“Leonard was Spock,” Obama said, referring to Nimoy’s classic portrayal of a Vulcan space traveler in the “Star Trek” TV series. “Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed,” the president’s statement said. “I loved Spock.”
Of course he did. After his six years in office, we know Obama is Spock: detached, information-driven and undoubtedly big-eared.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the show, but it doesn’t take much of a leap to see what the young Obama must have seen in Nimoy’s character. Spock, too, was the son of mixed-race parents, an outsider. To succeed, he had to be the smartest guy on the bridge while eschewing emotional decision-making and irrational attachments.
Thus, Barack Obama.
For the last six years, Republicans have taken William Shatner’s portrayal of Capt. James T. Kirk as their model: rash, emotional, passionate. Excerpts from last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference show GOP presidential candidates firing their phasers at any moving target, from education to Obamacare to immigration. Some shots hit their mark, others careened wildly into space.
“Star Trek” isn’t reality, but it can help explain it. In many ways, the 1960s Kirk-Spock dynamic defines contemporary politics: logic says that most Americans benefit from the government and that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves. But the evidence can’t persuade the Capt. Kirks, who believe government only helps “takers” and growth comes from tax policy.
The nation’s debate over the threat from the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria provides another comparison. Obama’s reaction has been classic Spock: logical, noninflammatory, let’s-look-at-both-sides-of-this.
Republicans, on the other hand, are in full Kirk mode. They want an open-ended U.S. commitment to boots on the ground.
Last week Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, said other nations would send ground troops to fight ISIS if the United States would “lead,” whatever that might mean.
That, captain, is illogical.
For three seasons, TV viewers watched as the two “Star Trek” protagonists battled it out. In most episodes, they prevailed through compromise — Kirk’s passion informed Spock’s logic, while Spock brought reason and facts to Kirk’s hotheadedness.
The best way forward, the show told us, is to use the head and the heart. The current voyagers of the starship Government may want to consider that lesson.