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March 29, 2005

Klaatu Barada Nikto!

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Matthew Yglesias: "Policy Imitates Star Trek: I had this cunning plan to wait until tomorrow link to the Gary Farber fundraising drive on the theory that a link would do more good with a little bit of delay between when I offered it and when John Holbo offered up a link on Crooked Timber. But Gary's gone and emailed in to say he likes old-fashioned blog-links, too, highlighting in particular this post which reveals (really) that at least one member of the President's Bioethics Council (really) came to the view that "that cloning and embryonic stem cell research are evil . . . in part, by watching Star Trek." Really. Personally, I'm more of a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, but I'd really prefer not to launch a dispute on the topic. My hope would be that we can all agree this is perhaps not the soundest method of formulating bioethics policy. Although, considering the low knowledge level of the White House's in-house Social Security expert I suppose we'll take what we can get. Ironically, while the Trekkie bioethicist is not a scientist, the Social Security expert is not an economist but . . . a chemist. I suppose it's very pointy-headed elite of me to think that people should be basing their views on actual knowledge, but that's just what you get...

Let me agree that in this case for Republicans to arrive at their policy views by watching Hollywood science fiction has gone drastically wrong. But in general it seems to me that for Republicans to get their views on important issues from Hollywood science fiction is much better than the alternative. Consider the case of Klaatu Barada Nikto:

Life was certainly interesting when Ronald Reagan was president. For the neoconservative Cold Warriors who largely staffed the foreign policy side of his administration, it became most interesting when Reagan began wandering around the White House saying, "Klaatu Barada Nitko!" and asking people whether they had seen The Day the Earth Stood Still. "Here come the Little Green Men again!" Colin Powell would say.

Rotten.com has a timeline of some of this:

4 Dec 1985
Anticipating arms control discussions with his Soviet counterpart, President Reagan draws on an extraterrestrial analogy: "[H]ow easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species from another planet outside in the universe. We'd forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries ..."

17 Feb 1987
Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev reveals Reagan's preoccupation with space aliens: "At our meeting in Geneva, the U.S. President said that if the earth faced an invasion by extraterrestials, the United States and the Soviet Union would join forces to repel such an invasion. I shall not dispute the hypothesis, though I think it's early yet to worry about such an intrusion..."

15 Sep 1987
During a luncheon with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnatze in the White House, President Reagan once again wondered what would happen if the Earth were under attack from an external threat: "Don't you think the United States and the Soviet Union would be together?"

4 May 1988
During a question-and-answer session in Chicago, President Reagan revisits his 'invaders from space' notion: "I've often wondered, what if all of us in the world discovered that we were threatened by an outer -- a power from outer space, from another planet. Wouldn't we all of a sudden find that we didn't have any differences between us at all, we were all human beings, citizens of the world, and wouldn't we come together to fight that particular threat?"

The Cold Warriors thought that they had a man who hated Communism and was eager for an expensive and bloody crusade against the Evil Empire. And they did. But there was also another Reagan roaming around inside Ronald's head: A Reagan who wanted SDI not to gain the U.S. an advantage in the Cold War but to protect people against the horrors of death-by-nuke--and who sincerely wanted to give SDI technology away for free to all nations so that no one would have to fear nuclear destruction. A Reagan who genuinely hoped to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. A Reagan who had been profoundly influenced by the movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and bought 110% its powerful message about how small were the differences that divided the world's nations when seen from the right point of view. A Reagan who was definitely willing and eager to give peace--and Gorbachev--a chance.

This Reagan freaked his National Security Council staff out. But he proved remarkably powerful when pitted singlehanded against virtually his whole administration in 1987 and 1988. And we should not forget that Nancy Reagan was a powerful voice backing Ronald-the-Peacemaker in the waning days of the administration.

For that, thanks.

Posted by DeLong at March 29, 2005 06:12 AM