If Kirk was a Republican

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There’s a certain element of Star Trek that really appeals to conservatives. Usually it manifests in a weird fetishization of the show’s military aspects, like the non-canon but ubiquitous Starfleet Marines, but fans who are too respectable to associate with the fandoms can try arguing that the whole show had a conservative message.

I assumed that was the direction Ted Cruz would go when the New York Times asked him if he preferred Captain Kirk or Captain Picard. Instead,  he actually had some fairly thoughtful reasoning:

Let me do a little psychoanalysis. If you look at ‘‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’’ it basically split James T. Kirk into two people. Picard was Kirk’s rational side, and William Riker was his passionate side. I prefer a complete captain. To be effective, you need both heart and mind.

He’s still wrong, but not as wrong as I’d expected.

For the record, I favor Picard (and also complain that Sisko and Janeway weren’t even options). But I think the real difference between the two is that Picard is just more mature individual. He’s not the rational side of Kirk; he’s what Kirk would be if he’d had to grow up sooner.

According to the shows, the two men had basically opposite career paths. Kirk, at least in the prime universe, was described as a total bookworm and stick-in-the mud through his time in Starfleet Academy. Then, on his first deep-space assignment, he hesitates at a critical moment, his captain gets killed, and Kirk blames himself for not being more aggressive.

But even more than that, Kirk was defined by his refusal to believe there was a problem he couldn’t solve. That’s why he retook the Kobiyashi Maru exam three times and eventually reprogrammed it so that he’d win. He never really had to come to terms with his own sense of invincibility until Star Trek II, when he was already an admiral.

Picard, meanwhile, was a lot like the adult Kirk in his Academy days, until a pointless bar fight nearly got him killed. And while the Enterprise was Kirk’s first command, the Enterprise-D was Picard’s second. His time commanding the Stargazer didn’t go great: he lost his best friend, and then lost the ship. Kirk didn’t face a similar experience until Star Trek III.

So Picard wasn’t inherently more rational then Kirk; his life experience had just taught him to be more cautious.

Later in his same interview, Cruz says he thinks Kirk would be a Republican and Picard a Democrat. I think you could actually make an argument that Picard is the more conservative of the two, although Kirk’s inclination to the sort of foreign policy adventurism that Picard derided as “cowboy diplomacy” would probably make him a better neocon. Mainly, though, a person’s politics depend a lot on the relevant issues of the day, so it’s not especially useful to guess where people would fall on the ideological spectrum as it existed 200 years before they were born. Especially in the case of Picard, who’s French.

Incidentally, while Cruz also praised the original Star Trek for advocating racial equality “without sermonizing,” which is a bit strange since one of the show’s more memorable episodes featured Kirk literally lecturing a couple of aliens on why racism is bad. (It’s also a little rich for a U.S. senator to complain about sermonizing, especially when that senator is Ted Cruz, but that’s a whole other issue.)

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