Friday, January 31, 2014


Back in the spring of 2006, I sat down for a casual conversation with the President.

Okay, it was in Burbank. And it was an interview for a magazine article I was writing. And it was a pretend president. But still…  Jimmy Smits seemed commanding anyway. It was only about 48 hours before some eight million viewers would watch Smits—as Democratic presidential candidate Matt Santos on “The West Wing”—eke out a victory over Arnold Vinick (played by Alan Alda).

Folks were calling him the “Abe Lincoln of Latinos” for snagging a stint as a presidential candidate (the irony being that there had always been a Latino president on “The West Wing,” as Martin Sheen was born Ramon Estevez). Smits told me that he thought long and hard about accepting the final-season role on the NBC drama, “But I can show you letters and e-mails I received from people in the business who heard about it, and they all said the same thing: You have to do this. You have to do this.”

So perhaps the line between fantasy and reality isn’t as distinct as one might assume. When Smits was on "L.A. Law", fans would approach him about legal matters, and Latinos would tell him he was the reason they pursued a law degree. Maybe it’s not so surprising that a headline on the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper that hadn’t endorsed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1872, declared “MATTHEW V. SANTOS FOR PRESIDENT.”

I am fascinated by fictional presidents. Thus I offer a Why Not 100 tour of pen, paper and Pennsylvania Avenue—a journey through the long list of literary presidents. I won’t even touch film and TV here. Or stage productions. Or comic books. Just U.S. presidents in the pages of novels. And there are, literally, hundreds of them.

You want a Democratic president? How about these 20 options: Josh Alexander (Act of Treason), Andrew Bradford (The Second Lady), Howard Brewster (Line of Succession), Hawley Briggs (The Red President), Sam Clark (Shelley’s Heart), William Arthur Curry (The Company), Mitchell Dobe (Not Even a Name), Shy Garland (Father’s Day), Charles Haskell (Moonfall), Robert Hayes (Transfer of Power), Mark Hollenbach (Night at Camp David), Mark Hunt (The Illuminati), Kerry Kilcannon (Protect and Defend), Benjamin Knight (The Lucky Ones), Bedford Forrest Lockwood (The Better Angels), Tommy Owens (The Essential Man), Pete Parkin (The Prodigal Daughter), Kenneth Saxon (Missing!), Jack Stanton (Primary Colors), and Thomas Nelson Tucker (The White House Mess).

Rather see a Republican in office? I have 20 of those, too: Bill Baker (Invasion), John Ballentine (The Sentinel), Andrew Bee (Line of Succession), Browning Dayton (The Zero Factor), C. Douglas Dillion (Resurrection Day), Jack Donnelly (The KGB Candidate), Connor Doyle (The People’s Choice), Edgar Frazier (Seven Days in May), Jeremy Haines (The President’s Plane is Missing), Wesley Hamlin (Moonfall), Matt Hutton (The First Lady), Dad Kampferhaufe (Death of a Politician), James MacPherson (The Last Jihad), Kevin Martindale (Shadows of Steele), Richard Monckton (The Company), William Harvard Oaks (Dead Heat), Jack Rutledge (Blowback), Robert Sheldrake (Missing!), George White (The Kid Who Ran for President), and Augustus Alvin York (The Zero Factor).

Of course, if authors can conjure up commanders in chief, they can also conceive pretend political parties. Maybe you lean toward the Propertarian Party (President D. Nolan Fraster in The Venus Belt) or the National Party (President Daniel Brandenberg in Alternities) or the Jeffersonian Party (President Thomas Nathaniel Thorn in several novels by Dale Brown). Thirteen-year-old President Judson Moon (in The Kid Who Became President) is a member of the Lemonade Party. On the other hand, President Eve Hubbard in Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy touts the Libertarian Immortalist Party line: “No more death and taxes!”

But none of those are among my favorite literary Leaders of the Free World.

Hubbard is one of many “first female president” characters. In Grant Naylor’s Better Than Life, Elaine Sallinger is described as “perhaps the greatest American President of all time” and appears as the fifth carving on Mount Rushmore. There are also Kathy Alton (The Illuminati), Anne Bester (Eclipse Trilogy), Jennifer Capper (Kingdom Come), Emily Forrester (Killing Time), Clementine Search Fox (First Hubby), Florentyna Kane (Shall We Tell the President?), Joyce Peterman (Homeward Bound), Katherine Powers (the President’s Daughter series), Eleanor Richmond (Interface), Veronica Townshend (Moonfall), Josephine Vannebuker-Brown  (Alas, Babylon), Alice Wiliston (Greater Than Gods), and Abigail Wilson (The Ten Thousand).

Maria Juarez (in The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter) is the first Hispanic female in the White House, taking office in 2037. And Janice Castleman (Remnants), June Syers (The Kid Who Became President) and Hunnis Millibank (Virtual Light) can each claim to be the first African-American female President. In fact, you’ll find nearly every ethnicity has taken a seat in the Oval Office—from Rudolfo Valenzuela (The General’s President) to Booker T. Langford (Down to a Sunless Sea) to Jack D’Amici (Brother’s Keeper) to Sven Ericson (Full Disclosure) to Patrick O’Malley (Night at Camp David) to Matthew Bernstein (2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks).

But none of those are among my preferred POTUSes either.

Many novels by eminent authors have featured fantasy presidents—books by Jack London (Morgan the Fifth in The Scarlet Plague), H.G. Wells (Benito Caruso in The Shape of Things to Come), Robert Heinlein (Wendell Holmes in For Us, The Living), Ray Bradbury (Winston Noble in Fahrenheit 451), John Grisham (Aaron Lake in The Brethren and Arthur Morgan in The Broker), Mary Higgins Clark (Henry Parker Britland III and Desmond Ogilvy in My Gal Sunday), Robert Ludlum (Charles Berquist in The Parsifal Mosaic), Dan Brown (Zach Herney in Deception Point), Mario Puzo (Francis Xavier Kennedy in The Fourth K), Gore Vidal (Art Hockstader in The Best Man), Carl Sagan (Helen Lasker in Contact), Clive Cussler (Douglas Oates in Deep Six), Sidney Sheldon (Oliver Russell in The Best Laid Plans), and Stephen King (Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone).

Tom Clancy’s presidents are a West Wing unto themselves, including William Ballard (Politika), Roger Durling (Debt of Honor), Bob Fowler (The Sum of All Fears), Robby Jackson (The Teeth of the Tiger), Ed Kealty (The Teeth of the Tiger), and, of course, Jack Ryan in a bunch of books.

Oh, and who can forget the ascension of Chauncey Gardiner in Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There?

But again, none of those make my ultimate pretend president list.

How about names then? Many have suitably reeked of money and power—names like Talcott Quincy Bailey (34 East), Hamilton Delbacher (The Hill of Summer), Benjamin Bow Hannaford (The President), Bradford March (The Power), and Andrew Wadsworth (The R Document). And there have been obvious satires like Trick E. Dixon (Our Gang by Philip Roth).

If I had to pick my favorite most-powerful-man monikers, however, I’d probably start with Dr. William Daffodil-11 Swain in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick. Or maybe Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip in Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. Or Lancelot R. Gilligrass in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Or Averell Torrent in Orson Scott Card’s Empire. Or Rexford Tugwell in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

Want more? How about: Johnny Gentle (Infinite Jest), Digby R. Stewart (The Andropov Deception), Paxton S. Superstoe (Superstoe), Hallux Valgas (Et Tu, Babe), Riley Peachem (Boomsday), Perryman Caster (Black Star Rising), Nehemiah Scudder (For Us, The Living), Steven Smizoneean (Illiningrad 1—Sheraton’s War), and Furbish Lousewart (Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy)

I could go on and on… referencing books with names like The Talbot Agreement, The Cassandra Project, The Templar Legacy, The Machiavelli Covenant, The Thor Conspiracy, and The Pigeon Drop.

But instead, I’ll finally get to my definitive list—my 42 favorite freaky faux Free World Leaders. They fall under three categories—alternate history presidents, futuristic sci-fi presidents, and positively evil presidents.


1. Robert Colonby (The Eclipse of Dawn, Gordon Eklund)
It’s 1988. After a Second Civil War, the White House is in California. President Colonby reunites the nation—with help from extraterrestrials on Jupiter.

2. Floyd Davis (Cowboy Angels, Paul J. McAuley)
He can travel to parallel dimensions to intervene in events in other Americas, but loses re-election to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

3. Marshall Roberts (Ikon, Graham Masterton)
He’s really only a figurehead President. It turns out the Russians have secretly been in charge since 1962 when missiles in Cuba led JFK to surrender.

4. Joe Steele (“President Joe Steele,” Harry Turtledove)
In this short story, Steele is actually Joseph Stalin, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. He is elected to Congress, orchestrates the death of FDR, serves six terms as President, creates a brutal dictatorship, and is succeeded by J. Edgar Hoover.

5. Leona Crawford Gordon (Hitler’s Daughter, Timothy Benford)
The gist of the chilling plot is this: A woman is impregnated by Hitler and killed shortly after arriving in the United States. Her daughter becomes President.

6. Charles Foster Kane (Back in the USSA, Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman)
Yup, he’s Teddy Roosevelt’s running mate in 1912. Kane becomes President after TR is assassinated, but is later overthrown by a left-wing revolution.

7. Andrew Harrison (1945, Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen)
The junior Senator from Nebraska takes over for a retiring FDR after a World War II in which the U.S. fought only Japan—and Germany becomes a superpower.

8. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (Fatherland, Robert Harris)
He takes office in an alternative world where Germany has won the Second World War. It is April 1964 and one week before Hitler's 75th birthday.

9. Charles Lindbergh (The Plot Against America, Philip Roth)
In Roth’s outstanding book, the former aviation hero bests FDR in the 1940 election, unleashing a wave of isolationism and anti-Semitism in America.

10. John Trelawney Cassidy (Promises to Keep, George Bernau)
A Kennedyesque prez who survives a 1963 assassination attempt. After a hiatus, he then runs for reelection in 1968 and survives another assassination attempt—in Los Angeles.

11. Newton Sanders (Idlewild, Mark Lawson)
Another world in which JFK survived the assassination attempt. Sanders enters office in 1992 after running as a third party candidate against George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

12. Hosea Blackford (American Empire: The Center Cannon Hold, Harry Turtledove)
From the State of Dakota, runs for VP on a ticket with presidential candidate Upton Sinclair, defeats Calvin Coolidge for the presidency in 1928.

13. Carmen Hiero (The Stone Dogs, S.M. Stirling)
Second Hispanic and first female president—during an alternate timeline in which Mexico is part of the United States.

14. Rose Sweeney Keogh (The Very First Lady, Steve Dunleavy)
Brilliant idea: The wife of the 1984 Republican nominee replaces him when he is incapacitated, is elected President… and suffers from dissociative identity disorder.

15. Harris Moffat I, II and III (Vilcabamba, Harry Turtledove)
A three-generation presidential dynasty. The first guy tries to oppose an alien invasion and brings Canada into the Union. His son negotiates a peace treaty with the aliens. His grandson attempts a foredoomed rebellion.

16. George Romney (Resurrection Day, Brendan Dubois)
Uh-huh. Mitt’s dad. Elected in 1964, two years after a Cuban Missile-inspired nuclear exchange.


17. Hugo Allen Winkler (The Tercentenary Incident, Isaac Asimov)
The 57th president is assassinated—on July 4, 2076—and replaced with a robot impostor who continues to run the country undetected.

18. Abraham Brown (The Music Master of Babylon, Edgar Pangborn)
A 1954 novel set in 2020, it features a Second Civil War, a nuclear holocaust, and an elderly ex-president who is tortured, martyred and eventually worshipped.

19. Billy Cabot (The Accidental Time Machine, Joe Haldeman)
In 2180, he is the first to witness the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, who anoints Cabot as his First Bishop. About 2,000 years of war and chaos ensue.

20. Vanessa Durksen (Red Planet Blues, Robert J. Sawyer)
She’s fatally shot, but her mind is uploaded to an artificial body to serve out her term.

21. Joshua Francis Kellogg (Joshua Son of None, Nancy Freedman)
Cloned from an unnamed (but obvious) president after his 1963 assassination, he himself is immediately assassinated after being sworn in as president.

22. Timothy Garde Macauley (From the Files of the Time Rangers, Richard Bowes),
Greek gods pose as humans and manipulate humanity. Via time travel, Macauley is twice elected President.

23. Arthur Penn (One Knight Only, Peter David)
He is King Arthur returned, and his advisor is Merlin, who filed citizenship papers for Arthur in 1787.

24. Jarrod Delport (The American Hero, Josh Gurling)
Serves from 2040-48, chooses Ed Garcia as the first Hispanic VP and Chelsea Clinton as Secretary of State.

25. Joseph Armando (Mars, Ben Bova)
The first manned mission to Mars occurs during the administration of the first Hispanic president, elected in the early 21st century.

26. Hamilton Conroy (Coyote, Allen Steele)
President of the extreme right-wing United Republic of America, he greenlights the first manned deep-space mission to colonize 47 Ursae Majoris.

27. David Coffey (Footfall, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle)
His primary crisis: an invasion of Earth by elephant-like aliens.

28. Harriet Palmer (Out of the Dark, David Weber)
When alien invaders destroy Washington, D.C., she and her cabinet are killed.

29. Julian Comstock (Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson)
In the 2170s, he overthrows his dictatorial uncle, but is himself later assassinated.

30. George Hamilton (Greater Than Gods, C.L. Moore)
Reelected to multiple terms in the 23rd century, he turns the U.S. into a nation of soldiers, but dies in a bombing raid during his Great War (he is succeeded by his VP Philip Spaulding, who completes the
conquest and unification of the world).

31. Joseph Emerson Benton (Ultimatum, Matthew Glass)
Elected in 2032, he oversees a massive relocation of Americans due to global warming.

32. John Curtin (Logan’s Run, William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson)
In the year 2000, his one-child policy to curb overpopulation leads to nuclear war.

33. John Milhous Nixon (Last Human, Doug Naylor)
Richard Nixon’s descendant arrogantly attempts to control the weather, but winds up destroying the sun.


34. Dewey Haik (It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis)
As Secretary of War, he engineers a coup to remove the president, then the assassination of the new president, leading to his installation as a brutal POTUS.

35. Arthur Christensen (The Double Man, Gary Hart and William Cohen)
He approves a plan to kidnap a U.S. Senator and frame him for treason.

36. Sam Adams (The Insider, Jack Nesbit)
After the VP is killed, he is appointed to replace him, eventually taking the top spot. Except it is later discovered that he was behind that assassination.

37. Simon Faircliffe (The President’s Man, Nicholas Guild)
He’s secretly assassinated by his CIA director after being revealed as a traitor.

38. Ferris F. Fremont (Radio Free Albemuth, Philip K. Dick)
A paranoid prez who fears a nonexistent conspiracy and turns the U.S. into a police state

39. Elise Rochelle (Coyote, Allen Steele)
Rochelle commits suicide (in the year 2096) to avoid being prosecuted for killing 1.1 million people (in Boston, Seattle, and Montreal) with biological weapons.

40. Eldon Parker (The Oasis Project, David Stuart Arthur)
He secretly funds a weapon program to eliminate global population centers and create a new Pax-Americana.

41. Caesare Appleton (Emperor of America, Richard Condon)
After the Royalty Party and the NRA destroy Washington, D.C. with a nuclear bomb, he declares himself president—and eventually Caesare I, Emperor of America.

42. Fletcher J. Fletcher (A Planet for the President, Alistair Beaton)
He unleashes a virus to solve a global eco-crisis, killing all humans except himself.


  1. Until I read this, Brad, I thought I was weird for keeping in my head various resumes of actors as they worked their way up the government ladder. A lot--but not all, involved "The West Wing." For example, Alan Alda played a senator in "The Seducation of Joe Tynan" years ago and then more recently was nearly president in West Wing. Your analysis/obsession is far more involved, and I'm glad to know this kind of thinking has a place to be expressed!

  2. What?!? No love for Pres. Chet Roosevelt from Americathon? -->