Fictional U.S. presidents far outnumber the real ones, so as we roll into the Independence Day weekend our thoughts turn to our favorite fictional presidents. Long may they entertain us!
Zaphod Beeblebrox (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
“Listen Ford,” said Zaphod, “everything’s cool and froody.”
“You mean everything’s under control.”
“No,” said Zaphod, “I do not mean everything’s under control. That would not be cool and froody. If you want to know what happened let’s just say I had the whole situation in my pocket. OK?”
Zaphod Beeblebrox is the man—and he knows it. Or maybe he’s the men? He has two heads, after all (and three arms). However you want to put it, Beeblebrox is distinguished by being everything the public fears in politicians, but is often attracted to all the same; charismatic, seemingly easy-going, extroverted, and exciting. Zaphod is a cool guy—in fact, he’s so hip he has difficulty seeing over his pelvis. Zaphod’s semi-half-cousin is Ford Prefect, so he must be a good dude. Zaphod doesn’t let the sadsacks get him down, even the ones who voted him “Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe” seven times in a row, because he knows that style is a mode of being and that people who vote for things are suckers. In truth, the only reason Zaphod pulls any of this off is because thinks he’s the most important person in the room… when in reality he’s just a very clever narcissist. Sure, he’s a terrible person and a terrible president, but he invented the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, so I’m pretty sure that makes him uncriticize-able. Presidents who favor booze over bills always win. —Emily Asher-Perrin
President Johnny Gentle, Famous Crooner (Infinite Jest)
Pres. Mex. and P.M. Can. [in unison and green-mask-muffled]: It is tremendously flattering to be invited to sit on the cabinet of the leadership of our beloved neighbor to the [choose one].
Gentle: Thanks, boys. You have gorgeous souls.
Infinite Jest predicted a lot of things that later came to pass, but so far we haven’t quite had a president quite like Johnny Gentle. Elected after the end of the Limbaugh Era, Gentle is a former “lounge singer turned teenybopper throb turned B-movie mainstay, for two long-past decades known unkindly as the ‘Cleanest Man in Entertainment’…” He has such an acute germ phobia that he started his own political party, C.U.S.P.—Clean U.S. Party—whose main mission is to literally eject waste from the U.S., either by launching it into Canada with catapults (more on that in sec) or, ideally, shooting it into space. He is both “the first U.S. President ever to swing his microphone around by the cord during his Inauguration speech” and the “first U.S. President ever to use boss as an adjective.”
After being elected on the strength of his charm, he:
- ushered in the deal the created O.N.A.N. the super-state combination of Canada, the USA, and Mexico that is the book’s setting;
- added a mop and cleaning solution to the ONAN-ite seal;
- turned upper New England and part of Quebec into a giant landfill for the former-USA’s garbage;
- forced a very unhappy Canada to agree to aforementioned landfill;
- and made the decision to subsidize time to pay off the former-U.S. debt, which is why people in Infinite Jest live in the Year of the Whopper, the Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, the Year of the Trial-Sized Dover Bar, etc. instead of 2002, 2003, 2004, etc. —Leah Schnelbach
Margaret Valentine (Y: The Last Man)
What am I now… Secretary of Hopeless Cases?
It’s fitting that the two “Madame Presidents” on this list never expected to lead the free world(s) but were “elected” after all of the men died. The former Secretary of Agriculture, Margaret got a rude awakening when Agent 355 literally woke her with the news that the Secretary of the Interior (a woman who out-ranked her) had died in a plane crash. While President Valentine may not have had the same charisma (or have been as polarizing) as Laura Roslin, she kept America together instead of letting it fall to the psychotic, man-hating Amazons or even the wives of the Republican representatives from claiming their husbands’ Congress seats. She kept the country mostly united, which is all you can ask for after half of the world dies. —Natalie Zutter
President Skroob (Spaceballs)
Sandurz, Sandurz. You got to help me. I don’t know what to do. I can’t make decisions. I’m a president!
The bumbling President of Planet Spaceball has been a favorite of mine ever since I saw the movie. Not because he is good at his job—he’s actually rather monstrous at it—but because of his knack for screwball humor. —Bailey Miller
President Kang (The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror VII)
It makes no difference which one of us you vote for—either way your planet is doomed. DOOMED!
The Halloween specials aren’t strictly canonical, but there’s something to be said for a president who unites the country behind a single cause—even if that cause is building a ray gun to aim at a planet we’ve never heard of. President Kang comes to power in this alternate-universe 1996 election, where he and his sister Kodos have replaced candidates Clinton and
Mumbly Joe Dole in the final days of the campaign. Even after Homer reveals their true identities, the aliens know they’ve got the election in the bag—after all, it is a two party system. Kang easily wins the day with his strong campaign promise of “abortions for some, miniature American flags for others”, but I can’t help wondering if things would be different under the leadership of President Kodos instead… –Sarah Tolf
Richard Nixon (Dick)
I’ve got a way with young people. They trust me.
Dick was one of those strange movies of my childhood for which I have an eternal fondness: Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams play two ditsy girls who somehow become dogwalkers and then Deep Throat in the Watergate scandal. But one of the best parts of the movie is Dan Hedaya as Tricky Dick: brash, blustering, alternating between oblivious and ominous. Dick came out in 1999, right as the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was dominating daily news and late-night shows. While many of the jokes made at President Clinton’s expense were too dirty for my 11-year-old mind, I could completely grasp why Dick made fun of Nixon. This movie, rather than real life, was the first time I understood that pop culture could make fun of our leaders… like this dream sequence where Dick rides a horse on the beach to tell Arlene to run away with him (still one of my favorite movie moments). —Natalie Zutter
Richard Nixon’s Head (Futurama)
Futurama got a surprising amount of material out of reviving the head of such a disgraced president. When he’s introduced in “A Head In The Polls” I assumed that he was going to be a one-off guest appearance; Nixon’s too crazy to actually be in charge of the entire Earth! Oh how little I knew. Nixon’s frothing madness turns out to be perfect for the boundary-warping year 3000, and through his stewardship and constant electoral theft, he successfully maneuvers the Earth through multiple alien invasions in the years to come. Also the way he growls “AROOOO” just kills me. —Chris Lough
Laura Roslin, President of the Twelve Colonies (Battlestar Galactica)
After what we’ve been through, it would be very easy to give up, to lose hope. But not here. Not today.
Laura Roslin was never supposed to be president. She was the Secretary of Education when the Cylons destroyed Caprica, far enough down the line of presidential succession that it probably never occurred to her that she might have to take the job. But no one did a better job, during Battlestar Galactica‘s four-season run, of leading what was left of humanity. Roslin was a pragmatic leader, not a career politician working for power; she had to adapt, and quickly, to an unstable situation of endless change and strife. Her goal wasn’t to dominate a world, to grow trade, to be a superpower—it was just to work with what was left of the military to keep humanity alive. And to keep herself alive, for that matter. She made terrible decisions and wise ones, won battles and lost them, and fell in love with her Admiral in one of the more believable adult relationships on TV. And for all the things that frustrated me about BSG‘s series finale, only one part really broke my heart: Roslin, at rest, at last. —Molly Templeton
President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (The West Wing)
How can anyone not love Martin Sheen’s President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet? He’s charming, a gifted orator, and a man who highly values the integrity and skill of those who work under him. He’s basically as perfect a president as one can imagine. Which is essentially where criticism of the character starts. Bartlet is a fantasy created by Aaron Sorkin and as a result, always does everything right, even when he’s doing something wrong like not disclosing his illness to the American public. Still, the character of Bartlet has become an important fictional icon, a guidepost on how to steer a country without resorting to fear-based rhetoric, how to use intelligence and emotion in complement with each other, and how to use administration and bureaucracy not as a barrier, but as a true assistant to the people. —Chris Lough