This election cycle there has been a considerable amount of dissatisfaction with the choices for president. I suppose this is nothing new; we've griped about our choices before. Still, it would be nice to have an Ideal Candidate someday. But what would such an Ideal look like? I think it would have to be someone who represented our country and what is best about us; someone who looks like America.
Maybe even like Captain America.
In the early 1980s there was a “Draft Cap” movement chronicled in a story by Roger Stern and John Byrne and appearing in CAPTAIN AMERICA #250. “Cap For President!” begins with a group of terrorists seizing a political convention in downtown New York City. Captain America is on the scene and swiftly takes out the terrorists and frees the hostages.
The convention chairman, Samuel T. Underwood, a jolly fellow with a used-car-salesman manner and a smile almost as big as his cigar, enthusiastically thanks Cap and introduces him to the rest of his staff. His organization is called the New Popularist Party, a recent Third Party movement holding its first national convention. As Cap politely schmoozes with his admirers, one of the staff jokingly asks if he is considering running for office. Underwood seizes on the idea: “Sure, that would work ! It would work like a charm – a fifty million vote charm!”
At first, Cap laughs the suggestion off. After all, he's not a politician. “The people don't want a politician … they want a leader!” Underwood insists. “The people want a change, Cap … And you could be that change!”
Underwood's staff agrees. “Who could refuse to vote for Captain America?” “People wouldn't have to vote for the lesser of two evils – they'd actually have someone to vote FOR !”
Cap makes polite noises and promises to think about it; but he doesn't take the suggestion too seriously. Underwood, however, is not going to let the matter drop; and as soon as Cap has left the room he gets on the phone to leak a story to the Press that Captain America is considering a run for President. If Cap seems reluctant about running, then maybe Public Opinion will make him change his mind.
Cap spends much of that afternoon in his civilian identity as Steve Rogers, along with another friend helping his girlfriend, Bernie, move. After a couple hours of moving boxes and furniture, Steve and his pals are relaxing a bit and wind up talking about local races in the upcoming election. The conversation is fairly vague – I suspect the writer didn't really want to specify who Steve Roger's congressman was, or even his district – but before it gets terribly far, another friend breaks in with the big news: one of the local tabloids has reported that Captain America is running for President !
Steve is dismayed by this turn of events, and even more so that his friends seem to think it's a great idea. “You'd actually vote for a man who is basically anonymous … who wears a mask?” Steve asks. “Hey, better than voting for some crook who doesn't wear a mask!” Steve's girlfriend agrees: “Wouldn't it be great to have a president you knew you could trust?”
When Cap shows up at Avenger's Mansion the next day, he finds a mob of reporters outside the gate. Once inside, the Mansion's butler, Jarvis, hands him telegrams from both the Democratic and the Republican Parties asking him to consider running as their candidate. “Jarvis, has the whole world gone crazy? What next?!”
He had to ask. His teammate, Hank McCoy, the Beast, greets him with a song and dance. “I heard the good news, and I'm ready to hit the campaign trail ! I can guarantee that you’ll sweep the mutant vote! And then of course there are my lady friends ! Their votes alone should carry New York !”
It seems that everyone has an opinion. Iron Man asks if he's really serious about running. “You of all people should know better than to get mixed up in politics! You know the kind of red tape and corruption you'd be faced with!”
Wasp disagrees. “You're just the kind of man this country needs! People look up to you … respect you … trust you! When was the last time we had a president like that?”
The Vision addresses the issue in a coldly logical fashion. “The question is not one of respect, but of qualifications! You are a man out of time, Cap … 1940s solutions will not work for today's problems!”
As Cap ponders this conflicting advice, we get a series of one-panel vignettes showing the opinions of people on the street: the old guy who remembers Cap from the War Years; the black professional who wonders where Cap stands on the issues of minority rights, housing and education; the punk kid who thinks that Captain America is a hoax invented by the C.I.A. We get reactions from other super-heroes in the Greater New York Metro Area: Nick Fury, who worked with Cap during the War; Daredevil, Spider-Man, even Doctor Strange.
A full page is devoted to the offices of the Daily Bugle, where publisher J. Jonah Jameson discusses Cap's presidential run with his friend, City Editor “Robbie” Robeson. “Cap's a good man...” Jonah muses, “But you remember what happened when movie stars started running for office? It was like a flood gate! It seemed like they were all running for something. If Cap should run, Lord knows who else would! I can see it now … Iron Man for Governor … Mr. Fantastic for Senator!”
“Or even Spider-Man for Mayor?” Robbie teases.
That decides it. The Bugle will not be endorsing Cap.
As evening falls, Cap goes out patrolling the rooftops of the Lower East Side, trying to think through his situation. He comes across an old abandoned school, which has somehow avoided the wrecking ball, that he recognizes as the school he went to as a boy, back during the Great Depression. As he walks through the empty, dusty classroom, he recalls a teacher he had, Mrs. Crosley, who had tried to instill a sense of civic responsibility in her students.
“The United States offers its citizens more rights than any other nation in the world!” he remembers her saying. “But along with those rights come certain duties as well! It's the duty of each one of you to see that this land stays free … to see that Justice is extended to all!”
As he reminisces about Mrs. Crosley's Civics class, his course of action becomes clear to him. He will call Underwood. He has a speech to make.
A couple hours later, he is back at the convention center, standing at a podium in front of a gigantic poster of himself and addressing an enthusiastic crowd. He speaks of the decision he has been asked to make and of what that decision means:
“The presidency is one of the most important jobs in the world. The holder of that job must represent the best interests of the entire nation. He must be ready to negotiate – to compromise – 24 hours a day, to preserve the Republic at all costs!”
Against that responsibility, he sets his personal mission:
“I have worked and fought all my life for the growth and advancement of the American Dream. And I believe that my duty to the Dream would severely limit any abilities I might have to preserve the reality.”
I'm not sure if I buy Cap's rhetoric here. I think he could make a much better argument for refusing the call to run for office. But in the end, he decides that his mission as Captain America was important, and that he could not remain faithful to that mission and at the same time conscientiously fulfill the duties of President. If Captain America is going to represent America, he needs to remain above politics.
But although Cap pretty decisively rejects the idea of running for office, other writers have played with the idea. An issue of WHAT IF tells a story about what might have happened if Cap had taken up the New Populist Party's offer. It ends tragically, as the alternate histories in WHAT IF generally do. In Ben Dunn's manga-style re-imagining of the Marvel Universe, MARVEL MANGAVERSE, Steve Rogers is President and also leads the Avengers in his secret identity as Captain America. And in the universe of the MARVEL ULTIMATES titles, Captain America did run for President and won. Which is unfortunate, because Ultimate Captain America is something of a jerk.
But in this universe, Cap rejects the call to throw his hood into the ring. The convention-goers are disappointed and the final image of the comic is a discarded “Captain America for President” sign lying on the floor, as Cap walks past.
The rest is history. The N.P.P. Presumably went with John Anderson for their candidate. Ronald Reagan won in a landslide, confirming Jonah Jameson's worries about actors in politics.
More recently, Marvel had Steve Rogers step down as Captain America as his advanced age began to catch up with him. He passed on his mantle and his shield to his friend and long-time partner, Sam Wilson, the Falcon. And in the first issue of the new Captain America, Sam challenged Steve's stance on staying above politics:
In all these struggles, all these debates, and all these things tearing us apart -- I have a side. That's right. I have opinions. Strongly held beliefs, even. And here's the thing -- the more I saw the people I believed I was standing up for being walked on -- the more I heard a noise machine spouting intolerance and fear, drowning common sense out -- the more I wondered -- shouldn't Captain America be more than just a symbol?
Steve always tried to stay above the fray, and I respected him for it. He took a stand when he had to, but as far as politics went -- he played it close to the vest. But if I really believed I could make a difference -- if I really believed I could change some minds, do some good -- then wasn't I obligated to try?
Perhaps if Marvel re-visited Cap for President today, he might make a different decision. But the original Stern & Byrne tale from 1980 is still an interesting read and touches on questions of why elections are important and what it means to run for public office that we don't often see in comics.