MONOD: Casting Call: The Perfect President
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 23:02
I recently saw a trailer for a new film called “Olympus Has Fallen.” It’s basically “Die Hard,” but in the White House and with Aaron Eckhart as the president. It looks pretty bad. I mean, what would Aaron Eckhart be like as president? For the answer, see “The Dark Knight.” I wouldn’t trust Two-Face with the nuclear controls. But it did get me thinking of who would be the best fictional president. I believe it would be Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck in the 1998 disaster film “Deep Impact.” As the nation’s first black president, Beck led us through the grim asteroid apocalypse. Sure, he declared martial law and suspended the Constitution, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Don’t worry, folks, I kid. I know Morgan Freeman was not the first black president, and an asteroid did not fall to Earth, despite that Mayan prophecy. But in all seriousness, fictional presidents are often an idealized version of what we want our leaders to be. They can be ideally good or ideally bad — it depends on the story. Yet the traits we most want in our real presidents often find their way into the political fiction we create.
Tom Beck is a great example of the president as an orator. In the face of tough times, Americans want their president to communicate. The most lauded presidents — from Lincoln to FDR to Kennedy to Reagan — all had this gift. It is not simply the gift of writing a beautiful speech. Jefferson was the greatest presidential writer but a terrible speaker. The ability to express oneself in words that any American can understand is an integral part of being a legendary presidential orator. Much like FDR’s address after Pearl Harbor, Tom Beck’s address at the end of “Deep Impact” is as simple as it is inspiring. He lays out the challenges we face and offers hope for the future. No real president may sound like Morgan Freeman, but he can follow his rhetorical example.
In most cases, however, the fictional president cannot just be a great speaker. He or she has to be passionate and willing to fight for a cause. Like Bill Pullman’s President Thomas Whitmore in “Independence Day,” the president must embody the tenacity of the American people. That is easy to do when facing an alien invasion, with Will Smith as a secret weapon. Even without the Fresh Prince at their back, many real presidents have displayed that same never-say-die attitude. Lyndon Johnson vowed to finish JFK’s work and pass a civil rights act, regardless of the political cost. Both Roosevelts fought to reduce economic inequality, from the Square Deal to the New Deal, in the face of great opposition. George W. Bush definitely proves that you don’t have to be a great orator to rally the American public, as he did after Sept. 11. Fictional presidents like Whitmore combine grace with grit, something Americans look for in picking their real leaders.
However, there is one fictional president that stands above all others. He is greater even than Tom Beck, which is no mean feat. President Josiah Bartlet, of the television show “The West Wing,” is our ideal president. Bartlet combines the compassion of Carter with the grit of Nixon. He has Reagan’s communication skills with Roosevelt’s charm. Above all, Bartlet fights for the people, not the powerful. He moves the public in the aftermath of a terrorist attack with the most inspirational rhetoric: “The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. This is a time for American heroes, and we reach for the stars.” While he is certainly a liberal, conservatives can admire Bartlet as well. He is a family man, a staunch Catholic and unafraid to hunt terrorists who threaten our freedom. Overall, Josiah Bartlet is the best president America never had.
Tom Beck, Thomas Whitmore and Josiah Bartlet represent different facets of the ideal American presidency. They have much to teach us about what we want in our presidents. In an era where politicians so often disappoint us, we can perhaps find solace in their fictional examples. As for Aaron Eckhart, he may not be our best fictional president, but he does tell us one thing: We want our presidents to have fantastic hair.
Evan Monod is a junior in the College. SPOCK MEETS BARACK appears every other Tuesday.