that can plunge the world back into the Dark Ages. Then he orders Kurt Russell to get it back, and now we’re caught up to the plot of the film.
Most Closely Resembles: Ronald Reagan
Fortunately, the Reagan presidency was not marked by oppressive theocracy (or an independent California, but let’s be honest—that’s probably going to happen one of these days no matter who’s in office), but there are some startling similarities all the same. Did Reagan try to outlaw alcoholism? No, but he did initiate the War on Drugs, which, as non-American readers may not know, totally eradicated all adolescent drug use. And while he didn’t install an orbital EMP system, he did oversee creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative, which would have used lasers to shoot down Soviet nuclear missiles. Finally Reagan never lost the keys to the SDI program and found himself forced to send a retired badass on a suicide mission to recover them—but looking at some of the shadier moments of the Iran-Contra affair, you might think otherwise.
Calvin Ellis (Action Comics)
Characteristics of Administration: Direct involvement in foreign affairs, delegating day-to-day affairs of office to robotic clones
Don’t let the unfamiliar name fool you—Calvin Ellis is the same Superman you’re familiar with, right down to his adoption by a kindly couple. It’s just that, you know, Calvin Ellis is also the President of the United States. And not just any president; according to his (only in-continuity) appearance in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #9, Ellis is pretty much the best president ever (he is said to have balanced the budget and “solved” the Libya crisis), with approval ratings comparable to Prez Rickard (who was a fictional teenage president in a comic published about forty years ago that no one has heard of, because Grant Morrison is nuts). Ellis shares the values and powers of “our” Superman, and refuses to use his powers to unfairly influence the course of human history.
Ha, just kidding. He’s the President of the United States. He can fly. And he’s got an army of robot clones that say he can do whatever he wants.
Most Closely Resembles: Barack Obama
Being Superman doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for the day-to-day aspects of presidenting, even for someone with super-speed and a super-intellect. Thus, in a similar manner to President Obama, President Ellis has emphasized the importance of drones in his administration. However, whereas President Obama is limited by the Justice Department’s definition of “combatant” and is (at least this week) prohibited from utilizing drones on American soil, President Ellis uses fewer “robot assassins with Hellfire missiles” and more robotic duplicates. In a move that would give Rand Paul a conniption fit, Ellis uses these duplicates not only on American soil, but in the White House itself.
That said, the clones don’t seem to be doing that bad a job.
To be fair, not even Donald Trump is accusing Obama of flying to foreign countries and dismantling their nuclear weapon programs…but then again, have you ever seen Obama and Superman in the same room?
Fun fact: I might point out that the above panel is likely an homage to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but then you might point out that while I was reading comics, you were having sex. So never mind.
George Sears aka Solidus Snake (Metal Gear Solid 2)
Characteristics of Administration: Nuclear disarmament, anti-eugenics, and a past shadier than a twenty-foot beach umbrella
George Sears is an anomaly among the past presidents; we live in a world where a single extramarital affair can sink a candidate’s nomination, yet George Sears spent the ’80s commanding battalions of child soldiers during the Liberian civil war. Where’s Anderson Cooper’s incisive investigative journalism when you need it?
On top of his less-than-telegenic past, President Sears loses a few approval points for crashing Arsenal Gear (a giant submersible fortress) into the middle of New York City. So, yeah—kind of puts “not fixing the national debt” into context, doesn’t it? But, to be fair, he wasn’t president at the time. Still, whether or not you’re a private citizen when you try to detonate a nuclear weapon in the skies above New York City isn’t much of a concern. In Sears’ favor, he was only trying to disable the web of malevolent artificial intelligences that control the United States—you know, like you do.
Most Closely Resembles: Jimmy Carter
I’m not suggesting that Georgia’s Jimmy Carter ever donned a robot battlesuit and fought secret agents with a pair of katanas (yet–the guy’s still got a bunch of life left in him). But much of Sears’ presidency—the attempts at nuclear disarmament in particular—mirrors the Carter administration’s focus on human rights and peace negotiations. And, like Sears crashing Arsenal Gear after his term was up, Carter’s greatest achievements (his extensive work on international peace talks) took place after leaving office in 1981. True, George Sears probably would have freed the Iranian hostages, but Jimmy Carter didn’t have access to Solid Snake—just a team of Navy SEALs and a bunch of faulty helicopters.
Ross once Jell-O wrestled a roller derby babe for science, and pared down your home bar to the five essential mixers for a good time. Efficiency, baby! It’s what’s for dinner. (And for dessert: Jell-O.)