05 November 2010

Open Letter to the President: Why Spock Wasn't Captain

Dear President Obama,

I know you're a Trekker.  I know you know you've been likened to Mr. Spock by fans and critics alike, and I think the connotation is fairly accurate.  Spock's every decision was guided by logic.  He saw the big picture, and was not afraid to champion unpopular positions if they were the right decisions to make.  Surely the character had as much to do with Leonard Nimoy's mailbag as his performance; Spock has resonated with fans from the beginning.  A guy like that is comforting and inspiring, in his own way.  Note the qualifier.

 Five Star Trek Captains
James T. Kirk had to be the captain.  Had to be.  No matter how much more about things Spock knew, no matter how respected he was, the simple truth is that leadership is only effective if it is dynamic and engaging.  You don't need me to tell you about the difference between being on the bridge and being in the captain's chair; there are only four living people in the entire world who've sat where you sit in the Oval Office.  It's a very exclusive club.  Interestingly, there are only five actors in the entire world who know what it's like to have played a captain on a Star Trek TV series.*

Five Living Presidents
It's always been asked just why Spock needs Kirk at all, that if he's the one offering the important insight, why he wouldn't be better suited for command than the guy he's constantly having to guide.  What we saw, time and again, was that when push came to shove the crew didn't respond to Spock with the same passion that Kirk inspired in them.  Kirk wasn't always right.  He was impetuous, impatient and sometimes too quick to answer with a phaser instead of his communicator.  In real life, those are all traits that few would seek in their president.  I know I personally admire your demeanor and in a lot of ways you're the perfect man for the job.  But.

If the midterm election has shown anything, it's that the crew is restless.  It may be logical to be patient, but it isn't human nature.  Many Americans are at their own personal breaking point.  It's impossible to earn overtime pay on government benefits, so it's impossible to account for the unexpected expenses of daily life.  The economists can reappraise the statistics all they want: until the average American has a job in which he or she feels secure, and we stop seeing "For Sale" signs and start seeing "Now Open" signs, no one is going to believe that things are improving.  It may not be logical, but it is human nature.

The good news, Mr. President, is that you're not a TV character.  We'd have been put off by Mr. Spock all of a sudden becoming the gung ho captain, but you can do it.  I understand that your ambition to create a new paradigm for our national political conversation.  Where is the logic in staying on the high road if no one has followed you?  You can do it as an individual, but a leader with no followers is not a leader.  It's time to switch modes.

I hope those are notes
on leadership.
The pundits tell us that the majority of your 2008 supporters didn't vote in the midterm elections because they were impatient with your progress.  That too many of the programs you championed as a candidate haven't materialized, and that those that have have been too sluggish to be satisfying.  The good news is, that anger means there's still support out there for those programs.  You're not going to make them happen by presenting them as the next items on your agenda.  You're not going to have an easy time of things with the Republicans in Congress.

You can still get things done by doing what every effective president before you has done: go to the people.  Start with asking, "Do you remember when you told me you wanted [insert concept]?  Let's do it.  You tell your legislators to craft a bill and I'll sign it."  Present it not as a process, but as an action to be taken.  If it turns out that the nature of those programs needs to be different than originally envisioned, so be it.  We need an energy system that liberates us from foreign nations, reduces pollutants and puts Americans to work.  That needs to be the priority of this administration, because it's the tri-fecta.  Three birds with one stone.  You can't do it sounding flat like Mr. Spock.  You've...got! to begin...to sound! like the captain!  It's the only logical thing to do.

*I'm not counting Chris Pine as a Star Trek captain, because he's only got one movie under his belt and hasn't had to be the lead actor on an ongoing TV series.  Also, is it just me or is it weird that one captain wore a blue uniform (Archer) and three wore red (Picard, Sisko, Janeway) and in that picture from the White House, three presidents were wearing blue ties (Mr. Obama and both Bushes) and two wore red (Mr. Carter and Mr. Clinton).  Only Captain Kirk wore yellow.  And he totally rocked it.

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