In the wake of President Obama’s statement following the passing of Leonard Nimoy that he loved Spock, the Washington Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti penned a column entitled “I don’t Love Spock,” with the subhead of “President Obama’s favorite Star Trek character is an appeasing arrogant jerk.” A sample:

The president is not the only writer who has drawn comparisons between himself and Spock. I am also a Star Trek fan, but I admit I was somewhat confused by my rather apathetic reaction to Nimoy’s death. And as I thought more about the president’s statement, I realized he identifies with the very aspects of the Spock character that most annoy me. I don’t love Spock at all.
Not only do Spock’s peacenik inclinations routinely land the Enterprise and the Federation into trouble, his “logic” and “level head” mask an arrogant emotional basket case. Unlike the superhuman android Data, a loyal officer whose deepest longing is to be human, Spock spends most of his life as a freelancing diplomat eager to negotiate with the worst enemies of Starfleet. He’s the opposite of a role model: a cautionary tale.

One has to stand back and admire Continetti’s effort at cultural trolling. As an effort to subvert a nerd touchstone, it’s close to but not quite on a par with Chris Sullentrop’s epic Harry Potter takedown or Jonathan Last’s heroic defense of the Galactic Empire. Drawing primarily from the movie canon (and curiously ignoring the original television series), Continetti makes a interesting if not entirely persuasive case.

The thing is, as I kept reading it, I kept wondering whether Spock was really as bad as Continetti claims. So I spent the weekend going through the films on Netflix. I quickly realized that Continetti elided a flaw in his argument. The thing is, the character in the original Star Trek run that really runs into problems is one James Tiberius Kirk.

This is gonna be a problem for the folks at the Washington Free Beacon. Given Kirk’s act-first-and-ask-questions-later style, his reliance on gut instincts, and his insatiable appetite for intervention, Kirk was made for neoconservative fanboys.

And this is all before we get to Kirk’s ladies:

Really, the only way Kirk could be more catnip to the Free Beacon is if Kate Upton was FXed into an old episode as an Orion slave woman.

Continetti astutely observes Spock’s flaws — the thing is, Kirk’s flaws are way worse. For example, Continetti argues that Spock “cares only for himself” in Star Trek I, but Kirk’s behavior is even more self-interested in that film. He explicitly uses the V’Ger threat as an excuse to strongarm Starfleet Command into giving him back command of the Enterprise despite his unfamiliarity with the new design of the ship.

This, by the way, begins a rather disturbing pattern in the Star Trek film franchise:

  1. Star Trek I: Kirk forces his way into command of the Enterprise.
  2. Star Trek II: Kirk passively-aggressively navigates his way into command of the Enterprise.
  3. Star Trek III: Kirk illegally commandeers and captains the Enterprise.
  4. Star Trek IV: Miraculously, at the end of the film, Starfleet Command gives Kirk another Enterprise!
  5. Star Trek V: Nope, life is short, I’m not watching this piece of dreck ever again. Ever.
  6. Star Trek VI: Kirk is close to retiring, but manages to take the Enterprise out for one last mission.
  7. Star Trek VII: Kirk comes this close to usurping command of the Enterprise B from its captain before realizing what a total dick he’s being.
  8. Star Trek Reboot I: Kirk goads Spock into a fight by taunting him about the death of his family to get back command of the Enterprise
  9. Star Trek Reboot II: Kirk proposes an illegal, personal mission of vengeance to claw his way back into the command chair of the Enterprise.

So, how does Kirk do with his commands? He acts in an undisciplined, haphazard, interventionist  fashion that threatens his ship and the Federation more generally:

  1. Star Trek 1: Kirk nearly destroys the Enterprise by prematurely going to warp, creating a wormhole, and ignorantly ordering phasers to destroy an asteroid. Without the quick action of the recently-demoted Decker, the ship would have been destroyed.
  2. Star Trek II: Kirk mopes around for the first third of the film, taking time out only to needle Saavik. Upon assuming command, he fails to follow General Order 12 when encountering the USS Reliant, despite Saavik pointing that very regulation out to him. The resulting attack from the Reliant proves so devastating that only Spock’s later sacrifice saves the Enterprise, thereby setting in motion a chain of events that dominate the next two films. Even Kirk admits that he got caught with his britches down.
  3. Star Trek III: Nothing to see here, just Kirk blowing up the stolen Enterprise after he recklessly enters the Genesis quarantine zone and encounters a Klingon Bird of Prey with an ill-prepared, radically shorthanded crew.
  4. Star Trek IV: Kirk only commands the Enterprise A for a few minutes. To his credit, he neither damages the ship nor Federation foreign policy in that brief time.
  5. Star Trek V: Nope, still not watching it.
  6. Star Trek VI: Where to begin. After expressing his preference for the genocidal extinction of the entire Klingon species, Kirk takes every opportunity to piss all over Spock’s opening to the Klingons. He makes the brilliant move of serving Romulan ale during the opening diplomatic outreach to the Klingons, lulling the senior crew into a drunken stupor, thereby making the terrorist attack on the Klingon Chancellor go much smoother.
  7. Star Trek VII: Kirk advises Picard to never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever give up the captain’s chair of the Enterprise, despite the fact that Picard’s vastly superior management and diplomatic skills put him on the fast-track to head Starfleet Command.
  8. Star Trek Reboot I: Credit where it’s due, Kirk’s warning to Pike helps to save the ship as it approaches Vulcan. His attempted mutiny after the destruction of Vulcan does, however, counteract that good deed.
  9. Star Trek Reboot II: Oh, sweet Jesus, where to begin? Kirk starts off by violating the Prime Directive and recklessly intervening. He then lies about said intervention in an official report. Once that’s discovered, Pike chews him out for not taking responsibility and disrespecting the chair.and he loses his command. Kirk volunteers to assassinate Pike’s killer illegally, admitting that “our orders have nothing to do with Starfleet regulations.” He ignores Scotty’s counsel, triggering the chief engineer’s resignation. Kirk continues to blunder in his mission, nearly destroying the Enterprise while confessing to Spock that he has no idea what he’s doing.

In essence, Kirk is a commander who repeatedly and recklessly disregards the rule of law, possesses an inflated sense of his own abilities, takes preemptive action before thinking, adopts prejudiced attitudes towards adversaries and nearly destroys his ship multiple times without the benefit of a well-trained crew. This sounds pretty damn neoconservative to me.

Like Continetti, I do indeed love Star Trek. But if I have to pick a captain, it’s Jean-Luc Picard and it’s not close.