Boehner vs. Obama on Immigration: A story of two Star Trek games

Since the McCain-Kennedy bill was introduced in 2005, Congress has been playing games with immigration reform proposals almost non-stop. It turns out, those games are almost perfectly represented in Star Trek lore.

Speaker of the House John Boehner is playing is multi-dimensional chess.


This game is seen in the original Star Trek series and The Next Generation.


The rules are never explained in either series, but it is clearly a complicated game. Boehner similarly has to juggle many dimensions of the prickly issue of immigration in the face of opposition from several directions.

He has House conservatives threatening his speakership if he even says the word “immigration” in public, moderates who want a bill but maybe not before the election, libertarians who want to just pass a bill and make the issue go away, big donors who want reform yesterday for their corporate friends, fire-breathing grass roots activists shouting about “shamnesty”, and a cynically intransient Senate leadership who passed their bill but won’t consider anything less. He has to move his pieces on the upper and lower levels of the board very carefully if he wants to keep his seat, his job, and his party in power in both the short and long term.

President Obama, on the other hand, is playing dom-jot.


Dom-jot is featured in what is widely regarded as one of the best Next Generation episodes, “Tapestry.” It is an asymmetrical combination of pinball and billiards, but the mechanics of the game are not what make it noteworthy for this story, the plot around it is. There’s a lot of complicated business with time travel, alternate realities, and a guy named Q, but the main point is that a group of aliens called “Nausicaans” bully Captain Picard and his crew into playing the game, accuse them of cheating, then - 21 YEAR LATE SPOILER ALERT - stab Picard through the heart for his trouble.


Just as President Obama and his underlings threaten Republicans with demographic electoral doom if they don’t pass an immigration bill (“PASS. BILL. HU-MAN.”), the Nausicaans threaten to kill Picard’s crew if they don’t play the game. Then when House Republicans do decide to work on the issue, they get accused of intentionally destroying the party (seriously…). A political stab through the heart is all but inevitable at this point.

This is all not to say that Boehner is the innocent Picard laudably trying to satisfy both the Nausicaans and his own crew with compromise. But we should at least recognize the position that both sides are in and the complicated electoral politics at play here.

Or we could just hope Q shows up to blink it all away.


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