Steve Koppes (USA)
Back here in the United States, the blockbuster movie Jurassic World still plays in theatres, while presidential candidates hit the campaign trail. This confluence of events reminds me of a crazy idea I had back in 1992, a couple years after Michael Crichton published his novel. This tongue-in-cheek essay explores the idea to its full absurdity.
At that time, medical investigators had removed the late President Zachary Taylor from his crypt to analyze bone, hair, and fingernail samples for signs of poisoning. Meanwhile, The New York Times had reported that, if scientists could find enough dinosaur DNA somewhere, they might be able to recreate one of the beasts. I wondered if the Taylor medical examiners and the DNA scientists could get together to produce an entirely new species of dinosaur. They could call it Zachasaurus. The idea sounds wacky, but it has its merits.
Taylor, the twentieth president of the US, died suddenly in 1850, apparently of an inflamed stomach and intestine. He served as the nation’s chief executive for 16 months and was succeeded by Millard Fillmore. Any president who sat in office so briefly only to be replaced by a man named Millard surely deserves another chance at prominence.
I am suggesting, of course, that Zachasaurus would have many of the characteristics of the original Zachary Taylor, including the intelligence of a human – a reasonably smart human, not a politician. He almost certainly would have the same beady little reptilian eyes, the same ‘cold’ blood flowing through his veins, and the same Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ personal philosophy of many modern politicians. And, if Zachasaurus had political aspirations, maybe he could make another bid for the presidency. The idea is less crazy than it seems. Dinosaurs ruled the entire world when they perished 65Ma, after an asteroid smacked into the Earth. Had it not been for this galactic traffic accident, they might still be running the show. Greater minds than mine have even suggested that they could have evolved into intelligent beings by now.
Think of the implications of a dinosaur president. Grover Cleveland is noted for being the only president to serve non-consecutive terms. He was elected the 22nd and 25th US president. But Zachary Taylor/Zachasaurus would be the first to serve in non-consecutive centuries.
The technique that would make this possible, called polymerase chain reaction, is relatively new. If you’ve seen any of the Jurassic Park movies, you’re already familiar with the concept. Insects buzzing around millions of years ago land on a dinosaur, suck out some blood, then land on a tree, only to get trapped in sap. The tree sap fossilises into amber preserving the insect, and, if we’re lucky, dinosaur DNA. There are literally thousands of insects preserved in amber. In Jurassic Park, the fictional scientists incubate the dinosaur DNA in modern amphibian and reptile eggs. Now it’s up to the real scientists.
Some observers would no doubt say that the presidency has already been occupied by at least a few political dinosaurs, but I’m talking about a presidential dinosaur in the literal sense. You’re probably thinking that the US public would never elect a dinosaur president. We didn’t elect a Catholic to the presidency until 1960, nor a minority until 2008, and we’ve never elected a woman. But Zachasaurus would be able to capitalise on an opportunity that has been available to no other candidate in history: the enormous popularity of dinosaurs. If the trend continues, who could predict what might happen?
The campaign would be cheap, that’s for sure, because the nationwide marketing has been under way for decades. Dinosaur posters, t-shirts, and bumper stickers already pervade our society. There are even dinosaur US postage stamps. Zachasaurus would be especially popular with the kids. Children would nag their parents mercilessly until the latter agreed to vote for him. Tapping into this groundswell of popularity, Zachasaurus could easily thunder into office on tyrannosaur-like legs.
If scientists could successfully synthesise one Zachasaurus, why not several or even a whole herd? That way, he could be eating rubber chicken in Los Angeles, kissing babies in Kansas City and shaking hands (with his claws) in New York, all at the same time. This would give him yet another advantage over his opponents.
However, he would have one potential political liability. If he were a meat-eating species, he would likely have not one but several rather imposing skeletons in his closet.
Perhaps the Republican Party could draft Zachasaurus as its candidate, seeing as how President Taylor’s old Whig Party went extinct. Perhaps palaeontologist Robert Bakker could be his vice-presidential running mate. However, the Republicans might prefer to nominate a Zachadactyl, a cross between the late president and a pterodactyl, because then he would have a right wing that would appeal to party conservatives.
Washington politics would never be the same with a dinosaur president. There would be no compromising with this guy. If Zachasaurus disliked the stance of his political opponents, he would simply eat them. And Zachasaurus would certainly better understand how to deal with certain predatory world leaders than a human ever could. Our dinosaur president could trace his lineage to the Mesozoic Era. Vladimir Putin seems to think he lives there now.
As for domestic policy implications, the National Science Foundation would be in for a bonanza and likewise Dinosaur National Monument in north-eastern Utah.
There is no question that creating Zachasaurus could be dangerous. He might turn out to be a 21st century Frankenstein’s monster. What would happen if Zachasaurus ended up with the walnut brain of a Stegosaurus, for example? US voters might say that your average US senator is scarcely as well-endowed intellectually, but then no senator weighs two tons and sports a long tail studded with four long, bony spikes. If this type of Zachasaurus ever flew into a rage, why, he might seriously damage the Oval Office.
Even if Zachasaurus turned out to be the greatest US president who ever lived, there would be pitfalls. A grateful populace might wish to immortalize him in some great monument. Can you imagine what his face would look like on Mount Rushmore?
About the author
Chicago-based science writer Steve Koppes is the author of Killer Rocks from Outer Space. He usually bases his writings more firmly in reality.