I’ve always had an affinity for Presidents’ Day; as someone who was at one time pursuing a doctorate in presidential studies, I probably have more interest in the people who have occupied the Oval Office than your average person. For a long time I used to tell people that I was going to be president; it started out as a vague idea when I was a kid, but I kept saying it as I got older. My AIM username for instant messaging used to be Heather4President and I was known to drop a Heather 2012 reference on more than one occasion, as that was the first year I would be eligible to run. I think people thought I was kidding, but I wasn’t completely joking. I’ve given up the dream – I probably should have been more involved in politics at this point and made some different decisions along the way – but I still think I would make a great president. Though it is possible that I would have become drunk with power and bombed some countries, so maybe it all worked out for the best. At the bare minimum, some people would have wound up on the no-fly list because they are jerks.
Presidents’ Day doesn’t really get much love; sure there are sales and a lot of people (myself included) get the day off from work. But there isn’t much actual celebration of the holiday. I’ve been waiting for Gary Marshall to get around to making a rom-com about it, but so far he’s been busy exploiting some of the more romantic holidays. I’m sure he’ll get around to it eventually; those movies make bank. At least Jimmy Fallon wrote a song about the holiday, though it’s more about enjoying the three day weekend rather than about our Presidents:
The world of pop culture is full of presidential portrayals, so in honor of the holiday here are my top five fictional presidents:
5. The President on Veep
This may be an odd choice, since we’ve never seen the president. In fact, the plan is that we’ll never see the president on this HBO comedy. I don’t know if we’ve even learned his name (though we do know it is a man). But his absence is what defines his character and makes him central to the story line; he is complete disinterest in his Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia-Louis Dreyfus), much to her chagrin. It is a running joke on the show that Meyer constantly asks if the President has called. The answer, without fail, is no. Her isolation from all real political power and her struggle to be relevant are what makes the show so funny, so even though the President is never visible, he hovers over all the proceedings.
4. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho – Idiocracy
Idiocracy is a movie that sounded great on paper, but didn’t really work as it was done. The premise has a lot of promise, but the story kind of falls apart in the middle. The satire becomes less pointed and things meander. But I do find the idea that a five time former wrestling champion and porn star being elected president both hilarious and horrifying – hilarious for obvious reasons and horrifying because I do not have a whole lot of faith in the voting electorate in this country. Let’s just say I don’t find the premise of Idiocracy – a future where people of lower intelligence have become the majority – all that far-fetched. President Camacho is a great manifestation of how some people actually vote.
3. President Bill Mitchell (aka Dave Kovic) – Dave
I love this comedy about an average citizen, who happens to be the president’s doppelganger, assuming the office to cover up the president’s medical condition. Kevin Kline is wonderful in the dual roles and this film is ridiculously funny. Despite his lack of political knowledge, Dave’s enthusiasm for the job and his desire to make a difference are infectious. It totally plays into my delusion that an average person could make the country a better place if they were just given the opportunity.
2. President Andrew Shepherd – The American President
The American President at its heart is a romantic comedy, but there is enough of the political world and contains Aaron Sorkin’s smart dialogue that it was able to overcome my general distaste of the genre. Michael Douglas is incredibly sweet and affable as the widowed president who becomes interested in an environmental lobbyist (Annette Benning). It is one of the few depictions of the president in film that makes the character seem like a regular person; rather than trying to save the planet from alien attack or a meteor, the smaller focus on the president as an individual person makes this one of my favorite movies about the Commander-in-Chief.
1. President Josiah Bartlet – The West Wing
If Jed Bartlet was a real candidate, I would vote for him without question. It helps that his politics tend to line up with my personal ideals, but Bartlet was also depicted by Martin Sheen to be a man of principle and man who actually stood for something. Bartlet is funny, immensely intelligent and a compassionate man; if I were dreaming up an “ideal” president, he’s share most of these characteristics. He even is a University of Notre Dame alumni (Go Irish!). And, once again, the character is aided by the words of Aaron Sorkin. When I think of great fictional presidents, Jed Bartlet is always the first character that comes to mind. I wish more actual politicians –regardless of political party – were more like him.
So who did I miss? Have a favorite fake president that didn’t make the cut? Sound off in the comment section below.