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Ted Cruz is totally wrong about Captain Kirk vs. Captain Picard

In a New York Times interview published Thursday, Cruz goes out of his way to make clear he is a Kirk man:

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.

Totally wrong. The essential relationship in The Original Series was between Kirk and Mr. Spock because it provided a live conversation between Kirk’s flamboyant irresponsibility and head-slapping sentimentality (Chekov: “Course heading, captain?” Kirk: “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.” Really?) and Spock’s unwavering rationality. Kirk’s overactive id required Spock to serve as super-ego. In his better moments, Kirk commanded based on a synthesis of these impulses, the way any “complete” captain would. Without Spock, Kirk is deficient.

Picard represents the synthesis of Kirk and Spock. Cruz complains that Picard is a “philosopher,” which he certainly was, a fact that made “The Next Generation” far more interesting television: It constantly forced the audience to consider tangled moral problems and reassess the sometimes stiff ethical restrictions Star Fleet imposed on its officers, with Picard as thinker-in-chief (“There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders”). But Picard also had plenty of passion (“The line is drawn here! This far, no farther!”). A renaissance man, he could authoritatively bark commands during space combat, skillfully broker interstellar negotiations and credibly participate in scholarly archaeological work. This turns out to be a profile far better suited to dealing with a very complex Alpha Quadrant. Without Riker, Picard is just as capable and just as compelling.

In fact, “The Next Generation” didn’t need Riker at all. He was a zero-wins-above-replacement first officer, neither exceptionally effective nor exceptionally ineffective, constantly stunted by his own deficiencies. Riker was supposed to be a paragon of self-confidence but was so often petty and preoccupied with others respecting him that he came off as annoyingly, sometimes dangerously, self-conscious and needy. Insomuch as he represented a part of Kirk, he represented a part easily removed from the captain’s chair.

I’m willing to cut Cruz a little slack on Kirk-gate. He grew up at a time when The Original Series was a truly original accomplishment in broadcast syndication. I grew up watching “The Next Generation” at a time when the original cast seemed dated, their personalities and storylines relatively simplistic. I’ll also grant that Cruz is right about one crucial difference between Kirk and many others, including Picard: Few have made out with so many space aliens.

But each of us should ask who we’d rather serve under: Kirk or Picard? The confrontational or the judicious? The instinctual or the balanced? The emotional or the wise? Cruz has a strong view. Americans should choose differently, whether in 2016 or 2316.