President Obama Lets His Geek Flag Fly

On these very pages back in 2011, Steve Benen wrote something that was mostly meant to be amusing – but was also somewhat prescient.

For the record, President Obama has collected Spider-Man comics; he knows the name of Superman’s father; he’s a fan of Star Trek; and can, rather effortlessly, offer a Vulcan salute. I distinctly remember laughing shortly after the ’08 election when Ezra Klein wrote, “Obama is by far the most culturally awesome president this country has witnessed…. Forget beers: This is a president I could play Halo 3 with.”

Today, the latest edition of WIRED was published with President Obama as the editor. Even for us non-geeks, this part of his conversation with the staff at that publication is interesting.

Beyond that, the President wrote an inspiring editor’s note. I recommend that you read the whole thing. But his introductory remarks are aimed straight at what is ailing us in this election season.

I believe we can work together to do big things that raise the fortunes of people here at home and all over the world. And even if we’ve got some work left to do on faster-than-light travel, I still believe science and technology is the warp drive that accelerates that kind of change for everybody.

Here’s another thing I believe: We are far better equipped to take on the challenges we face than ever before. I know that might sound at odds with what we see and hear these days in the cacophony of cable news and social media. But the next time you’re bombarded with over-the-top claims about how our country is doomed or the world is coming apart at the seams, brush off the cynics and fearmongers. Because the truth is, if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one. Right here in America, right now.

That’s why I centered this issue on the idea of frontiers—stories and ideas about what’s over the next horizon, about what lies on the other side of the barriers we haven’t broken through yet. I wanted to explore how we get past where we are today to build a world that’s even better for us all—as individuals, as communities, as a country, and as a planet.

Because the truth is, while we’ve made great progress, there’s no shortage of challenges ahead: Climate change. Economic inequality. Cybersecurity. Terrorism and gun violence. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and ­antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Just as in the past, to clear these hurdles we’re going to need everyone—policy makers and commu­nity leaders, teachers and workers and grassroots activists, presidents and soon-to-be-former presidents. And to accelerate that change, we need science. We need researchers and academics and engineers; programmers, surgeons, and botanists. And most important, we need not only the folks at MIT or Stanford or the NIH but also the mom in West Virginia tinkering with a 3-D printer, the girl on the South Side of Chicago learning to code, the dreamer in San Antonio seeking investors for his new app, the dad in North Dakota learning new skills so he can help lead the green revolution.

That’s how we will overcome the challenges we face: by unleashing the power of all of us for all of us. Not just for those of us who are fortunate, but for everybody.

For those of you who are actual geeks, you might want to check out the rest of President Obama’s conversation with MIT’s Joi Ito and WIRED’s Scott Dadich titled, “Barack Obama, Neural Nets, Self-Driving Cars, and the Future of the World.” Suffice it to say that, if you’re feeling bogged down by the constant flow of Trumpian nonsense we’re being exposed to lately, watching our President let his geek flag fly is a great antidote.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .