We're poised to select a new President today, so in honor of that occasion, I offer my picks for the best fictional Presidents:
10) Joseph Staton (Rep/TX?) – played by Dennis Quaid in "American Dreamz"
Really? This guy? The vague gloss on W designed to lampoon the current administration's dim bulb view of global terrorism? Sure, because Staton betters himself. He realizes that he doesn't know everything, and stops relying on advisors and starts to learn things for himself. Imagine a President growing in the office, rather than simply going gray. One can only dream.
9) "The President" (?/?) – played by Henry Ford in "Fail-Safe"
Poor guy had no choice, really. Through exactly no fault of his own, he has to decide between total nuclear devastation of the planet, and the destruction of New York City. He makes the choice–anyone would. But he doesn't simultaneously lose his mind. For that, he gets a spot on the list.
8) Thomas Whitmore (?/?) – played by Bill Pullman in "Independence Day"
Refused to respond quickly to the threat of alien invasion, then overcompensated with a nuclear strike. But he flushed the idiot NSA out of his administration and weathered personal tragedy before rallying his troops with one of the best pre-war speeches since Henry V. (Flying into battle with those troops gains points for coolness, but immediately loses them again for putting his life at risk unnecessarily.)
7) Andrew Shepherd (Dem/WI) – played by Michael Douglas in "The American President"
He dates a lobbyist, then gets her fired. That might be enough to put him at the top of the list! This was Aaron Sorkin's appetizer before the feast of "The West Wing", so Shepherd has most of Bartlet's virtues, without the yawnfest stories about the Visigoths.
6) Dave Kovic (as Bill Mitchell) (Dem/DC) – played by Kevin Kline in "Dave"
So, he wasn't really President, technically, but he got his hands dirty working out a budget for child education, he charmed the pants of every person he met, and he deftly and unselfishly weathered a scandal that he never actually created. We could use a few fake Presidents with Dave's heart.
5) Jackson Evans (Dem/?) – played by Jeff Bridges in "The Contender"
This tale of a controversial choice to replace a dead Vice President is mostly about the "contender" in question, but this shark-eating POTUS is insidiously charming, and very presidential.
4) James Marshall (Rep?/?) – played by Harrison Ford in "Air Force One"
His no holds barred policy on terrorism triggered an attack on himself, thus endangering both his family and his country. But then he literally kicked the main terrorist right off the plane. Yeah!
3) David Palmer (Dem/MD) – played by Dennis Haysbert in "24"
Palmer didn't always make the right play–trusting his horn dog brother springs to mind. But he stood by his shrewish wife like a good husband… until she was literally a national security crisis waiting to happen, and he broomed her. He successfully survived a play by the Vice President to knock him out of power. And he almost always trusted the advice of Jack Bauer, which pretty much guarantees your survival in the 24-verse, at least until Season 5…
2) Tom Beck (?/?) – played by Morgan Freeman in "Deep Impact"
And W thought 9/11 was bad. Beck had to contend with the possibility of the end of all life on the planet. He steered the country through the mind-bendingly awful crisis with dignity and humility. You had to love him… as long as you were under fifty years of age.
1) Josiah Bartlet (Dem/NH) – played by Martin Sheen in "The West Wing"
He was compassionate. (Seeing him talk to a scared radio man on a ship in a hurricane is tear-jerking TV gold.) He was tough. (He thought long and hard about cold-bloodedly killing that terrorist-intelligence guy from Kumar, but in the end he did it.) He was the devout Catholic who fought for a woman's right to choose. He started the series as a neophyte in matters military, and ended it by committing US troops to Central Asia for who knows how long. And, honestly, would YOU have told the world you had MS?
Bonus List – 6 Useless Fictional Presidents
President Blake – played by Perry King in "The Day After Tomorrow" (Wait? There was a President in that movie?)
"The President" – played by Donald Pleasence in "Escape from New York" (What does it say about the politics of the time when the President is portrayed as a punching bag?)
President Ashton – played by William Hurt in "Vantage Point" (Harrison Ford would have totally kicked those terrorists' asses!)
Allen Richmond – played by Gene Hackman in "Absolute Power" (Keep it in your pants, Mr. President!)
James Dale – played by Jack Nicholson in "Mars Attacks!" (By the end, you're glad when he's skewered by a creepy alien mechanical hand.)
Paul Hollister – played by Beau Bridges in "10.5" (Everything about that mini-series was really, really awful.)