This won't be the last Michael J. Fox character to appear on this list, but it deserves to be the first. Family Ties was a largely forgettable, formulaic early-80s sitcom, but it fairly crackled with energy when Fox was on screen. It was evident from the first season that he would be the breakout star (though I give credit to Justine Bateman - rewatching recently I was impressed with her presence as well), and he carried the show on his back. Fueled by Fox's charisma and skill, Keaton manages to come alive as a heartless conservative with a heart, a dopey sort of precocious genius. His ambition can't quite bring him to the ruthlessness he wishes he had. Given the chance, guided by preternaturally understanding parents, he almost always owned his mistakes, chose loyalty to family and friends, and did the right thing.
From a young age, he was more of a role model for me than I care to admit. I never had a Nixon poster in my room, but well into my teens I espoused a kind of rock-ribbed conservatism that didn't truly resonate with how I saw the world. Eventually, I realized that compassion, community, and kindness didn't need to be lacquered over with some veneer of bulletproof machismo, and let my politics evolve to reflect that.
I like to think that given the choice between soulless accomplishment and service to humanity, Alex P. Keaton came to the same epiphanies in his own life. Hey, maybe he's sitting on the fortieth floor of a Wall Street skyscraper, laughing at the little people as he lights his cigars with hundred dollar bills. But I just don't see it.