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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

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I had considered Senator Cruz my least-likely-to-vote-for Presidential candidate ever, until Donald Trump robbed him of the title. Worse, I recently learned from his New York Times Magazine interview that the Tea Party favorite and I share at least one interest/obsession: superheroes. Not only did the former “unpopular nerd” describe himself as “a Spider-Man guy,” but he named his company Cruz Enterprises after Iron Man’s Stark Enterprises—a quirkiness that hovers in the sweet spot between adorable and psychotic.

Cruz might be horrified to learn that his arch-nemesis Barack Obama (Cruz likened him to Darth Vader in one of his filibustering rants) is a Spider-Man guy too. When Entertainment Weekly asked the then Presidential candidate to name his favorite superhero in 2008, the Illinois Senator chose both Spider-Man and Batman.  Why? Because, Obama said, “they have some inner turmoil. They get knocked around a little bit.”

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President Obama has spent his two terms getting knocked around by Republican-controlled congresses, but, like his comic book role models, he’s won many a battle “against insurmountable odds.” That’s how John McCain described Batman, the superhero the former Republican candidate championed when asked the same question.

The standard answer is Superman. When Darren Garnick and his nine-year-old son, Ari, asked the 2012 Republican primary candidates, “If you could be any superhero in the world, who would you be and why?” Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain all went with the Man of Steel (check-out the six-minute documentary Republicans in Tights for the delightful details). Rick Santorum shook things up with Mr. Incredible, the super-dad from The Incredibles (which, unlike Mr. Santorum, is finally getting a sequel). Only Ron Paul, the only candidate older than comic books, snubbed the nine-year-old interviewer.

McCain was born in 1936, same year as Detective Comics, but most candidates (including Hillary Clinton, who has yet to be asked her superheroic preference) were born in the Golden Age of the 40s.  Obama was the lone wolf, born in 1961, the year the Fantastic Four launched themselves to the moon and Marvel Comics into pop supremacy. But now Ted Cruz has him beat. Not that his birth year, 1970, is an auspicious one for superheroes. The comic book industry was in decline, and Vietnam-influenced antiheroes were flooding the market along with a new breed of horror titles.

Cruz’s birth also marks the first year without Star Trek. A fact that doesn’t stop him from preferring Captain Kirk over The Next Generation’s Captain Picard. Why? Because, he told The New York Times, Kirk is “working class,” and Picard an “aristocrat.” That actually makes Cruz a fan of President Obama’s superhero team. Obama’s other reason for endorsing the “Spider Man/Batman model” (his term) was his dislike for Superman’s lazy privilege: “The guys who have too many powers — like Superman — that always made me think they weren’t really earning their superhero status. It’s a little too easy.”

It also turns out that Obama wouldn’t vote for either Kirk or Picard. He’s a Spock guy. When he met Leonard Nimoy during a 2007 campaign event, he greeted him with the Vulcan salute. When the actor died earlier this year, the President eulogized him:

“Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

“I loved Spock.”

Cruz isn’t quite so generous about the arts and humanities, but he does like NASA. When he became chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Competitiveness, he announced his desire to expand the U.S. space program—even though he had to laud Democratic President Kennedy in the process. Ensign Chekhov, however, will not be invited aboard the new Enterprise. According to Cruz, NASA’s partnership with the former Evil Empire, Russia, on the International Space Station could “stunt our capacity to reach new heights and share innovations with free people everywhere.”

That’s not as bold as Newt Gingrich’s pandering promise to place astronauts on Mars by 2020 (he was speaking to laid-off NASA employees at the time), but it’s still unclear how the budget-slashing Cruz would finance his space exploration. Perhaps a joint public-private venture with Stark Enterprises? Or is this a job for Superman? Or super-businessman Lex Luthor? Even most comic book readers forget that Lex won the 2000 Presidential race (a fact since rebooted out of existence several times by DC Comics).

A Cruz-Trump White House isn’t more far-fetched, right?

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