From depicting George Washington as a zombie in ‘Treehouse of Horror III’ to Bart confusing George W. Bush with Will Ferrell in ‘Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts’ – more on that later – the Presidents of the United States of America are almost as important to The Simpsons as the show’s recurring couch gag. They even cast Lisa as a future POTUS, which feels appealing given the reality of the situation we’re in at the moment.
What better time than now, on the eve of the most important Presidential Election of our lifetimes, to look back on how The Simpsons portrayed some of America’s most significant presidents…
Both as the host of The Apprentice and the 45th elected President of the United States of America/the worst thing ever to happen to the United States of America, Donald Trump has been a fixture of The Simpsons for years. Legend has it that, long before taking office, Trump approached Matt Groening et al, and asked to appear in the show. They turned him down. One imagines that, as the years have passed – especially every time his hair is revealed to be a sleeping dog – sometimes he wishes they’d stuck to that stance.
Most notable appearance: In 2000’s ‘Bart To The Future’, the show predicts Trump will someday be president. In ‘Havana Wild Weekend’, the first episode to air after he was elected, the words Bart writes on the blackboard are: “Being right sucks”.
John F. Kennedy
How does a show that pulls no punches portray the most popular US president of all time and a man tragically executed in his prime? With difficulty, but affection. In ‘Duffless’ (season four episode 16), JFK is seen in an advert for Springfield’s most popular beer, Duff, while in 2003’s ‘Treehouse of Horror XIV’, Homer attacks the Grim Reaper, shouting: “This is for Snowball 1 and JFK!”
Most notable appearance: In season nine episode 19, ‘Simpson Tide’, when Grampa is telling war stories, he recounts the time he spent aboard the PT-109 submarine with the future POTUS 35, discovering “his terrible secret” and arguing that his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” gaff was proof he’s a Nazi. As we said, The Simpsons depiction of the saintly JFK posed challenges for the show!
‘Honest Abe’ is another Simpsons regular, and at least two members of the family are named after him. The first was Abraham Simpson, the son of Mabel and Virgil who – in episode 13, season 21, ‘The Color Yellow’ – are saved from slavers by the leading abolitionist of his time. Abraham Jedediah ‘Abe’ Simpson II – that would be Grampa – is the second. In 2008’s ‘The Burn and the Bees’, Grampa even mistakes Lisa – who is wearing a beard of bees – for the 16th POTUS. “You’ve got my vote!” he says.
Most notable appearance: In 1992’s ‘Homers Triple Bypass’, Homer tries to reassure his children of the unlikelihood he will die on the operating table. “I’m not going to die. That only happens to bad people.” “What about Abraham Lincoln?’ enquires Bart. And that is how – thanks to Homer – Bart comes to believe that Lincoln “sold poison milk to schoolchildren…”
George H. W. Bush
POTUS 41 is a former neighbour of the Simpson family, moving to Springfield in his later years because he and wife Barbara were on the lookout for somewhere where “people don’t care about politics”. In season seven episode 13, Homer and Bush come to blows, after the latter spanks Bart. Following the fight, witnessed by a visiting Mikhail Gorbachev, Bush adamantly refuses to apologise, not wanting to be seen looking “weak in front of the Russians”. How times have changed…
Most notable appearance: Famously, Bush Snr. performed a real-life speech in 1992 saying the average American family should be “more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons”. When 1991 episode ‘Stark Raving Dad’ first re-aired, the show’s team tacked a clip onto the front end of the old show. It features the Simpsons watching said speech. Bart says, “Hey, we’re like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to the depression too!”
You sense that, for Groening, this one was personal. Not only did The Simpsons creator use the editorial column of 1994’s Simpsons Comic issue four to rage about the recently deceased Nixon’s crooked ways, but he cast Nixon’s disembodied head as a recurring character in Groening’s other cartoon, Futurama. Someone who is more sympathetic to POTUS 37 is Mr. Burns, who in season seven episode 14, ‘Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield’, reveals he let Nixon beat him at golf in 1974. “He just looked so forlorn,” he says.
Most notable appearance: In 2017’s Trump-bashing YouTube short, ‘125 Days: Donald Trump Makes One Last Try To Patch Things Up With Comey’, Nixon appears Donald as a fiery-eyed ghost, imploring him to ‘burn the tapes!’
The 42nd President of the United States of America served at a time when The Simpsons was at its all-time best, and so his appearances were many, and extremely funny. Yet, perhaps funniest was his brief cameo in 2011’s ‘Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts’ – an episode that sees the 42nd POTUS voice his own character, posthumously, using archive recordings – whereupon Superintendent Chalmers tutors Bart in American history. Bart can’t remember Clinton’s name, simply identifying him as “sex guy”.
Most notable appearance: In ‘Bart to the Future’, during Lisa’s time as President, it’s revealed that Clinton kept a pornographic stash, in a box labelled ‘Girlies What Ain’t Got No Clothes’, at Camp David.
Where to start with POTUS number 40? How about the time he and wife Nancy watched The Be-Sharps perform in New York City (season five episode 11) complaining that he “could have used this time to work”. Or his first ever appearance as a head on a pike in the Chamber of Horrors in the Springfield Wax Museum? (season four episode 11). And there is, of course, an appearance in 2003’s ‘Mr. Spritz Goes To Washington’. In that episode, the family makes Krusty run for Congress because air traffic is being redirected dangerously close to their house – whereupon it’s revealed that Mr Burns and the extremely right-wing Reagan were close friends. Of course they were.
Most notable appearance: Hilariously, in the 2008 spin-off book, ‘Flanders’ Book of Faith’, the seventh book in The Simpsons’ Library of Wisdom series, Reagan makes an appearance in “Ned’s List Of Laudable Lefties”.
If you ever wanted proof that The Simpsons goes after the left as hard as it does the right, consider 2011’s ‘The Ten-Per-Cent Solution’, in which the character Janeane Garofalo tells Annie Dubinksy that she kept her promise to her, “just like Obama did with Guantanamo”. Ouch. Incidentally, in the short ‘Homer Votes 2012’ it’s revealed that the head of the Simpson family didn’t vote for Obama that year as ‘he already had one wife telling him to eat healthy…’
Most notable appearance: It’s hard to beat Bart ringing up Seymour Skinner in 2013’s ‘Yellow Subterfuge’ – which sees the first appearance of Jamaican Krusty – and pretending to be POTUS 44 in a bid to free him from suspension and allow him on a school trip. An oldie, but a goodie.