Doctor Who for President!

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The ninth, tenth, thirteenth, twelfth, and eleventh Doctors.

In my hour of sickness, the doctor I turned to was a 2000-year-old alien with thirteen faces.

It took me almost fifty years to warm up to Doctor Who. Star Trek, Lost in Space, Battlestar Galactica--I was on board for all of those shows. I even enjoyed The Six Million Dollar Man and Space:1999 for the first few years of their runs. Finally, I decided to check out Doctor Who sometime last year, and while I wasn't immediately hooked, I warmed up over time to the show's strange mixture of whimsy and over-the-top space/time fantasy stories. This week, as I've been stuck on the couch with a respiratory virus, I've been powering through the complete three seasons of the twelfth doctor, and today just met the thirteenth actor (and first woman) to inhabit the role.

Doctor Who is unapologetically British. The show's universe--and it actually spans many galaxies--is populated entirely by aliens with British accents, the rare exception being the occasional American character whose accent is typically not quite right as only a British TV American accent can be. The technology never feels as slick and futuristic as in the Star Trek universe, often seeming to be cobbled together from a Circuit City liquidation sale. The aliens, on the other hand, frequently look far more alien than they do in the Federation--though, again, they all have British accents. There's a whimsical disregard for the kind of techspeak one finds in a Star Trek episode. The Doctor will call one of his obviously jerry-rigged scanning devices a "Timey-Wimey thing."

But the most British thing about this show is, of course, the Doctor. Cursed with near-immortality, roaming the universe in a time/space machine disguised as a mid-twentieth century English police call box called the TARDIS, changing his (and now her) face, body, regional accent, and personality whenever the last identity wears out or is seriously injured (though really it's because the producers and/or actor decide it's time for a change), the Doctor's life parallels the history of the British Empire. The Doctor's experience, moral rectitude, and decisiveness come across at times as hubristic, and not all of the Doctor's promises can be kept, but it's easy to see why so many companions have joined the Doctor on adventures over the show's 57 years. As with Star Trek captains, it's natural to find oneself liking one Doctor more than the rest, but I haven't found one yet I wouldn't want to join on a crazy quest across time and space. And there's also the refreshing frequency with which the Doctor asks a companion, "Am I a good man?" For all the confidence with which the Doctor announces plans and stands up to the forces of evil, there's a refreshing amount of self-doubt that emerges in quieter moments.

Which brings me to the race to become president of the United States.

My feelings about the Trump regime have been made clear again and again in this blog. I've also expressed my feelings about a number of Democratic candidates for the office. I'm not a huge fan of either of the current frontrunners. When the Oregon primary finally arrives in May, I'll most likely cast my vote for Elizabeth Warren, though by then her campaign is most likely to be just a distant memory. Of all the Democrats in the field, I felt she was the most intelligent, nimble, and capable of implementing her policy proposals.

It's doubtful she'll still be around in May because, despite a brief rise in the polls at the start of the year, too many voters have, once the ballot was in front of them, chosen an old white man instead. It's not the nation isn't ready for female leadership--Nancy Pelosi has performed spectacularly as Speaker of the House--it's that voters aren't ready to make that leap. Pelosi got her job thanks to the votes of a few hundred fellow politicians. Elizabeth Warren is trying to convince hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans who, it seems, are more easily swayed by simple images than by obvious intelligence and candor.

That's my perception of her, but it is, of course, just a perception. Politics is the art of manipulating perception to achieve success at the ballot box, which then gifts the winning candidate with the actual power to effect policy at a macro level. We don't vote for candidates because we know for a fact that they will be as principled and humanistic as they claim to be, but because they have convinced us that this is who they are. Donald Trump has convinced millions of Americans that he "tells it like it is," even though he is spewing demonstrable falsehoods with every utterance. Joe Biden's image is of a sweet, honest guy who understands working class needs, though his lengthy resume is stuffed with regrettable remarks and actions. Bernie Sanders has been hammering the same political points for decades, but has rarely demonstrated the capacity to accomplish any of his high-minded goals in the real world of Washington politics. The real Elizabeth Warren may be something other than the person who comes across in her campaign materials, stump speeches, and debate performances.

Donald Trump has actually given Americans a valuable gift: he's never hidden behind the curtain. He just keeps spewing out his lies and innuendo, utterly unrestrained, demonstrating for all the world what it really means to be a politician. They all play the spin game, all keep at least part of themselves hidden behind a curtain, all do their best to present their absolute best face to the world, the face that will win them the most votes in the next election. Trump's political face just happens to be a lot like his real face: garishly and expensively made-up, polluting the communal air with insults and hate language. And that's exactly what some Americans want.

Other Americans--particular Americans who vote Democratic--would prefer not to see the charlatan behind the curtain. They have, thus far, split almost evenly between Sanders and Biden. Sanders comes across as honest and abrasive, Biden as bumbling and friendly. As other moderates have dropped out and Biden's numbers have improved, I've seen a lot of my Sanders-camp Facebook friends trashing Biden, posting long lists of all the mistakes he's made in his career. And yes, I've read a number of hatchet jobs on Sanders, most of them coming out of the establishment view that the nation will never elect anyone as progressive as Sanders.

I don't think that's accurate. As has often been stated by the political intelligentsia, anyone in the Democratic field, however "moderate" they've made themselves out to be, as significantly to the left of anyone who's ever run for the presidency before. We have Sanders to thank for that: he's pulled the party farther to the left than it's ever been on every plank of its platform. If the Trumpacolypse is averted and we manage to cast that monster out of office, we will have the most liberal president in the history of the republic, no matter who that is.

What's painfully true, though, is that the nation does not yet appear ready to elect a woman president, however intelligent, competent, and skillful she may actually be.

The most magical thing about Doctor Who is the way in which every actor to inhabit the role, after a rocky start, convinces me that here's someone I would gladly have by my side at the world's end, helping me through the crisis, sometimes stumbling, sometimes making a promise that can't be kept but really trying very hard to keep it, but always doing what he (or, now, she) believed to be the right thing, no matter what the cost. The faces have been young, old, and middle-aged, the clothing dapper, sloppy, and even hippieish, the accents ranging from Glasgow to Cornwall, the personalities prickly, sunny, mopey, and always there's the sense that strategies are being improvised from one moment to the next. At times of extreme interplanetary conflict, the Doctor has assumed the role of President of Earth, a mantle quickly discarded as soon as the crisis is resolved. At all times, the Doctor is the defender of the human race. The Doctor is never a politician.

Alas, politicians, rather than time lords with two hearts, are who we're stuck with. It looks like it'll be either Biden or Sanders. The nation will be in better hands with either--though they could both do worse than take a few days off and binge some Who.

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