Thomas J. Whitmore
Fictional President of the United States played by Bill Pullman
Served: In the film Independence Day (1996)
Age during term: Pullman was 42 when the movie was released
PROS: Youth — We don't know how old Whitmore is. As stated, he's portrayed by Bill Pullman who was 42 during the summer of '96. It's safe to assume the movie was filmed up to a year before its release. We also get the feeling that Whitmore is at least a year into his term. This easily puts Whitmore in the "younger than Teddy Roosevelt" category when he took office. Possibly even in his 30s.
He's young and vibrant and ready to kick butt. Speaking of which...
He went into battle... AS PRESIDENT — It was established that Whitmore served as a fighter pilot in Desert Storm. He was elected president very shortly after. While he was in office, aliens came and killed people by the millions. After two days of destruction, a plan was formulated as a last ditch effort to destroy the alien crafts.
After giving a stirring speech to rally the troops, he suits up and gets in a jet to fight some aliens himself.
Is this horribly reckless behavior? By this point, it had been mentioned that the vice president had been killed when NORAD was destroyed. Who knows who else is left? If the president died, there would no government left. Or worse, there would be a handful of senators who believe they're the next president, probably splitting the union. But really, at that point, if the president and this mission failed, there would probably be no union left to fight over anyway.
Whitmore knows this. When there's no other option, Whitmore goes all in.
CONS: He once fought David Levinson (played by Jeff Goldblum).
This happened years before the movie takes place, but we hear about it during the Oval Office scene. Normally, having previous fight experience would be a plus, but I don't know about this case. Levinson's a supernerd. No way he knows how to fight someone.
Granted, Levinson had the element of surprise (he threw the first punch), he had motive (he suspected his wife was cheating on him with Whitmore) and he has reach (the Internet tells me that Goldblum is 6'4" to Pullman's 6'1").
Still, years later, when the movie takes place, Levinson has no visible scars, no pronounced limp and all limbs are accounted for. Perhaps Whitmore was holding back. It's not like he was in the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™.
He seems to get very little respect — When the movie opens, it's apparent that Whitmore is suffering some PR problems. He's seen as too young. His approval ratings are below 40%. And every time they cut to The McLaughlin Group on the TV, someone on the panel is taking a dump on his presidency.
you're supposed to salute your Commander-in-Chief.
Why doesn't Whitmore get any respect? Maybe it's his age. Maybe he tries to please everyone politically, which is seen as pandering or flip-flopping. Or maybe it's because he reads USA Today.
Even worse, judging by the weather map on the back of her paper, his communications director seems to read months-old copies of USA Today.
Why no respect? Maybe McLaughlin Group panelist Eleanor Clift thinks he's a wimp.
James A. Garfield
20th President of the United States
Served: March 4, 1881 - September 19, 1881
Age during term: 49
PROS: Military badass — Garfield's military career got off to kind of a slow start, as the Union army kind of dragged its feet in granting him an officer's commission. After having been granted the rank of colonel, Garfield was put in charge of a number of units, and ordered to drive the Confederates out of eastern Kentucky. He very much succeeded, leading to a promotion and greater duties in the field. Unfortunately, this also led to a period where the Army stopped listening to him, first when it came to taking the war directly to the southern population, and later when it came to his recommendation to replace a pair of ineffective commanders. The latter recommendation led to a Union defeat at the Battle of Chickamagua, while the former strategy was implemented much later. This was basically the pattern that marked his Army career — recommend something, get overruled, then get exonerated later. If people had only listened to him the first time, there would probably be statues of him all over the country now.
Debate specialist — In 1858, Garfield, who had briefly worked as a preacher in his home state of Ohio, was challenged to a debate by a traveling whippersnapper. This whole setup is definitely weird — was that a thing that happened back then? Itinerant dudes just roaming the country, challenging people to debates? Well, anyway, Garfield accepted. The resulting debate lasted a full week, and was won, hands-down, by the future president. Now, granted, Garfield had something of a hometown advantage, but... still. How would this translate in the arena? Well, it shows a fair amount of persistence and resiliency, both traits that would serve him well in a fight.
CONS: Somewhat short-lived as a president — Garfield was fatally shot by assassin Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. He lingered for a while before finally succumbing on September 19. For those of you keeping score at home, that's a six month presidency, with the latter two months spent dying due to a combination of being shot, and piss-poor medical care (doctors attempting to remove the bullets in Garfield both stuck unsterilized fingers into his wounds, and wound up puncturing one of his kidneys). We know medical standards were different back then, but... damn.
|"Hi, President Garfield!"|
Side note: Much of Garfield's agenda was eventually carried out by his successor, Chester A. Arthur. So, it was kind of a Garfield-minus-Garfield situation.
General ill-health — Getting shot a point blank range wasn't Garfield's first serious health issue, either. During his Civil War service, Garfield was forced back home in 1862 when his health suddenly went south. Not only did he recover, but Wikipedia slyly notes that his marriage was "reinvigorated" during this time. We can only conclude that he was boned back to health.
|There's a reason this is a trope, is what we're saying.|
Point is, dude probably was not in the best shape for someone hoping to win a fight to the death.
Doug: James Garfield boned his way to health? Perhaps Whitmore should have tried that on his wife after she was rescued from the downed helicopter. Maybe she would have lived.
Say, that reminds me of a joke. A nurse is giving a woman in a coma a sponge bath. When she gets around the patient's "bathing suit area," the nurse notices there's a blip in the heart monitor. She tells the doctor, and the doctor brings the husband in and tells him, "Hey, this is a long shot, but oral sex might bring your wife out of her coma." Husband dutifully goes into his wife's room while the doctor and nurse watch the monitor in the other room. He's in the room for a few minutes and the wife flat lines. Doctor goes in to see what's going on and sees the husband pulling up his pants, who says, "I think I suffocated her."
Where was I? Oh yeah. I'm impressed that Garfield defeated the traveling debater, as well as I am baffled that traveling debaters existed. However, if this were public speaking contest, I still wouldn't put my money on Garfield over Thomas "Today we celebrate our Independence Day" Whitmore.
Tony: Really? In a public speaking contest, you'd back someone who gave one decent speech, versus one of the most gifted orators of his time? A man who, when he served in Congress, could get everyone to shut up just by opening his mouth? A man who gave an extemporaneous speech on Wall Street on the day of a financial panic and calmed everyone the hell down? Really?
Doug: Well, none of this matters, because it's not a debate, it's a fight to the finish. That means Garfield has to somehow get past Thomas "Oh me? Yeah, I was in a dogfight against aliens" Whitmore.
It should be noted that neither of those things are actually Whitmore's middle name. His initial is J, but we never learn what it stands for. My money is on James as in Thomas "James Garfield better watch his ass" Whitmore.
Here's what I'm going to say about Whitmore: sometimes, people have moments where they overcome their normal limitations and do something extraordinary. But outside of those moments? These people are weak, ineffectual, losers. Facing off against an alien horde in your F-16? I'd say that qualifies. as an extraordinary moment. But that's all he's got. And that means that when he's locked in the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™ with a seasoned war veteran, he's toast.
Tony: Yeah, or he could have been a popular military figure who ran in an otherwise weak field of presidential candidates. Either way, I'm thinking that if he was such a brilliant orator, he'd be able to get shit from Congress without commentators resorting to Dickensian references to describe him.
Doug: Back to the fight with Goldblum's character, and my bet that he was holding himself back. The way he tells it, he punched Whitmore first. They traded hits and it was over. What does Goldblum's character have to lose here? He's a satellite expert for a cable company who thinks his wife is cheating.
What does Whitmore have to lose? Everything. His future's so bright, he's got to wear his sunglasses at night... wait, I may be mixing up my '80s songs here. Does Whitmore mop the floor with his nerdy ass only to have that haunt him in the future, or does he not destroy his career and make it look like a fair fight?
Whitmore chooses the latter, stays on track to the White House and personally helps wipe out an invading civilization.
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