- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

He shows a fascination with science, an all-too deliberate decision-making demeanor, an adherence to logic and some pretty, ahem, prominent ears.

They all add up to a quite logical conclusion, at least for “Star Trek” fans: Barack Obama is Washington’s Mr. Spock, the chief science officer for the ship of state.

“I guess it’s somewhat unusual for a politician to be so precise, logical, in his thought process,” actor Leonard Nimoy, who has portrayed Spock for more than 40 years, told the Associated Press in an e-mail interview. “The comparison to Spock is, in my opinion, a compliment to him and to the character.”

Until now.

President Obama’s Spock-like qualities have started to cause him political problems in real-world Washington. Critics see him as too technocratic, too deliberative, too lacking in emotion.



Mr. Obama’s protracted decision-making on a new war strategy in Afghanistan, for example, has prompted criticisms that he’s too deliberate. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and other conservatives have faulted Mr. Obama for “dithering.”

While it’s the slow decision-making that has conservatives upset, especially when it comes to national security, it’s the science content of the presidential agenda that has the geeks insisting he’s gone where no nerd has gone before.

Mr. Obama was a lawyer, organizer and author before he turned politician, so his interest in science wasn’t as obvious until he reached the White House. Now, privately, he’s known to relish the ability to call smart people, especially scientists, to come to the White House to talk about their fields. The more obscure and complicated the field, the better to feed the inner science geek.

Out in public, Mr. Obama turns the Bunsen burner up a notch, playing a combination of high school science teacher and math team cheerleader.

Last week, for example, the president announced that the White House would hold an annual science fair as part of a $260 million private push to improve math and science education.

“We’re going to show young people how cool science can be,” Mr. Obama said. “Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models.”

That was just the latest in a science-heavy fall semester at what sometimes seems to double as the White House Institute of Technology.

One October evening, 20 telescopes and an inflatable dome with a three-dimensional tour of the universe were set up on the White House lawn. The occasion was a star party for 150 middle-schoolers that also showcased moon rocks, a couple of astronauts, several astronomers and even two science teachers dressed as Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei.

The president’s science adviser, John Holdren, said the party showed that Mr. Obama “is genuinely and intensely interested in science and technology in a way that goes beyond their practical relevance to meeting national goals.”

Also in October, Mr. Obama gave medals to a dozen scientists, toured a lab at the bastion of science and technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and visited a solar energy manufacturing plant in Florida.

“This is kinda cool,” Mr. Obama told reporters as he wandered through an MIT energy lab demonstration.

In his first 10 months in office, the president made more science-oriented trips than military ones. The White House turned the annual Easter egg roll into a makeshift science lesson by asking experts to set up a science of eggs exhibit, complete with microscopes.

“I keep being amazed at how much attention he’s spending on science policy,” said science policy and journalism blogger Chris Mooney, author of the book “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future.”

“The nerds are happy,” Mr. Mooney said. “They like Spock.”

While some science policy experts don’t quite see the similarities between the president and the fictional Vulcan from television and movies, “Star Trek” experts do.

Mr. Nimoy said he ran into Mr. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign in a Los Angeles hotel. “When he arrived and saw me he said, ‘They told me you were here.’ And gave me the split-fingered Vulcan sign.”

Roberto Orci, the screenwriter and producer behind the latest “Star Trek” movie, said Mr. Obama “has a Spock-like aura about him: calm in the face of great adversity and looking for a logical middle ground.” Mr. Obama, a big “Star Trek” fan, screened the movie at the White House during its opening weekend.

“We knew he was a Trekkie,” Mr. Orci said in a telephone interview. He said he watches the White House regularly for insight on the Spock character.

“To have a case study like that on the news every night makes my job a lot easier,” he said.

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