For nearly fifty years, Star Trek TV shows and movies have existed on the premise that mankind has conquered hunger, racism, sexism, money and borders. Technology has allowed the entire Earth to slowly become a communist paradise, joining with other communist planets to form what is known as the United Federation of Planets. The Federation is immensely popular with its citizenry, and any opposition to it has nothing to do with capitalism. Put in this context, Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz’s claims that James T. Kirk would be a Republican and Jean-Luc Picard would be a Democrat are kind of silly, as former Star Trek actor William Shatner put it

As evidenced by Shatner's and others reactions, Cruz’s comment to The New York Times about the two captains struck a chord. The Washington Post soon published their own fact-checking article, arguing that Kirk was actually a terrible Starfleet officer. Given that several of the storylines the Post discusses are almost fifty years old, it’s worth wondering why these two characters have resonated so deeply within popular culture. They’re well-written, sure, but Star Trek’s ace-in-the-hole has always been its ability to sell a communist paradise as an exciting place to be, one worth defending. After we solve all of the structural problems, Star Trek argues, we can get to the exciting stuff.

It’s not surprising, but it is disappointing, to see Sen. Cruz try to force some sense of class consciousness onto Kirk and Picard. He calls Picard an “aristocrat,” a term as meaningless in the distant 24th Century where the show takes place as “stock broker." He calls Kirk “working class,” which is true enough for the one episode where Kirk travels back in time to the 1930’s, but otherwise is hard to defend.

There’s no specific caste for Cruz to hang Picard and Kirk on, so he falls back on perhaps the oldest trick of all those who seek to obfuscate the workers of the world, to keep them from uniting (as happens on Star Trek): false division. “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,” Cruz said. 

While Cruz’s comment sounds surprisingly similar to the phrasing used in another science fiction classic, Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis, it has no basis in the text of Star Trek. Perhaps Cruz was so taken by Kirk’s lone-cowboy approach that he forgot about Spock. Perhaps he wanted to directly contrast himself with President Obama, who has often drawn the Spock comparison. But ego has no place on the bridge of a Galaxy-class vessel: Picard and Riker were the inverses of Kirk and Spock, but to claim that any one of the four could possibly command a starship on their own is ludicrous.

What The Washington Post’s Brian Fung and Andrea Peterson miss as they point out Kirk’s many flaws, is the parallels between those failings and Ted Cruz’s policies. Among fans on, Kirk was voted as the captain with the least respect for the Prime Directive, the United Federation of Planets policy of noninterference with less technologically developed civilizations. Kirk is constantly violating this principle, like when, in “A Private Little War,” he supplies flintlock rifles to the people of an Earth-like civilization at war to maintain a balance of power. This isn’t so different to Cruz’s policies. For example, in Egypt, where he suggested that it would be not be in America’s best interest to let the Arab Spring occur without direct U.S interference. Where the United States is in a place to influence the natural development of a nation, Cruz would charge in, making sure the interests of the United States come out on top.

Perhaps the reason Cruz dislikes Captain Picard so much is his tendency to espouse the virtues of the Federation, which, to quote Marx, is a society concerned with “the positive abolition of private property as human self-alienation”. Picard was direct when speaking of the evils of capitalism. At the end of The Next Generation’s first season, on “The Neutral Zone,” the Enterprise comes into contact with some cryogenically frozen leftovers from the 20th century, including one Ralph Offenhouse, a financier. This might be the one episode of Next Generation that Cruz has actually seen: Offenhouse is played as a pretentious buffoon, demanding to know the value of his stocks and to be put in touch with his lawyers.

Picard lectures him: “A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy.” The only remaining challenge for all of humanity is to “improve yourself, enrich yourself. Enjoy it.” If Ted Cruz enjoys Star Trek so much, perhaps he might find it worthwhile to reflect on the show’s greater philosophies. The reason Star Trek’s been around for so long? Because amidst all of its goofiness, it gives us a reason to hope that the coming worker’s revolt against the owners of the means of production will not only succeed, but lead to a more wondrous society than anyone’s ever imagined, that goes where no one’s gone before.  

Cover: Star Trek World