Welcome to No One’s Watching Week, the time of the year when the readers are away, and your tireless editors have run amok. For this week only, Atlas Obscura, the New Republic, Popular Mechanics, Pacific Standard, the Paris Review, and Mental Floss will be swapping content that is too out there for any other week in 2015.
The 2015–16 election cycle is like the guest you welcome into your home, except then the guest refuses to leave for, like, eight to 10 months. Using all the hot water in the shower every morning. Tracking mud onto the couch that your grandmother left you. Doing that thing where it drinks from the container of orange juice and only leaves a small exculpatory portion at the bottom before secreting it in the far back of the refrigerator so that you’ll forget about it and just buy a new orange juice. The process repeats until you have nothing in your fridge but 12 bottles of mostly consumed orange juice, and a houseguest who still refuses leave. I have had a bad roommate, and I have been the bad roommate. Election cycles are the worst roommates of all.
This brings me to the question that we’re all asking: “How can I possibly make it through this?”
Hillary’s capitalizing on to the latest dance crazes, O’Malley continues his acoustic guitar tour, Jeb! fumbles aristocratically with hooded sweatshirts, and Trump ... well ... keeps saying things with his mouth. Meanwhile, many of us are just putting red slashes through the calendar, counting down to next November, when we can choose a new leader whom we can then dismantle and fall out of love with over the course of four to eight years.
To help everyone through this difficult emotional period, I have done hours of research to compile this hard-hitting election coverage. Fictional America has given us way cooler presidents than real America. That’s just a fact. The question for our republic, now, is simple: Which one of these fictional leaders is best equipped to survive America’s political climate in 2015, and rise to power in the very non-fictional White House?
I did the math, analyzing the tenures of the following fictional presidents, and estimating their comparative electability in our turbulent and fractured times.
Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, The West Wing (Martin Sheen)
Pros: He’s really smart and really good at holding witty and sharp conversations while walking at an extremely brisk pace. A brilliant orator, even if some of the speeches are a little heavy-handed and self-important and overrun with obscure bible verses. Literally orchestrated peace in the Middle East, which included a country that wasn’t even real. Picked a brilliant staff and was good at communicating with them....
Cons: ...except for when he lied about an illness for nearly four years. So, there’s that. Also, everyone around him has horrible things happen to them. Pretty much everyone he touches dies, gets shot, gets kidnapped, or has to live through years of uncomfortable sexual tension in the workplace. Doesn’t seem to be the best father or husband. Tucks shirts into his jeans.
Summary: Bartlet is surely America’s most famous and impressive fictional president, which is why I’m opening this by telling you that he wouldn’t stand a chance. So smart that he knows when not to be honest, and not folksy enough to make up for those smarts, he would be buried in scandals before we even hit primaries.
Thomas J. Whitmore, Independence Day (Bill Pullman)
Pros: He’s a war veteran who loves and respects the men and women who serve in the military. He loves the military so much that he jumped in an F-18 and helped to fight off an alien invasion. As far as speeches go, he’s banked a top-five fictional president speech, even though he seemed to borrow too liberally from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. He really knows how to get people to rally around him in tense moments. He inspired a farmer (against the wishes of the farmer's family) to fly a crop-duster into the heart of an alien ship—something no other president’s oratory has achieved, in fiction or in history.
Cons: He also makes some terrible decisions in the heat of the moment, like the time he dropped a nuclear bomb on Texas for reasons that never made a lot of sense. I get that once you see an alien wrap its tentacle around a person’s neck and make that person issue some pretty horrific threats, things get wild. But Whitmore pretty much decided, “well, if the world is going to be destroyed anyway, time for me to go all out! I’ve always hated Texas.”
And then he decided to take the country back. Or what was left of the country, which I think was just a few miles of land in New Mexico.
Summary: Look, at some point, we have to call Whitmore’s tenure what it really was: a cornucopia of poor decisions and reckless endangerment that cost the country many, many lives.
With that track record in mind, his chances are as good as any of the current candidates.
The President, Love Actually (Billy Bob Thornton)
Pros: He’s a perfectly charming man.
Cons: But he’s the “manipulative frat dude” kind of charming, as opposed to the “docile and loving grandfather” kind of charming—an oily mix of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Would likely set back women’s rights by at least four decades. Doesn’t seem to have a very clear grasp of foreign policy. Got roasted by an equally inefficient British Prime Minister on national television, which probably didn’t play well back in the states. Also doesn’t have a name.
Summary: The President is something of a bit part in Love Actually, but given what we know of his tenure, it seems he would be better suited as vice president: out of the way, and free to live his best life.
David Palmer, 24 (Dennis Haysbert)
Pros: Seems to do well against heavy adversity. He had a rough couple of days and survived. He did a cool thing to free the nation from its reliance on big oil companies. A lot of people wanted him dead, and the Internet tells us that if you have haters, you must be doing something right.
Cons: He’s always on the verge of a crisis, and nearly died. Half of his tenure, he wasn’t even really doing anything. He suffers from the same issues as Bartlet: everyone around him has a miserable life and his family kind of hates him.
Summary: What this country really needs is a powerful, lonely man who is so miserable and unloved that he’s not afraid to die for the things he believes in. And some things he probably doesn’t believe in all that much. This makes Palmer a natural favorite.
Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III, Scandal (Tony Goldwyn)
Pros: He’s startlingly moderate, and has the kind forward-thinking bipartisanship that America needs to move forward as a unified nation. Also is fairly good-looking, which doesn’t seem important on the surface, but when things get tough, the smile of a good-looking leader can make you forget the world collapsing around you for a few seconds.
Cons: Well, he definitely rigged an election and also killed a Supreme Court justice. Can’t ignore those facts. He seems to escape through a variety of reckless vices when challenged with any emotional stress or difficulty, which doesn’t seem ideal for a person with access to the launch codes. Oh, also, I hear that he had an affair.
Selina Meyer, Veep (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
Pros: She’s big on family values, with a particular focus on family health care. She’s not afraid to use strong language in heated moments, or even moments that aren’t heated at all. She’s assertive and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Survived a congressional hearing on a data breach.
Cons: Had a data breach in the first place. She’s definitely not afraid to throw a staff member under the bus to come out on top. Spends an alarming amount of time rotating in her swivel chair, though I imagine this could be said of every president who has ever served.
Summary: Despite her extreme political slipperiness, I feel comfortable saying that I would vote for Selina Meyer tonight.
Francis J. Underwood, House of Cards (Kevin Spacey)
Pros: He’s a very driven politician who doesn’t stop until he gets what he wants. He looks good in a suit, even when said suit is covered in the blood of his enemies, friends, ex-lovers, or strangers. Which takes us to....
Cons: Dude has orchestrated a whole lot of deaths, if we’re being honest. Presidents always leave office with blood on their hands, but Underwood has washed literal blood off of his hands before even taking office. He’s kind of a maniac. Not a maniac in the way that your wild buddy Steve, who is a blast at parties, is a maniac. Definitely in the way where you fear death any time he’s near.
Summary: Underwood becomes decidedly less interesting after he’s killed and manipulated his way to the top. It’s a little frightening to consider what happens when you’ve got a bored man in the Oval Office with an insatiable thirst for blood. If the idea of World Wars III through VI occurring within four years excites you, this is your pick.
Of course, this is only a small sampling of the presidents who have led Fictional America through countless foreign, domestic, and alien attacks. When you get glum about the never-ending political cycle (or pissed about having to clean out a fridge backlogged with empty OJ containers), just imagine an America led by the fictional leader that we deserve. Sure, many of them have lied about deeply important things, alienated all their loved ones, and killed numerous people to advance their careers. But is that not politics? Are we not asked to look past the faults of our American leaders and merely see them as we are: deeply flawed and semi-attractive and often deeply confused people?
People whom we would never invite into our homes.
But people, nonetheless.