The other night over martinis, someone asked me which GOP presidential candidate I like the most. Like many my fellow conservatives, I’m not very enthusiastic about any of the three putative, pre-Thompson frontrunners. A mid-martini moment of insight, however, sparked the following idea: The problem with this field is that it is too much like the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In order to see how, you’ll have to bear with me and follow the story line. The major premise of my argument is that Ronald Reagan was Captain Kirk. I know, I know, Kirk’s character was said to have been loosely modeled on JFK, but don’t forget that Reagan inherited the mantle of JFK’s Cold Warriorism (as well as JFK’s income tax cuts). The similarities, at least in these regards, make the comparison tenable.
Having grown up with Kirk (and Governor Reagan), I hated — hated — Star Trek: TNG when it came on in the 1980s. The first of many reasons for hating TNG was that they actually obeyed the stupid Prime Directive, which is the epitome of cultural relativism. Half the plot lines of the original Star Trek involved Kirk wantonly violating the Prime Directive in what constituted acts of democratic statesmanship. Recall, for example, the episode called “The Apple,” in which Kirk revels in destroying the planet’s oppressive false god Vaal, and then explains to the stupefied inhabitants that their lives are going to change: “That’s what we call freedom. You’ll like it a lot. . . You’ll learn something about men and women — the way they’re supposed to be.” (The best analysis of this topic remains Paul Cantor’s wonderful book Gilligan Unbound, especially chapter 2, “Shakespeare in the Original Klingon.”)
TNG, on the other hand, was wholly bureaucratic — it was Star Trek as imagined by the U.N. General Assembly — and Captain Jean-Luc Piccard seemed more like the U.N. Secretary General than a commander.
More to the point — — the problem with TNG was that it split Kirk’s character into three people: Piccard the authoritative but rule-abiding commander; First Officer Will Riker as the impetuous and womanizing swashbuckler, and Counselor Deanna Troi representing analytical reason and intuition. No one of them alone could effectively lead the Enterprise. The result was unwatchable. (How many times did Piccard surrender the Enterprise in that first season? Kirk would never have done that.)
This lack of sufficiency in individuals sounds very much like our GOP frontrunners. The parallels are not exact, of course, but they generally parse out in the following way: Giuliani is Piccard, with his brusque, “make-it-so” personality; McCain is the impetuous and volatile Riker; and Romney is clearly an analytical Betazoid. Each, by himself, has obvious limitations and defects, and thus appears incapable of effectively leading; combine the strengths of all three and the result would be a success.
Unfortunately, there is not yet a candidate who has effectively shown himself as just such a combination of strengths. So let’s forget about this Fred Thompson boomlet — I have a better idea. Let’s elect Captain Kirk for President. Okay, so he’s Canadian, but maybe that’s the excuse we need to execute Jonah Goldberg’s takeover plan (from the tyrannical reign of the tyrannical editor K-Lo.
— Steven F. Hayward is F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of the Pacific Research Institute’s annual Index of Leading Environmental Indicators.