In Search of Kirk
Al Gore resembles Spock and Americans want Captain Kirk.


Jonah Goldberg

Naomi Wolf had it right. She’s the feminist author who was hired on as a consultant to the Gore campaign. She advised Gore to remake himself into the “Alpha dog” of American politics. Americans, she rightly reasoned, don’t elect sidekicks. Indeed, that’s why we’ve only elected two sitting vice presidents to the Oval Office in 200 years (Poppa Bush and Martin Van Buren). But Wolf missed the right term. All jokes aside about the current occupant, Americans don’t want a dog in the White House. We want Captain Kirk in the White House and that’s bad news for Al Gore.

Americans have always preferred their presidents to be men of action (much to the chagrin of Coolidge-loving conservatives like me who’d prefer men of inaction). Captain Kirk, the principled yet rakish captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise is the pop culture’s ideal American leader. It shouldn’t surprise that the Kirk character was partially inspired by John F. Kennedy. Indeed, the “Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before” rhetoric of the original series could have been lifted straight from one of Kennedy’s New Frontier speeches.

Say what you will about Bill Clinton, he certainly fits the Captain Kirk mold, sometimes too much. After all, Kirk, a bachelor, was famous for sleeping with all sorts of strange creatures that crossed his path. But the real irony is how much Al resembles Spock, Captain Kirk’s loyal, hyper-logical, Vulcan sidekick.

Now, I’ve always suspected that Al Gore might be an alien. After all, Gore says very strange things. He seems very uncomfortable in his body, as if it’s some sort of human-suit. He was born nine months after the alleged alien sighting in Roswell, New Mexico. He regularly talks about “the Earth” and “this planet” as if he hasn’t always lived here.

Of course, Gore probably isn’t an alien. But he does fit the Spock profile. Throughout the Clinton administration, Gore played the role of the solid, quiet, fact-filled, dispassionate adviser, especially on topics like science. Spock, recall, was the chief science officer of the Enterprise. Moreover, Gore talks like Spock, blending technology and culture together, from an outsider’s perspective. In an interview in Red Herring, Gore sounds like he’s deliberately impersonating the green-blooded Vulcan. “Distributed intelligence is the key to the advancement of human civilization,” Gore observes. “Dictatorships, Communist countries, monarchies in the past all eventually collapsed because of their inefficiency in moving information…”

The character of Spock was always used to expose what it means to be human. As an outsider Spock could comment on shortcomings and attributes that humans take for granted (in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lieutenant Data served the same dramatic purpose). It’s funny to listen to Spock put down humanity with a twist of dry condescension: “Curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.” Sure, Spock could grow frustrated with Earthlings: “There’s a certain inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you’ve already made up your mind about,” but we always liked him. As long as he was the number-two guy. There was never an episode of Star Trek in which Spock didn’t outrage the human crew of the Enterprise when he was in command himself, even though he’s obviously over-qualified for the job. And that’s bad news for Gore.

Americans don’t want the kind of person who says things like, “Unhappiness is the state which occurs in the human when wants and desires are not fulfilled” (can you guess who said it?). Voters want someone they can identify with who’s also capable of inspiring us a bit. Of course, this is no easy task for Bush. He doesn’t easily fill Kirk’s shoes either. In many ways he’s more like Dr. McCoy, the folksy human chauvinist who doesn’t always know what’s going and is always needling Spock. In fact, there were times during the first presidential debate when Bush seemed so exasperated by Gore’s monotonous recitation of facts that I thought he might turn to Jim Lerher and actually say, “Damn it, Jim, I’m a governor not a computer!”

This may explain why this election is so close. We have a competition between two men who don’t quite jibe with what most Americans are looking for in a president. Gore is filled with data and facts but he lacks — perhaps literally — a human touch. Bush is sometimes light on facts and more comfortable with McCoy-esque one-liners than drawn-out paragraphs. But the advantage is obviously Bush’s as this election may be decided on the question of who’s the more authentic Earthling. That’s always explained some of the thinking behind his “compassionate conservatism.” “Compassion” observed Dr. McCoy in the episode entitled “The Ultimate Computer,” “that’s the one thing no machine ever had. Maybe it’s the one thing that keeps men ahead of them.”