Don't blame me, I voted for Bill and Opus: 13 fake presidential bids
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1. Gracie Allen (1940)
In 1940, George Burns' better half followed in the footsteps of such smart-alecky entertainers as Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers by announcing her intention to run for president on the new "Surprise Party" ticket. (According to Allen, "My mother was a Democrat and my father was a Republican, but I was born a Surprise.") Allen's campaign captured the American imagination, and spawned a book, a whistle-stop tour, and appearances on dozens of radio programs, where she'd explain her positions on the issues. (On recognizing Russia: "I don't know I meet so many people." On The Lend-Lease Bill: "If we owe it, we should pay it.") Though Allen only garnered a handful of write-in votes, the popularity of the Burns & Allen show soared, and Allen became arguably an even bigger star than she'd been in the '30s. As she herself put it, "I stand before you tonight, a simple plain woman which is not my fault, but the beautician can't take me 'til tomorrow."
2. Pogo (1952, 1956 & 1960)
Politics were hardly off limits in Walt Kelly's brilliant Pogo comic. For much of the strip's 27-year run, the simplicity of the swamp setting was constantly being disrupted by the intrusion of the affairs of state, both in the person of regular characters like the grafting Tammananny Tiger and the rabid anti-communist Mole MacCarony, and in parodies of real-world figures like Joe McCarthy (portrayed in the strip as the violent, treacherous bobcat Simple J. Malarkey). Eventually, Kelly had humble hero Pogo Possum himself run for president, albeit reluctantly, as a humorous attack on politics as usual; he was reportedly shocked at the appearance in the real world of "I GO POGO" buttons, and began to use the character's presidential runs as an excuse to encourage voter registration. Many readers (especially those on the far right, given Kelly's nasty depiction of the John Birch crowd as the "Jack Acid Society") disliked the appearance of Kelly's liberal politics, so eventually he began supplying newspapers with what he called "fluffy bunny comics" to swap out for the Pogo strips with political content: they featured nameless, cute rabbits telling third-grade-level jokes.
3. Howard The Duck (1976)
Marvel Comics already had a surprise hit on their hands with writer Steve Gerber's satirical funny-animal comic Howard The Duck when the company's marketing department decided to seize on Howard's entry into the 1976 presidential race (as part of the "All-Night Party"). Campaign buttons featuring the stogie-chomping, tie-wearing waterfowl became hot items on college campuses, and Marvel splashed "Howard For President" across the pages of comics he didn't even appear in. (Howard's main message: "Why not a duck? You've had turkeys running this country for 200 years!") As often happens in these cases, Howard The Duck's run didn't raise any serious issues or make any cogent political points, but it elevated the character's profile in the public consciousness, and helped fire up the short-lived Howard phenomenon—which eventually ended with Gerber leaving his creation behind under controversial circumstances and George Lucas sullying the property with one of the worst movies ever made.
4. Al Franken (2000)
Though his current run for the Senate is very serious, comedian Al Franken is already a veteran of the (fake) campaign trail, having penned 1999's Why Not Me?: The Inside Story Of The Making And Unmaking Of The Franken Presidency. An alternate history of the 2000 presidential race, Why Not Me? finds the Saturday Night Live satirist running on a platform of lowering ATM fees, a pandering non-issue that nonetheless allows him to paint Al Gore as a tool of the banking industry and claim the Democratic nomination. Of course, after Franken wins the election in a landslide, it's all one unmitigated disaster after another: Franken's inauguration speech apologizes for slavery by way of incorporating a scene from Mandingo; he punches Nelson Mandela in the stomach and ruptures his spleen; and he tries to assassinate Saddam Hussein by hitting him with a "World's Greatest Grandpa" plaque. After being raked over the coals by the Joint Congressional Committee To Investigate The President's Mood Swings, Franken resigns in disgrace, having served the second shortest term in office ever—although his running mate Joe Lieberman goes on to 18 stellar years as the greatest president in American history. Did we mention this is satire?
5. Stephen Colbert (2008)
Stephen Colbert's bid to become a 2008 Presidential candidate proved as doomed as it was short-lived, lasting less than a month in the fall of 2007. Attempting to enter the race in South Carolina—his childhood home—on a South Carolina-first platform, Colbert's first stumbling block came in the form of the Republican Party's $35,000 registration fee. Colbert. His second: When the executive council of South Carolina's Democratic Party turned him away, leaving others to pick up on Colbert's promises to "crush the state of Georgia." Or not. Nevertheless, Colbert remains a viable candidate in Marvel Comics, which has peppered its backgrounds with "Colbert '08" posters and will feature the would-be President in a forthcoming issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.
6. Pat Paulsen (1968, 1972, 1980, 1988, 1992, 1996)
Other comics played at running for President as part of their shtick but none dedicated the time and energy to it as Paulsen. Spinning off from his role as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour's in-house editorialist, Paulsen took his gift for deadpan rhetoric that sounded sensible in the half-second before audiences let it sink in to the next level in 1968 by announcing his candidacy. Paulsen would try again and again until his death in 1997, becoming forever identified with joke runs. Why did it work so well? It didn't hurt that Paulsen looked the part of the stiff, well-groomed establishment politician, ever more so as he got older. But it was Paulsen's gift for puncturing the windy pomposity and self-evident hypocrisy of candidate-speak that put him over the top. Or maybe it was the support of the bear community since, whenever asked about the right to bear arms, Paulsen would reply that he instead supported the right to arm bears.
7. Bill The Cat & Opus (1984 & 1988)
After a particularly "raucous caucus" that sees the nomination and rejection of everyone from John Glenn and Erik Estrada to a "dream ticket" of Jesse Jackson and Jesse Helms, Bloom County's National Radical Meadow Party settles on the one candidate with less charisma than Walter Mondale: Bill The Cat, currently in one of his "being dead" phases. Bill and reluctant vice-presidential nominee Opus hold their own with an A-list fundraising concert featuring Van Halen and The Police and dirty campaign ads linking Reagan to Fidel Castro, but are eventually undone by a sordid Bob Woodward biography and Bill's Election Day defection to a religious cult. The Meadowcrats fare even worse in '88: Bill spends most of the campaign in an alcoholic stupor (spun as "religious fervor"), while Opus is forced to collect endorsements from icky special interests like the United Cocaine Producers, Smugglers, Pushers, And Assorted Scum. After Opus is slapped (literally) with the "liberal" label, he's dropped from the ticket in favor of a desperate, but less despised Mondale. Despite this last-minute boost, the fallout from Bill's affair with ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick (which ends with Bill shooting up the neighborhood with an NRA-donated machine gun) is too much to overcome, and the Meadow Party folds for good.
8. Snoopy (1968)
Florida's The Royal Guardsmen had a novelty hit in 1966 with "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron," immortalizing in song the comic-strip beagle's aerial battles with the WWI flying ace. "Snoopy's Christmas" followed in 1967 then, seemingly inevitably, 1968 brought an election-themed entry in the series. Even for a novelty song, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Seemingly unsatisfied with the candidates at hand, the Great Pumpkin laments "love has left the people across our native land." Enter Snoopy, who campaigns by air atop his Sopwith Camel only to earn a tie vote at the convention. Who could break such a tie in his favor?: How about the Red Baron himself, who has seemingly acquired American citizenship in the years since the Great War. Charles Schulz liked the Guardsmen enough to let them use Snoopy's image, and even a Schulz caricature of the band, for their album covers, and the Peanuts merchandise team reliably pumped out "Snoopy For President" posters for many election years to come.
9. Dick Gregory (1968)
Dick Gregory's 1968 run for President almost doesn't belong on this list. Gregory engaged in satire and ran for President, but by all accounts his was a sincere run as the candidate for the Freedom & Peace Party. (He'd previously run for mayor of Chicago the year before.) True, the run did involve the printing of some dollar bills with his face on them, but by then Gregory had nearly as strong a reputation as an activist as a comic. Gregory wrote about the experience in a subsequent book, Write Me In!
10. Paris Hilton (2008)
The shocking thing about Paris Hilton's current fake bid for the presidency is that it's actually yielded some big laughs. Inspired by a John McCain ad comparing Barack Obama to Hilton, Adam McKay (SNL, Anchorman, etc.) wrote a spot for Paris declaring her candidacy. Sunning herself in a bikini, Hilton explains her energy policy (a very smart one), then proclaims, "I'll see you at the debates, bitches!" In a follow-up video (both are available at funnyordie.com), Hilton sits down with Martin Sheen to get advice from TV's greatest fake president on how to do the job.
11. Pigasus (1968)
The Democratic National Convention in Chicago provided one of most shocking events in American electoral politics. With the party savagely split over the issue of the Vietnam War, the nominating process thrown into disarray by the withdrawal of incumbent president Lyndon Johnson and the shocking murder of Robert F. Kennedy, and split delegates and angry protesters creating a tense atmosphere, something was bound to give. And it did: what started as peaceful protests in Grant Park ended in utter chaos, with Mayor Daley's cops going absolutely berserk, flooding the streets with tear gas, cracking the skulls of hippies and journalists alike, and rushing onto the convention floor to drag out delegates deemed troublemakers. To make things even worse, that was the moment anarchic pranksters Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman chose to unveil their own YIPPIE party's presidential candidate for 1968: a surly, ill-tempered, greased hog named Pigasus. Adding a moment of supremely black humor to one of the darkest hours of American politics, they unleashed Pigasus in what would later be Daley Plaza, where the pig promptly got away from them and led them on a wild chase through crowds of short-tempered cops as they screamed "Please don't shoot our candidate!"
12. Joe Walsh (1980)
Eagles/James Gang guitarist Walsh announced his candidacy in 1980, promising to change the national anthem to "Life's Been Good" and to provide free gas to everyone. Walsh ultimately pulled out because, he claims, "I was afraid I was going to win," though "Joe Walsh For President" bumper-stickers and T-shirts still pop up from time to time, and fans often ask him if he's going to take another shot. (He met those fans halfway by running for Vice President in 1992, and including the song "Vote For Me" on his solo album Songs For A Dying Planet.) It's a shame he hasn't returned to the political arena, since he has so many ready slogans: "Joe Walsh: Space Age Whiz Kid," "Joe Walsh: I Can Play That Rock 'N' Roll" the possibilities are endless.
13. Joan Jett Blakk (1992)
Perhaps less satirical than most, drag queen Joan Jett Blakk has run for mayor in Chicago and San Francisco along with challenging for the presidency in 1992 (slogan: "Lick Bush") and '96 (slogan: "Lick Slick Willie"). Representing the "Queer Nation Party"—an offshoot of the AIDS activist organization ACT UP—Blakk has stood not just for LGBT rights, but also for raising the profile of gay people in the culture at large. Her higher calling hasn't diminished her sense of theater, though. Sporting a sky-high wig and a pledge to turn the police into "the fashion police," Blakk made politics a little more fabulous during her time in the national spotlight. As she would say, "If a bad actor can be elected president, why not a good drag queen?"