By Lexie Schapitl
In honor of Presidents Day, I’ve compiled a list of the best and worst fictional presidents in recent television history. Read along to completely lose, then hopefully regain your faith, in our highest executive office.
Garrett Walker (Michael Gill), “House of Cards”
Garrett Walker was a weak and ineffective president throughout the first two seasons of “House of Cards.” He was totally oblivious to Frank’s constant scheming, and it eventually led to his resignation. To be honest, I have NO idea what happened towards the end of season two. There was a lot of weird back channeling with China and deals with Raymond Tusk, who seemed to possess a lot more political power than any actual politician on the show. It didn’t make sense to me how all of this ended with Walker giving up the presidency pretty easily. Frank writes him a letter on a vintage typewriter and Walker’s like “OK, yeah I’m out?” But that’s just how weak and ineffective Walker was. He was easily manipulated and always two steps behind the other players on the show. Guess he just wasn’t cut out for Washington. Grade: D
Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), “Scandal”
I’m prepared to take some heat for this one, but listen up Team Olitz: regardless of how much Fitz looooooovesss Olivia, he is a TERRIBLE president. First of all, he shouldn’t even be the president, but I guess I can’t really hold Defiance against him. I can however hold against him the fact that he rarely ever actually governs the country. How could he, considering he spends so much time on Olivia related activities? Sneaking off to Olivia’s apartment in the middle of national crises is NOT romantic: it’s ridiculous. And is it really necessary to spend 5 minutes per episode giving an extended monologue about jam and Vermont while the Fitz and Olivia theme song plays in the background? Add in the time spent yelling, “I AM THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!” to whoever is within earshot or fighting with his wife or drinking scotch in the Oval Office, and there’s very little time leftover for leading the free world. Let’s not forget he also killed a Supreme Court justice, considers resigning on the reg, and just last week he STARTED A WAR to save his precious Liv. Understandable, sure, but not presidential. I will concede that Fitz has been considerably more tolerable lately, and yes I feel bad that he was shot and his son was killed. But overall, Fitz has been a bust. Grade: D+
Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin), “24”
Charles Logan is hands down my pick for worst fictional president I have ever watched on television. (First of all, can we address the fact that he looks eerily similar to Richard Nixon? Come on, casting department!) Logan takes office during season 4, after a rogue air force stealth pilot shoots down Air Force One and injures president Keeler. At first, he is overwhelmed and useless, a stereotypical example of an incompetent VP unprepared for real responsibility. He rejects Jack’s advice, which is never a good idea on this show, and jeopardizes efforts to prevent further terrorist attacks. Then, when former President Palmer steps in to save the day, Logan takes all the credit. In season 5, he graduates from basic incompetency to full blown treason. He allows Russian terrorists to obtain toxic nerve gas, and then does whatever it takes to try and cover it up. He’s willing to let his wife die in a bombing and shoot down a plane full of civilians just to hide his involvement. Basically, a lot of people die this season and it’s all Logan’s fault. He really sucks. He returns briefly in season six, and again in season eight, where he tries to murder Jack and return to political power (naturally). When his plot fails, he shoots himself in the head and suffers massive brain damage, and viewers still didn’t even feel that bad for him. Grade: F.
Now to the good news…
Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen), “The West Wing”
Jed Bartlet is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, a great speaker, a family man and a fiercely loyal friend. He’s basically everything you want in a president, regardless of your political beliefs. Isn’t it nice to watch a political drama where the president isn’t bogged down in a government conspiracy or a sleazy affair? Bartlet actually tries to do what is right for the country, which is rare to see on television (see above). He also delivers some great one-liners, real zingers. Sure, he wasn’t perfect. There was the whole “lying about having MS” thing, and for much of season one the administration is too worried about approval ratings and reelection to actually take on tough issues. I don’t know how many jobs Bartlet created or how what taxes he cut or how much he helped the middle class. But I do know that a great WW episode can restore your faith in American politics, at least for 42 minutes. The ending of “Two Cathedrals?” The entirety of “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen??” So many feels. Grade: A.
David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), “24”
We first meet David Palmer when he is just a U.S. senator trying to secure the Democratic Presidential nomination. He’s also the target of an assassination attempt, because this is 24. He values his principles over anything else, including political success. In season one, he is willing to jeopardize his campaign prospects because he refuses to participate in a murder cover-up. He even divorces his perpetually awful wife, Sherry, when he discovers she was trying to manipulate him into lying. Honesty prevails! Also rare in TV politics. In season 2, his administration turns against him, and schemes to have him removed from office. But after like five minutes they realize they are NOT going to get through the day without him (terrorists have control of a nuclear device somewhere in L.A., naturally). He survives an assassination attempt at the end of season two, and steers the country through countless crises. I’ll deduct a few points since he only served one term (he does not seek reelection in the name of principle in season three), and since he married Lady Macbeth in the first place, but overall Palmer was a real stand-up guy and a great Commander-in-Chief. Grade: A-
Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), “House of Cards” and Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), “Veep”
Underwood and Meyer are slated to take office when their shows return with new seasons, but we haven’t actually seen them serve as presidents yet. Underwood has repeatedly shown that he is willing to do whatever it takes to reach the top. A real “by any means” kind of guy. That’s a good quality to have in a president, but he’s also purely motivated by self-interest. The good of the country? Respect for the Constitution? He couldn’t care less. This doesn’t bode well for the fictional American government. I actually don’t watch “Veep,” but I should because it seems hilarious. And I’d like to see what Meyer has in store now that she’ll be the one in charge. Grade: I (Incomplete)