Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obama's 'Star Trek': From Mr. Spock to Capt. Kirk

It was once very popular to compare Barack Obama to Mr. Spock from "Star Trek."

Leonard Nimoy, who played the dispassionate first mate of the starship Enterprise, thrilled Obama supporters during the 2008 primaries by recounting how the then-candidate greeted him with a split-fingered Vulcan salute.

The Obama as Spock conceit grew like tribbles after Nimoy's endorsement.

Dissing George W. Bush for governing with his gut, Obama fans said America was ready for the cool logic of their candidate.

Plus, it was pop culture proof that Obama was not part of the old guard. What did John McCain know about "Star Trek" anyway? The show premiered the year he checked into the Hanoi Hilton and was in syndication by the time McCain got out five years later.

For Obama's age group -- straddling generations X and Y -- "Star Trek" is a very big deal. Liberals especially love the show's United Nations-style approach to galactic governance and the idea of a shipload of multicultural do-gooders out on the final frontier.

And the fact that politics and journalism attract so many nerds adds to the cultural potency of the science-fiction franchise.

It would be strange to see New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and Salon's Jeff Greenwald writing pieces about "Hondo" or "That Girl" or any of the rest of 1967's prime-time lineup, but both wrote about Obama's Spock-like nature.

The 11th "Star Trek" movie came out in May 2009 just as Obama was descending at warp speed from beloved symbol of hope to just another politician.

"Star Trek" was such a common part of the president's identity that Obama brought it up himself in an interview that month with Newsweek's Jon Meacham. Obama talked about the show and how he grew up loving it and its "pop philosophy for a 10-year-old to absorb." He even flashed Meacham another Vulcan salute.

In December, the Associated Press unleashed a 1,110-word story by science writer Seth Borenstein about Obama's Spockish qualities.

But by then, what had begun as a way to praise Obama's rational nature and towering intellect had become an explanation for why the president was struggling.

Obama was making mistakes, it was said, because he was a cool technocrat. The American people weren't following him because the president was detached at a time when the electorate was angry.

Month after frustrating month of watching Obama's domestic agenda stall and his foreign policy morph into a third Bush term led liberals to conclude that Obama needed to be more passionate.

A billion pixels and an ocean of ink were devoted to the proposition that what Obama really needed to do was let it rip -- show his passion, stick it to the Republicans and connect viscerally with the American people.

The president's supporters had grown tired of their model of cool logic. They wanted the anti-Spock. They wanted Capt. Kirk -- the impetuous leader who ignores the probabilities because he trusts his gut and has enormous self-confidence.

Obligingly, Obama has been doing his best James T. Kirk imitation since the beginning of the year.

Obama has set his presidency on ramming speed and diverted all the energy from the shields and the photon torpedoes to passing Obamacare.

The president has ditched rationality in favor of pure passion by trying to pass health care legislation that is unpopular, seven months late and deemed seriously flawed even by its most ardent supporters.

Spock might have called for a logical compromise with the GOP, but not Obama. The president and his team are whooping like a Klingon war party at the prospect of the battle to come.

His argument to the dozens of anxious House Democrats whom he wants to boldly go where no Blue Dog has gone before is classic Kirk. The president acknowledges that the battle he is precipitating will be destructive to Democrats, but that it will also weaken Republicans.

After the debris clears, Obama says, the Democrats will have survived and be in better position for the battles to come.

Capt. Obama wants to turn the ship into the blast, not away from it.

But unless you're the protagonist in a television show, arguing that a plan is so crazy it has to work is not usually convincing.

And for the more than four-dozen House Democrats who face possible defeat this fall, this is a reality show, not science fiction.