Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Hazards of the Ryanverse

The world of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels is an... interesting place. Compared to the "real" universe? Well, there are some pros and cons. In the Ryanverse, the rest of the world's nations seem incredibly wont to trying to stick it in America's grill. Culprits include America's real-life enemies (Iran!), frenemies (China!), and even America's ostensible friends (India! Japan!). Then there are the rogue actors, such as the Arab terrorists who nuke Denver, or the eco-terrorists who want to use a form of weaponized Ebola to wipe out 99% of humanity (this happened in one of the Rainbow Six novels, which are decidedly less Ryan-centric, but are still set in the same world).
On the other hand, terrorists in the Ryanverse are probably 250% hotter than they are in real life. So, there's that.
Did any of that strike you as a little... odd? Yes, it's fair to say that once Clancy could no longer rely on the crutch of the Cold War, his search for scum and villainy led him far afield. It's somewhat strange, as the Russians weren't the only enemies that Ryan squared off against while the aforementioned Cold War was still on; the drug lords of Clear and Present Danger and the Irish terrorists of Patriot Games stand as testaments to that. Yet, once the Big Bad USSR was out of the way, Clancy couldn't help but get a bit silly. And nowhere is the proof of this more apparent than in tracking the ups and downs of the office of the President of the United States during the time from The Hunt for Red October on through Dead or Alive. So let's take a look at that timeline, shall we?

First, some notes for comparison: in the last 30 years or so, you'd have to agree that the American Presidency (and Vice Presidency) has been remarkably stable. We've had no Vice Presidents resign or be replaced in that time span, and there has only been one time that the President has come close to not completing his term (the Hinkley assassination attempt, though if you want to include Clinton's impeachment, we'd say that's fair). Also, we should point out that the Ryanverse makes reference to the presidencies of Reagan and George H.W. Bush, so the presidents listed here start serving some time after that. So! The first person we have to contend with is:
  • "The President": The president from The Hunt For Red October through Clear and Present Danger is never actually named in the novels. Movie versions of those two books name him as James Bennett. The start of Bennett's term is never really explained, but he ran for reelection in 1988, which certainly muddies things. Bennett intentionally tanked his campaign after the events of Clear and Present Danger; apparently he wanted to keep the events of that book secret, and had he been reelected, everything would have come out. So he falls on his sword, leading to the election of...
  • J. Robert Fowler: Fowler came to office a widower, which conveniently allowed him to start banging his National Security Adviser, Liz Elliot. Elliot, unfortunately, wasn't the biggest Ryan fan in the world (which is a clue right there how well this whole thing would turn out), leading her to screw Ryan into not receiving and credit for the whole, Mid-East Peace thing. Whoops! Fowler's presidency seriously came unraveled when terrorists nuked the Super Bowl; believing the attack came from the Soviet Union, he brought the two countries to the brink of World War III before Ryan could get on the hotline and calm everyone the hell down. But things weren't over! The terrorists responsible for the Denver attack managed to plant a false trail leading back to the Ryanverse's Iranian dictator. Enraged, Fowler ordered a nuclear strike on the Iranian city of Qom. Fortunately, Ryan was once again able to defuse the situation by invoking two-man rule (the thing in thrillers where two people have to turn their keys in tandem for a nuclear missle to be launched) and then refusing Fowler's orders. Two days after all of this mess, Fowler broke down, realizing he had just come very close to screwing the pooch, and turned things over to his Vice President...
  • Roger Durling: Fortunately for everyone, Durling was both mostly competent and drama-free. So, naturally, Durling was killed when a rogue Japanese pilot plowed his 747 into the U.S. Capitol (for those of you keeping score at home, this happened in the novel Debt of Honor, which was published in 1994). Fortunately, prior to this little... event... Durling had filled the then-vacant Vice President position by nominating...
  • Jack Ryan! Ryan's presidency was turbulent to say the least, with multiple small wars breaking out, a biological attack from the United Islamic Republic (read: Iran), a very major war breaking out between China and Russia... not good times. Also, a UIR sleeper agent attempted to assassinate Ryan, though this attempt was thwarted in part due to the precautions undertaken because of the Ebola threat. Still, freaking Iran, man. Anyway, Ryan served out Durling's term, and was elected for one of his own, and then things get a little squirrley. Depending on what you read, Ryan either served his whole term, or resigned in its midst. So, depending on which narrative you subscribe to, Ryan was either succeeded by...
  • Robert J. Jackson: One of Ryan's best friends throughout the Ryan novels, Jackson became Ryan's Vice President as the Ryan Administration attempted to rebuild the government after it was almost entirely destroyed at the end of Debt of Honor. Jackson either then replaced Ryan, or campaigned to replace him when he did not run for re-election. However: Jackson was an African-American. No big deal, right? Well, in the Ryanverse, it was a little bit of a deal, and Jackson was assassinated by a KKK member while campaigning in Mississippi.
  • (or) Ed Kealty: Oh, Kealty. Where to begin with this guy? Well, to start, Kealty was Durling's original Vice President. However, Kealty had to resign following a sex scandal. Now, you hear "sex scandal," and you think... "affair?" Well, kind of. Actually, while serving in the Senate, Kealty drugged and raped one of his staffers. This didn't come out until he made it to the Vice Presidency, and though his political capital meant he managed to avoid prosecution, he did have to resign. Once Ryan became President, Kealty immediately started a court battle, contending that he (Kealty) had never actually resigned. Kealty then sued Ryan when, during the Ebola outbreak, Ryan's closing off all insterstate travel prevented Kealty from... well, interstate travel. Kealty claimed this violated his constitutional rights. The courts threw the case out, and as a bonus, Kealty had named Ryan as President in said case, so his earlier case became null at the same time. Now that's Jenga. Anyway, Kealty ran for the presidency against Jackson, and was nowhere close in the polls when Jackson was killed. However, the incident came too deep into the election cycle for another candidate to be named, and Kealty thus cruised to office.
The latest Jack Ryan novel implies that Kealty's presidency will be short, as Ryan himself has gotten too pissed off over Kealty's many faults; he is thus planning to pull a Cleveland and get elected to his second nonconsecutive term.
    So, let's review: that's either five or six presidents in a span of twenty years. To put that in perspective, the Ryanverse's 44th President of the United States (Durling) came to power around 1995. In the real world? The 44th president is... the current one. You know, the one who was elected in 2008?

    Of course, it's not like this sort of lunacy never happens in the real world. Consider this: in the twenty-year span from 1840 to 1860, we went through eight presidents. Those circumstances were pretty mundane compared to the Ryanverse; we just went through a long string of one-termers and two who couldn't even make it to one term. However, the twenty years leading to the Civil War really shouldn't be seen as a beacon of stability in American history.

    Bottom line: if you are an American in the Ryanverse, you stand a high chance of being killed in a terrorist attack, and the stability of the presidency is about naught. But you're not going to lose any wars. So, there's that.

    Polls are still open for this week's matchup of Ryan and Fillmore! Head over to Monday's post if you haven't voted; and leave some comments, dammit!

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