Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

December 23, 2009

'STAR TREK' AND 'UNABASHEDLY LIBERAL' VALUES.... Kevin Drum flags this gem from National Review's Mike Potemra:

I have over the past couple of months been watching DVDs of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show I missed completely in its run of 1987 to 1994; and I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era -- peace, tolerance, due process, progress....

What an odd thing to say. It's not uncommon for someone on the left to suggest conservatives find concepts like peace, tolerance, due process, and progress distasteful, but it's quite rare for a conservative to admit such a thing in print.

But it doesn't end there. Potemra, hoping to understand why conservatives enjoy a show that embraces wacky concepts like due process, asked some National Review colleagues about it. The answer, apparently, is that the right appreciates the "toughness" of Jean-Luc Picard, portrayed as "a moral hardass," who offers viewers a "compelling portrait of ethical uprightness."

But as John Holbo explained, that only makes the larger problem with the analysis worse.

[S]urely the proper conclusion to be drawn, then, is that being an ethically upright and generally virtuous person is, however surprising this result may be, consistent with being tolerant, peace-loving, even with upholding due process. And there is no particular difficulty to the trick of being in favor of progress while being skeptical about human perfectibility. I say this is a semi-serious point because I think, for some conservatives, the main objection to a somewhat vaguely conceived set of liberal values really is a strong sense that they are inconsistent with a certain sort of hardassery in the virtue ethics department. End of story. But then Star Trek TNG ought, by rights, to be the ultimate anti-conservative series. At least for the likes of Potemra.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

So the answer is to elect an authoritarian Liberal?

I'm wondering if that is an oxymoron.

Posted by: VaLiberal on December 23, 2009 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Why just the other day, that delightful sprite, Orrin Hatch, was just lamenting the day the Dims took over majorities in Congress and took the White House...

"Get the Repugnants back in there," he advised, "We'll get this country back under control."

And with that his tongue shot out 2 f., with blinding speed, stabbed a blowfly in mid-air, and spun back into Hatch's hatch...

Posted by: neill on December 23, 2009 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans frequently mistake decisiveness under the rule of law for authoritarianism and exceptionalism, so their take on Captain Picard is way off base.

And given that Republicans are prone to praying for health reformers' early deaths they obviously have not taken Spock's "Live long and prosper" message to heart.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 23, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you should probably avoid Star Trek references, no matter the context. It will not serve your blog well.

Posted by: Rochester on December 23, 2009 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Who gives a shit? This is beyond mental masturbation.

What's going on in Afghanistan and Iraq today?

Guantanamo won't be closed to 2011 if ever?

Posted by: grinning cat on December 23, 2009 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Besides treating this as ironic or something, is anyone going to point out exactly how far out on the fringe treating "due process" as a "liberal" value is? I mean we as Americans treat our right to due process directly back to Chapter 39 of the Magna Carta - you don't get that much more sacred than that.

These people who are constantly saying that the United States is a "Christian nation" - there is no concept of due process in the bible (or anywhere else in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for that matter) - yet they deny fundamental aspects of our American democracy.

They need to be marginalized.

Posted by: andy on December 23, 2009 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

I think they love it because they like the idea that the only institution in the future that gets any teleplay is a benevolent military. It is really the only institution we see, and the future is militarized. For all intents and purposes, the Star Fleet *is* the only government we see on Star Trek.

The conservatives also love it because it is a drama filled with easy pieties about humanity, and about the military where the downside of human expansionism (or militarism) is never explored, and where no one ever resists joining the Federation, unless they are Other and their opposition to it is total.

Of course, this does nothing to explain why old lefties like me like it so much. :D.

Posted by: Crabgrass on December 23, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure that dislike of peace, tolerance, due process, and progress are fascist values. Just sayin'

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on December 23, 2009 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Or your view of conservatives is a generic demonization of them. That they are all war mongering fascist neo-cons, which most conservative are not. True conservatives would cheer for peace, tolerance, due process.

Posted by: booohya on December 23, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Grinning Cat,

The reason small issues like this are significant is because one of the right's tactics in their march to authoritarian rule is the mis-appropriation of cultural icons. We can't let that happen.


Posted by: pj in jesusland on December 23, 2009 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

It doesn't take brain surgery to explain this one. Conservatives just get an authoritarian thrill up their leg, picturing themselves going around saying, "Make it so." The content of the "so" is secondary.

Posted by: nicteis on December 23, 2009 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

True conservatives would cheer for peace, tolerance, due process.

It's true. I do cheer for those values. But I also don't see true conservatives in the Republican party, teabaggers, etc. No cheers there.

Posted by: Bob M on December 23, 2009 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm mystified by the conservatives' embrace of Star Trek TNG. A lot of people who think about such things think that that series dull: full of touchy-feely tolerance and kum-by-yah moments, and Captain Picard and his crew did everything they could to avoid violating the Prime Directive: non-interference in an existing civilization. The true neo-con Star Trek was the original series with Captain Kirk gallivanting around the galaxy doing what Spock once referred to as "cowboy diplomacy," treating women -- alien or otherwise -- as nubile conquests, and generally making it up as he went along... kind of like the late Bush administration.

I don't doubt that a lot of conservatives are in favor of peace, tolerance, and due process; just on their terms.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on December 23, 2009 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

I don't doubt that a lot of conservatives are in favor of peace, tolerance, and due process; just on their terms.

the exact same could be said for many liberals...

Posted by: booohya on December 23, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick Stewart is getting knighted! I learned about this from National Review (yes I do sometimes read it), and the author, Mike Potemra, writes about Star Trek TNG. I confess myself amazed that so many conservatives are fond of it. Its messages are unabashedly liberal ones of the early post-Cold War era - peace, tolerance, due process, progress.

Posted by: Grüner Tee on December 23, 2009 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

I don't doubt that a lot of conservatives are in favor of peace, tolerance, and due process; just on their terms.

the exact same could be said for many liberals...

Yeah, except we don't invade countries on false premises or send in Christian missionaries to write kill-the-gays bills to do it. Slight difference.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on December 23, 2009 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

It's true - the conservative mind (such as it is) admires and embraces having no pity, no "weaknesses" like caring what happens to other people, respecting our differences, or cooperative action and interdependency. It admires aggressive climbers who step on others to get there. Such mentalities are opposed to the whole spirit of both Star Trek series.

Posted by: neil b. on December 23, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Booohya, see what happens to "true conservatives" when the modern establishment sees them rubbing against their hegemony: Ron Paul is ridiculed by Rush et al, even McCain was during his more honorable primary run in 2000. But we and they can indeed work together against e.g. corporatism and the MI complex. (BTW, check out American Conservative mag and site for more or less authentic strains of thought.)

Posted by: neil b on December 23, 2009 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats and most commentors just dont get it. It's not really that Picard is a hard ass, but that he sticks to his principals. Voters of all parties don't like wimps, wusses, chumps-- pick you term. Whatever term you picked, that's the meme that Obama and the Senate Democrats have reinforced over and over again in the last 9 months. What to roll 'em? Give some intransigent opposition or non-negotiable demands and the Compromiser in Chief will meet you over have way. It's a lesson well learned by Iranian Mullahs, US generals, Karzai, Pakistani officials, Republicans in general and Snowe in particular, Lieberman, Nelson -- the list goes on.

Posted by: gdb on December 23, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Potemra shows just how ignorant of Star Trek he really is. When "TNG" first came out, those "conservatives" who debated TNG vs the original always preferred the original precisely because of Kirk's cowboy, kick-ass attitude, and bemoaned Picard's touchy-feely liberalism and "diplomacy" attitude.

And, for the governing folks, it's always been the Federation of Planets that's the governing body; Star Fleet is the "enforcement arm".

But enough of this; as the previous poster said, on to Afghanistan, Iraq, health care, rebuilding the Justice Dept, global warming, etc. And happy holidays...

Posted by: artsmith on December 23, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

truly your comments on "conservatives" here do great justice in showing the liberal "tolerance" "peace" and "progress". Way to broad brush. Congrats you've become exactly what you claim to stand against.

Posted by: booohya on December 23, 2009 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

It's sad when people use words like "tolerance" only as a weapon against the people that promote it.

Posted by: Kenneth G. Cavness on December 23, 2009 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

It's sad when people use words like "tolerance" only as a weapon against the people that promote it.

agreed,
that sure seems to be the case here for both the original article and many of the posters...too bad.

Posted by: booohya on December 23, 2009 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

This is just hilarious. Apparently there is a sizable group of people who find peace, tolerance and due process horrible and actually desire to live in a place of unending war, prejudice, and unfair treatment. Forgive me, I am wasting space here, but this is astonishing. Thank you.

Posted by: SF on December 23, 2009 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

OK, second thought: the Jean-Luc character is the Daddy, as in Lakoff's Daddy-party: the boss who takes all responsibility and relieves everyone else of a) responsibility and the difficulty of decisions. NCIS has the same family/Big Daddy dynamic and, for all its hardassery a surprisingly liberal take, sometimes, on current issues. I guess liberals (Bernie Sanders comes to mind) are the only ones willing to act like, and be, adults.

Posted by: Sf on December 23, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Booyha, it would be one thing if the conservative movement had some semblance of legitimacy. But you see, you people had power for 30+ years, and our country is going BACKWARDS. You people actually WANT to time travel back to 100 years ago. It's mind boggling. Your economic and social policies have been proven to be abysmal failures for 95% of our society.

So, in the same way one doesn't tolerate being lectured on the dangers of drug abuse by a crack head, we simply choose to call you out repeatedly until it finally sets in that conservationism, is antithetical to a functioning democracy that promotes the general welfare of it's citizenry.

Posted by: citizen_pain on December 23, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Mike Potemra clearly is simply an anti-liberal, rather than a true conservative. He seems to lack first principles, but rather positions himself opposite of those dreaded liberals.

"...there is no concept of due process in the bible (or anywhere else in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for that matter)... - andy

Not so. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" is the essence of due-process.

Posted by: Lance on December 23, 2009 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that Picard makes a "compelling portrait of ethical uprightness" is very conservative. However, the fact that he actually is ethically upright is very liberal. So I'm on the fence on this one.

Posted by: Mike Potemra on December 23, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of conservatives also have very confused world views. They tend to assume that anything they think is "good" is "conservative", so conservatives who like Star Trek are likely to think it is an expression of conservative values.

Kind of like their use of "Born in the USA" and Yellow Ribbons as pro-war expressions.

I recall some polling from 2004 which asked people their opinion on various foreign policy issues and the presidential candidates opinions. There was strong majority support for the international criminal court, the nuclear test ban treaty, and a few other things among republicans, independents, and democrats. The interesting thing was that the various groups did a pretty good job correctly identifying the candidates positions except for the conservatives opinions of Bush. Conservatives thought Bush supported what they supported regardless of his actual positions.

I think this is part of the whole authoritarian thing. There are two ways to idealize the leader. An individual can change their opinion to meet the views of the leader, or they can change their idea of the views of the leader to match their opinion. Which they do depends a lot on the situation they are in. Is the issue right in their face (as in this poll) or is the leader's opinion right in their face (a more common situation I think).

Posted by: JeffF on December 23, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

I think conservatives identify with it because the Federation is the unquestioned beacon of good, travelling about the univers, fixing other people's problems. Despite all the motions to a "prime directive", the Federation is how patriots would like to view the US - a force for remaking the universe, that everyone wishes to join.

Posted by: Memekiller on December 23, 2009 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

You expect consistency and logic from a Republican? Sorry, those are Vulcan traits. . .

Posted by: DAY on December 23, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Or your view of conservatives is a generic demonization of them. That they are all war mongering fascist neo-cons, which most conservative are not.

Demonization implies a heinous charge that is also untrue or at least misleading. The overwhelming majority of people who self-identify as conservative are, in fact, war-mongering fascists. I think the events of the last 10 years have proven the point beyond any reasonable dispute.

True conservatives would cheer for peace, tolerance, due process.

True elves live at the North Pole and build toys for Santa. Assuming that by "true" you mean "imaginary yet still claimed to exist by children and others of limited experience and intellect."

Topic: The reason that conservatives get a hard-on for the Star Trek universe is because of the subtext that is so deeply "sub" that not even the writers ever noticed it was there -- the total lack of democracy in the setting. Out of over a thousand episodes of the various ST series, there was never a single reference to the political structure back home, not even the suggestion that crewmembers, from time to time, might have the opportunity to vote on such matters. The only references to civilian politics at all came in ST:VI-The Undiscovered Country (in which Star Fleet officials plotted the assassination of the Federation President in order to have a causus belli against the Klingons) and a single DS9 episode which implied that it would be a trivial matter to depose the President and install a military dictatorship if the majority of the admirals went along with it. Not only that, but I can't think of a single civilian leader ever portrayed as anything other than mendacious, stupid or completely subservient to the highest Federation officer on the scene.

Compare this with Babylon 5, in which the election of the new EarthGov president was a plot thread throughout the first season, culminating in the assassination of the President in the S1 finale and his replacement with an out-and-out fascist who became the primary antagonist in S4. The overarching plot of S5 revolved around Sheridan's efforts to build a politically viable interstellar union and the constant tension caused by Sheridan's impulse to run things like the autocratic military officer he was running up against the limitations on his presidential powers that he himself had placed in the constitution because of his strong democratic principles.

Conservatives love ST because they perceive Starfleet (possibly correctly) as being an enlightened military dictatorship which is viewed as a manifest good by the majority of planets within its sphere of influence and where minorities fit in just fine as long as they obey the chain of command.

Posted by: Alan on December 23, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

truly your comments on "conservatives" here do great justice in showing the liberal "tolerance" "peace" and "progress". Way to broad brush. Congrats you've become exactly what you claim to stand against.

And liberals always claim to be for "tolerance" and "diversity" and yet they don't tolerate the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazi Party or appreciate their diverse viewpoints. Why, isn't the very definition of tolerance tolerating those who would destroy tolerance? What hypocrisy....!

Posted by: Stefan on December 23, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

I think republicans watched Star Trek: TNG because they found some of the alien civilizations to be worthy of emulation. The ideal republican would be 50% Feringi(remember the Rules of Acquisition, and wouldn't Jim Cramer make a wonderful Grand Negus?), 25% Borg ("We will assimilate you", "resistance is futile") and 25% Kardassian (whatever the proper spelling may be). Remember the episode in which Picard is tortured? Republicans loved that for a very different set of reasons than TNG fans.

In the same way, republicans loved Star Wars for the villians rather than the heroes. Can't you see Dick Cheney sitting on the edge of his seat whenever Darth Vader or Emperor Palpitine appeared, or Rush Limbaugh imagining himself as the Jabba the Hut, holding court while his fellow republicans sit bound and helpless (we'll stop before we get to the steel bikini) at his feet?

Posted by: broken arrow on December 23, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

So far as I remember, it was always clear that the Federation was run democratically and that Starfleet answered to the civilian government. But this is Star Trek, not The West Wing. It is a sci-fi adventure show. You can't expect a sci-fi adventure show to expend an episode examining the procedures of the Federation parliament or consensus building in the Committee on Time Travel and Evil Reverse Universes. That is not what any Star Trek was about. It was about people serving in the military who solved problems and whupped ass. I don't assume that a show which portrays the experiences of military personnel, historical or fictional, is inherently anti-democratic.

For all their flaws, the Star Trek shows have always been about heroes who are brave, decent, smart, and creative. This makes them liberal shows. If there were a real world military officer like Picard, conservatives would dismiss him as a naive, pinheaded, pansy intellectual no matter what he did. They like the fictional Picard because they would like to be tough and smart like he is, but they can't be, which is why they are conservatives.

Posted by: Mark on December 23, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

*NOW* I know who's been making those "redlettermedia" reviews on Youtube.

Posted by: mcc on December 23, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK
"Thou shalt not bear false witness" is the essence of due-process.

It's a necessary condition certainly, but I don't see how you can call it the essence. Is arbitrary state action impossible in the absence of perjury?

Posted by: noncarborundum on December 23, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Really? This is the kind of discussion they have at National Review these days? Can't say I blame Christopher Buckley for leaving--his father would be embarassed.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on December 23, 2009 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

No true conservative would serve in Starfleet. It's too dangerous out there. They would just claim to be the only ones who support Startfleet, and that anyone who opposed war with the Klingons was a traitor. Then they would make sure that all of their friends got nice fat untendered contracts to do a bad job supplying Starfleet in the Neutral Zone.

Posted by: Liam J on December 23, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Star Trek is also about hierarchy, authority and violence.

Everyone knows their place in the Star Trek world.

Posted by: cld on December 23, 2009 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Another thing is the obvious tension between the character and interests of the producers of Next Generation, who I understand are some of the biggest slugs in Hollywood, and the character and interests of the Star Trek universe.

It's the worst kind of people in the world trying to create stories about the best kind of people.

Posted by: cld on December 23, 2009 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Whoa. I think that conservatives like Next Generation NOT because of the humans but because they relate to Worf, the angry, racist, sexist, authoritarian, war fetishist Klingon. They also like Star Fleet, which is mainly made up of severe, humorless old white guys.

Also @ Alan. I don't think the Nat'l Review or Wash. Monthly articles mention elections. They mention due process. And indeed, there are several episodes where Picard thunders mightily against the lack of fair trials. Examples are when he was put on trial by Q for humanity being a dangerous race (there is some evidence there) in "Encounter at Farpoint." Another due process episode is "The Drumhead" where Picard was on a tribunal and suggested that the star fleet chief judge was railroading a defendant in a spy conspiracy/terrorist trial. The Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachman like judge then accused Picard himself of being a traitor.

Posted by: Wally Sandaber on December 23, 2009 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Boohya, you little troll, did you used to regularly get chased home from school - the usual fate of the fat little tattle-tale?

Actually, you're right around a horsefly on the general annoyance table. Too bad you don't have the physical courage to be annoying in person, face to face, you little dumbass.

Posted by: TCinLA on December 24, 2009 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

Not so. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" is the essence of due-process.

Not so - the one is a commandment not to lie - the other is a guarantee that one gets to face one's accusers. Two completely separate animals.
The command of the general populace not to lie is not the same thing as saying that someone who is accused gets an actual trial and is not thrown into a dungeon and the key thrown away. If you think that the two concepts are the same - or that one is the "essence" of the other you have seriously poor logic skills.

Posted by: andy on December 24, 2009 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Mike Potemra, eat shit and die. You conservatives have destroyed America and you have the nerve to talk as if you people know how to run things. Drop dead. Amerika will die because of conservatism.

Posted by: ConServsSuck on January 1, 2010 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly