Thursday, May 21, 2009

Culture Shock 05.21.09: I am not Spock, and neither is President Obama

I don't know who started it, but it's gone on long enough. So, knock off the Obama/Spock comparisons.

It seems like every columnist, pundit and blogger inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway is comparing the president to the world's most famous pointy-eared, green-blooded extraterrestrial. But I'm not buying it.

President Barack Obama is not Spock. I'll grant that the president sometimes comes across as cold and emotionless, and with a little Photoshop manipulation, he even looks a bit like a Vulcan. But the similarities end there.

For one thing, President Obama isn't someone who makes decisions based solely on logic. When he describes what he is looking for in a new U.S. Supreme Court justice, for example, he says he wants someone with "empathy."

"I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook," the president said. " ... I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."

Last I checked, empathy was one of those human emotion thingies.

If anything, the president seems a lot more like Dr. McCoy, who, I should note, had one of his finest moments in a "Star Trek" episode titled "The Empath."

Now, I am certainly not saying that the president is Dr. McCoy. As McCoy would say, "I'm a doctor, not a politician." And the last thing I want is to start another silly Obama/"Star Trek" character meme. Anyway, I'm surprised none of the president's supporters have likened him to Scotty, the USS Enterprise's chief engineer and resident "miracle worker," who can fix anything just in the nick of time. But maybe they're downplaying expectations.

The comparison of Obama and Spock is supposed to be positive, at least as long as you overlook that whole "pon farr" thing, the sometimes violent Vulcan mating season that occurs every seven years. Past administrations, however, have elicited more negative comparisons to sci-fi characters.

If I had a bar of gold-pressed latinum (that's a "Star Trek" reference) for every time someone compared former Vice President Dick Cheney to Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine, I could retire the national debt and have enough money left over to replace those two Death Stars.

And don't think it was just a bunch of wacky liberals who got mileage out of comparing President George W. Bush's administration to the Galactic Empire in "Star Wars." Some of President Bush's most ardent supporters made such comparisons, too. Some friends they were.

Writing for The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, Jonathan V. Last argues that "the truth is ... (George) Lucas confused the good guys with the bad. The deep lesson of Star Wars is that the Empire is good."

Last's reasoning is almost too twisted to be believed. He writes, "The destruction of Alderaan is often cited as ipso facto proof of the Empire's 'evilness' because it seems like mass murder — planeticide, even. As Tarkin prepares to fire the Death Star, Princess Leia implores him to spare the planet, saying, 'Alderaan is peaceful. We have no weapons.' Her plea is important, if true. But the audience has no reason to believe that Leia is telling the truth."

Now, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I think Last just compared Princess Leia to Saddam Hussein and Alderaan to Iraq, which, as it turned out, also didn't have any weapons — at least not of the "mass destruction" variety.

If Republicans are wondering why they lost the most recent presidential election, maybe it's because they embraced their inner Empire.

As you can see, comparing political leaders to sci-fi characters brings nothing but trouble.

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