The first episode of Star Trek aired on NBC Television on September 8th, 1966. The man who would become the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, was 20 years old. I don’t know where he was on that particular day. But I have to wonder if the 20-year-old George W. Bush tuned in to watch Star Trek. I also wonder what he thought of the show. I wonder in particular what he thought of Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the USS Enterprise.
I mention this because I have been wondering if George W. Bush has been channeling James T. Kirk. The more I think about it the more sense it makes. The future Captain/Admiral James T. Kirk was born, according to his creator Gene Roddenberry, in Rivertown, Iowa. In one of life’s little irony’s William Shatner recently visited the town. But spiritually Kirk is no farm boy from Iowa. James T. Kirk is a Texan through and through.
James T. Kirk is also obviously a Republican. After all he did not command the USS Progressive, or even the USS Constitution. Kirk commands the USS Enterprise. A deeply pragmatic and lusty man, Kirk believes in drinking deeply from life and taking big chances. If he were to wear a hat you can bet it would not be a ten-gallon hat, but the twenty-gallon variety.
I imagine the 20-year-old George W. Bush in the family den watching Star Trek. I imagine him feeling hamstrung by his demanding parents. I imagine him fantasizing about how wonderful life would be like if he were in charge and were free to do things his way. I wonder if James T. Kirk mesmerized him. After all nothing fazed Kirk, not even phaser fire. “I can do it!” was his motto. Time after time he did indeed do it. With the help of Hollywood hacks you could bet there would be a Corbomite Maneuver in almost every episode. Good ol’ American guts and determination won the day pretty much every week.
Of course at the time the United States was embroiled in Vietnam, a debacle that in time proved its pointlessness and futility. But in 1966 we still believed we would win the war. After all at that time the United States had never lost any war it had engaged in. It was just a matter of time before the Commies would be put in their place. Watching Star Trek the parallels were obvious. The Klingons were the Russians and the Romulans were the Chinese. In a way the anxiety of the 1960s permeated the scripts for Star Trek. James T. Kirk showed us that the United Federation of Planets/America could triumph every time. With sufficient determination, spittle and daring Kirk (occasionally helped by Spock, Bones or Scotty) would win the day. It was five years of course after Star Trek went off the air that the Vietnam War finally devolved into our sad little exit from the roof of our embassy in Saigon.
The United Federation of Planets had this lofty idea called the Prime Directive. As you probably know it prohibited UFP members from interfering with the culture of a planet. It also prohibited giving emerging civilizations any inkling that there was this large, friendly, Republican cosmic government out there keeping the universe safe from Klingons, Romulans and assorted galactic nasties. Clearly the Prime Directive irritated Kirk. Time and time again he ignored it or gave it lip service. Prime Directives were good in theory but made for boring TV. Shows had to be wrapped up in sixty minutes, minus commercials. If my memory serves me right the only time Kirk was truly put in his place was in the episode “Errand of Mercy”. In that episode the cosmic overlords told the Klingons and the Humans they had to play nicely with each other or they would get permanent time outs.
Most likely watching Star Trek with his fraternity boys was a whole lot more interesting than getting Gentlemen’s C’s in history at Yale. Granted being president of Delta Kappa Epsilon and hanging out in the secretive “Skull and Bones” society must have fatigued the man. But I bet the fraternity found time every Thursday night to watch the chronicles of James T. Kirk and crew.
What would James T. Kirk have done as president? My bet is that he would do pretty much what George W. Bush has done. Kirk was never one to study the details of an issue. He left those things to Mr. Spock (Condoleeza Rice?) who was his prefrontal cortex. When he needed someone to confide in he looked to Dr. Leonard McCoy (“Bones”, Dick Cheney?), an older father figure type. But mainly Kirk acted out of instinct, cleverness and bravado. He sliced and diced his way through galactic politics and struggles. It all came out well in the end thanks do his gambling spirit, his sense of daring do and the scriptwriters.
One thing Kirk didn’t like was anyone questioning his judgment. He had a crew full of yes men. (Let’s also not forget the yes women in short skirts. In “Mirror, Mirror” he even had a whore, er a “Captain’s Woman”.) Everyone on the good starship adored and respected him. No one questioned his judgment. They knew Captain Kirk could pull them out of any predicament, no matter how wild or how poor the odds. Similarly the Bush White House is staffed with loyalists who ruthlessly hold to the message of the day and give unflinching and unquestioned support. This works well because the Bush White House does not tolerate dissent anyhow. You were either with or against Jim Kirk and you are either with or against George W. Bush. The red shirts died regularly but his closest advisers of course remain unscathed.
Alas, if the real world were only more like Star Trek. If only every nasty problem could be fixed in sixty minutes. If only cleverness, ingenuity and good ol’ Texan spunk could solve every problem. Captain Kirk has evolved into a mythical American legend. But he must embody traits we consider to be endemic to the American people. It seems like we have put the spirit of James T. Kirk in the White House. I suspect the good liberal Gene Roddenberry is spinning in his grave at the irony of his accomplishment.