“Dad29,” a Milwaukee-area conservative blogger with an eclectic range of interests, reacting to a recent post on this blog, makes an intriguing point about the career path of a fictional U.S. president — Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan — and the current, real U.S. president, Barack Obama.
You decide: which career path is stranger — that of Jack Ryan, or that of Barack Obama?
In the course of seven Tom Clancy novels, Jack Ryan ascends to the presidency by confronting and successfully overcoming a succession of practical problems of ever-increasing difficulty and consequence. A brief summary based largely on Wikipedia (apologies to Tom Clancy fans for the gross simplification, and any errors):
Ryan is born and raised in Baltimore. Father is a Baltimore homicide lieutenant and World War 2 veteran. Mother is a nurse.
After graduating from prep school, Ryan attends Boston College, studying economics and history. Having taken part in ROTC, on graduation he becomes a commissioned officer in the Marines and also passes the Certified Public Accountant exam. However, he is forced to leave the Marines at age 23 after a helicopter crash during a NATO exercise which results in a serious back injury. So after passing the stockbroker’s exam he takes a job at Merrill Lynch’s Baltimore office.
Then Ryan begins his ascent to the presidency:
Patriot Games (1987)
Ryan quickly becomes a successful stockbroker, and also makes millions on his own investments. He meets and quickly marries a medical student, who introduces him to a neurosurgeon who manages to fix his back. After quickly banking $8 million, he leaves Merrill Lynch and earns a Ph.D in history from Georgetown, and then becomes a civilian history professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He also agrees to work as a consultant for the CIA, and makes significant contributions to its operations.
While on a trip to London, Ryan heroically foils a kidnapping plot by Irish terrorists, saving several members of the royal family, for which he receives an honorary Knighthood. The terrorist ringleader is sentenced to life in prison, but escapes while being transported to prison. He sends assassins after Ryan, who miss him but injure his wife and daughter. Ryan then accepts an offer from the CIA to work full-time as an analyst. When the British royals who Ryan saved come to visit him, the Irish terrorists mount an operation to kill Ryan and kidnap the royals, which Ryan and his allies heroically foil.
Red Rabbit (2002)
The KBG has decided to murder the pope, leading one KGB officer to try to defect, to warn the West about the plan. Ryan, working with British intelligence, successfully orchestrates the difficult, high-stakes defection, though they are unable to prevent the attack on the pope. Still, the successful defection is a major coup for Western intelligence. Afterwards, Ryan lays out a non-military strategy hasten the collapse of the USSR.
Hunt for Red October (1984). In the midst of a major crisis, Ryan astutely recognizes that a Soviet sub commander who has commandeered the USSR’s newest sub is seeking to defect, and he successfully manages the commander’s defection to the U.S., along with the sub.
The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988). Ryan is reassigned to CIA headquarters as an assistant to a top official; he’s being groomed to head up the CIA. While Ryan is attending a diplomatic conference in Moscow, the cover of the CIA’s top double agent in the Soviet hierachy is blown, and the double agent is arrested. Ryan concocts a plan to both free the double agent and secure the defection of the head of the KGB, which he successfully pulls off, at the cost of being arrested himself by the Soviets. While in custody Ryan has discussions with the Soviet leader, and they develop a respectful and constructive relationship.
Clear and Present Danger (1989). Ryan is promoted to acting deputy director of the CIA, after which he discovers a covert and illegal CIA operation targeting Columbian drug lords using military assets, approved by a president who is running for reelection in the midst of an unrelenting wave of drug trafficking. After Ryan discovers that an attempted coverup of the plot has led to the abandonment of U.S. troops in Columbia, Ryan puts together a rescue operation which he leads personally, heroically rescuing the soldiers. Afterwards, Ryan confronts the president and tells him he must and will inform Congress of the illegal operations, which he does, preventing the president’s reelection.
Sum of All Fears (1991). Ryan becomes deputy director of the CIA, but the new president works to thwart and ruin Ryan’s career. Then, terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb in Denver during the Super Bowl, leading the president to panic, nearly triggering World War 3. Through decisive action, Ryan prevents a conflagration by convincing the Soviet leader that the crisis is a setup, and by countermanding the president’s order to fire a nuclear missile at Iran. Ryan’s actions force the president out of office, after which Ryan himself retires from the CIA.
Debt of Honor (1994). Ryan returns to government service to help during a second war with Japan, first as national security adviser. Ryan adroitly assists the president in executing a successful strategy against the Japanese. After the vice president is forced to resign due to a sex scandal, Ryan is nominated and confirmed as his replacement. He becomes president after a Japanese airline pilot flies a 747 into the Capitol building during the president’s speech to Congress. As president he successfully negotiates a favorable peace treaty with the Japanese.
Executive Orders (1996). Assuming the presidency with nearly all other top figures in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches dead, Ryan must manage the crisis virtually alone. Adding to the challenge, an Iranian agent assassinates the president of Iraq, after which Iran invades Iraq and declares war on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Also, Iranian terrorists release a deadly Ebola strain in the U.S., forcing Ryan to declare martial law in an effort to contain the virus. Further adding to the challenge, the former vice president challenges the legality of Ryan’s presidency. Ryan manages to overcome all these challenges, leading the U.S. to safety and stability.
Bear and the Dragon (2000). Having won election to the presidency in his own right, Ryan must confront a crisis caused by the attempted assassination of Russia’s top spymaster — the result of a Chinese effort to sow confusion within the Russian government so China can annex Eastern Siberia and exploit its recently discovered oil and gold deposits. Ryan acts decisively to back Russia against China, admitting Russia into NATO and launching military attacks against China. At the peak of the crisis, Ryan personally foils a Chinese nuclear attack on D.C., triggering a student uprising in Beijing which dethrones the Chinese war government, after which the new government surrenders. Despite enormous popularity, Ryan elects not to run for a second elected term and retires to write his memoirs and manage his $80 million investment portfolio.
Dead or Alive (2010). While in retirement, Ryan becomes disappointed in the direction the new president is taking the country. Ultimately he decides to run for a second full term as president.
Locked On (2011). After winning election to a second term as president, Ryan adroitly manages multiple crises involving U.S. relations with China, leading to a second war with China, which under Ryan’s leadership the U.S. wins decisively.
In contrast to Jack Ryan, Barack Obama does not ascend to the presidency by confronting and successfully overcoming a succession of practical problems of ever-increasing difficulty and consequence. His route is more circuitous, indeed, curious.
Obama is born in Hawaii and raised in Hawaii and Indonesia. Father, who deserts him at birth, is a black Kenyan bureaucrat and possible CIA agent. Mother is a white anthropologist and nonprofit bureaucrat and possible CIA agent. Maternal grandfather is a furniture salesman and possible CIA agent. Maternal grandmother is a bank officer and possible CIA agent. Indonesian stepfather is a geographer and possible CIA agent.
Obama attends an elite prep school but despite his considerable intelligence obtains unimpressive grades (spending much of his time, according to his own memoir, puzzling over his biracial identity, experimenting with drugs, and playing basketball). Through affirmative action he obtains admission to two elite universities (Occidental and Columbia), where he obtains similarly unimpressive grades, spending much of his time studying radical black authors and learning community-organizing tactics from socialists. After college, on his continuing voyage of self-discovery, Obama spends several years on a succession of nonprofit community-organizing jobs working with various figures on the radical left, but achieving little of any consequence, according to his own memoir. Eventually he attends law school, graduating at age 29 in 1991, having finally achieved a respectable level of success in something — though burdened with loans he would complain more than a decade later he was having problems paying.
As to how any of this led Obama to the presidency? Well, as opposed to Jack Ryan’s biography, it defies logical explanation. In the words of a recently published anonymous essay written by someone quite conversant with Obama’s life, it “just happened.” More here.