President Obama often points to lessons he has studied and learned from great American leaders -- Lincoln, Jefferson, Johnson. Here's another he should add to the list: Captain James T. Kirk.
The latest Star Trek film arrives at a time not so different from when the series first aired in 1966. Once again, we are a country gripped with doubts about entanglements abroad and questioning our place in the political galaxy, wanting to boldly go where no man has gone, but too often parked in place.
So what's a captain to do?
President Obama, with his cool demeanor and cerebral approach, has often invited comparisons to Spock, right down to the prominent ears. Obama's vibe isn't Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain." It's Spock's "I see your point of view." He is rational always, rattled never.
Commander Spock is a capable leader. But he doesn't get the job done alone. On Star Trek, Spock and Captain Kirk represent a perfect balance of the Western ideals of brawn and brain. Without both parts, the starship Enterprise would surely fail.
Where is the Captain Kirk of the Obama Administration, the person who will strong-arm Republicans into coming to the table and who never met a fight he didn't like? Kirk has long been celebrated for his belief that there is no such thing as a no-win scenario. Obama, who has seemed all too eager to cede ground to Republicans, could use an ally made of sterner stuff.
No one person can save Obama from the Republican party, who seem more and more like Klingons (For you non-nerds that's Star Trek's warrior race, who have a genetic predisposition to hostility). But finding a synergy between Obama's mind and Kirk's fist could be a good start. There was a reason that calm-and-cool Obama and the boisterous Chris Christie made such a good team in a crisis. But no one on Obama's payroll has emerged as a fighter who can counter the President's conciliatory nature. We're left wondering about Rahm Emanuel, the political attack dog who alienated many in the Obama Administration, but whose fingerprints are all over its signature achievements.
Obama's first foray into Trek territory became a nerd nightmare when he mixed up Star Trek and Star Wars lingo during the sequester, professing he could not do a "Jedi mind meld" on Republicans (D'oh! It's "Jedi mind trick"; "Vulcan mind meld"). Obama scored some points later by poking fun at his error: "Spock is what Maureen Dowd calls me," he said. "Darth Vader is what John Boehner calls me."
Now that Obama has his galaxies straight, he can learn a thing or two from the summer smash Star Trek Into Darkness. J.J. Abrams's film lays out a road map for political leadership that the President would be wise to follow (and there you were thinking it's just a popcorn flick).
In the film Spock, quite uncharacteristically, fights. And not just with the Vulcan nerve pinch either. Spock goes into full-blown battle mode to protect his ship from subversive forces. The logician is also a warrior. Hey, Obama -- if Spock can do it, so can you.
He can start with foreign policy. Obama's backseat driving during the Arab Spring stuck him with the unfortunate mantra, "leading from behind." His reluctance to intervene is deeply ingrained in Star Trek culture. The golden rule of Star Trek is the Prime Directive, which states that there can be no interference with the development of alien civilizations, period.
But J.J. Abrams's film says, to hell with all that. In a surprise cameo, a character who-shall-not-be-named boots the golden rule and intervenes to create a better future. Purists wept, but the message is that in 2013 it doesn't pay to hang back, and that some rules are made to be broken (another Kirk philosophy). Obama ought to forgo his own Prime Directive and take a more proactive stance on Syria and the Middle East. And he should act with warp speed.
Nerds have long understood the political promise of Star Trek. Political figures have too -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a celebrated Trekkie. Today, Star Trek's optimistic vision of the future endures. Gene Roddenberry's creation promised that humans, with rational minds and a dash of guts, can overcome problems both earthly and galactic. There's no reason our own ship can't right its course, too. Obama only needs to lean in -- to use this season's phrase -- or perhaps more fittingly, to beam up.