August 17, 2008

Voting matters; trivia about it doesn't

As I mentioned at the last show, I'm going to be teaming with Drinking Liberally for a couple of convention-watching parties, Wednesday 8/27 (during the DNC) and Tuesday 9/2 (during the annual meeting of the Secret Society of Super Villains…er, the RNC). Details here. I'll be hosting quick, game-show-style rounds of political trivia (with prizes) between speeches. Should be nostalgic; I still remember the summer of '94, when I was opening act to Kathy Sebelius's mentalist bit on the nightclub circuit.

This shit's straight up my alley: I am indeed a presidential-trivia lunatic, and I'm still ruefully bitter at the folks at Jeopardy! for springing zero President questions on me when I was a contestant (yeah, that's why I'm bitter). A couple years ago, bored and lonely, I obsessively consumed a number of books featuring concise profiles of the Presidents, short articles about each election, quick bios of the nobodies who served as Vice President. That's about as far as I went; I gave up on my plan to read a full biography of each chief executive, let alone my scheme to visit all of their burial sites. So my knowledge of the American presidency is a distinctly abbreviated one, but hey, I only claim to be a trivia genius, not an actual genius.

So because I love lists, here's how I see things…

1. George Washington: Simply, there would be no United States of America without the wisdom, strength, and interpersonal skill of George Washington. Beating the British was the easy; watch that John Adams miniseries.

2. Franklin Roosevelt: If you're getting nervous that we're living at the end of the American age, try to imagine what it was like in the early 1930s, when things were distinctly worse. FDR came along, and through effort, brains and one hell of an ego, he added a little water to the dessicated Play-Doh that was the U.S. government and bent it back into Fun Factory–ready consistency. Plus, he beat Hitler, universally recognized as the most evil character in the history of comic books. So I suppose the optimist in me sees Obama as the new FDR, with maybe being black as the modern equivalent of being in a wheelchair.

3. Theodore Roosevelt: My favorite President—this guys was nuts in all the best ways. An imperialist, yes, but the shit going down in this country 100 years ago, you can't even begin to believe. Most politicians of time couldn't believe it either, but TR got it. It's because of him that the 20th century was the American century, and not at the complete expense of the common man; trust me, Eugene Debs, you want to see some real working-class misery, visit the alternate universe where yet another Victorian hack was running things 1901–1909.

4. Abraham Lincoln: I get a little tired of Lincoln worship, since all he did was win the Civil War. But then I remember, Damn, that guy won the Civil War. Fourth best it is.

5. James K. Polk: Probably honorable mention, but whatever, I love this guy. Polk was pretty much a nobody (despite the fact that he'd been Speaker of the House and governor of Tennessee) when he was elected as a dark-horse candidate in 1844, basically because his opponent, Henry Clay, was the Bob Dole of his time. Get this: The motherfucker Polk took office, declared what he was planning to do (conquer the Oregon territory, establish the nation's first independent treasury, a couple other cool things), did it, didn't bother to run for reelection, then dropped dead a couple months later. When he took office, he was only 49 and looked like a cuter Kevin Spacey; when he left, his face had shriveled up like a month-old tangerine. This guy worked his tail off for America, and got shit done. That's what we need more of.

As for the worst Presidents: Oh, I'd say Dubya is making quite a challenge at Andrew Johnson, an honest-to-goodness douchebag who came awfully close to retroactively losing the Civil War. Kennedy's overrated; Wilson more so. Nixon wasn't so bad on most things; Harding was fairly harmless, certainly better than Coolidge.

Ask me nice and I'll tell you about the Vice Presidents. Or maybe if you ask me nice, I won't.