By Max Udargo | January 18, 2009
I was watching the news today looking for coverage of this ”pre-inauguration celebration” that apparently went down at the National Mall, and ended up watching a documentary about Obama’s life and political career on MSNBC. Like so many other Obama retrospectives, the documentary made no mention of the single most important figure in the story of Obama’s political ascent. This omission would be shocking if it weren’t so common. Rarely is the woman most responsible for Obama’s success mentioned, even though it is highly unlikely Obama would be preparing to enter the White House as America’s first African-American president this Tuesday if it weren’t for her. In fact, but for her, Obama would probably still be in the Illinois State Senate, or have dropped out of politics altogether.
I’ve never understood why her role has been almost universally ignored. Perhaps because it doesn’t fit neatly into the hagiographic narratives we’ve created to celebrate Obama’s political triumph. Perhaps it has something to do with Ernest Borgnine.
Whatever the reason, I would like to take a moment to recognize her indispensable contribution to putting Barack Hussein Obama in the White House.
Obama had always done well running for office at the state level in Illinois, even though he sometimes had to play rough to neutralize powerful opponents (see Alice Palmer), but his first stab at national office didn’t end well. In 2000 he tried to snag the Congressional seat of Bobby Rush (the former Black Panther and still Congressman who’s been showing up at Blagojevich’s press conferences and on various news shows to politely suggest that anybody who doesn’t support Roland Burris is a racist). Rush beat Obama by a 2-to-1 margin. It was a demoralizing defeat for Obama, and he says he considered getting out of politics altogether. But his pouting was apparently short-lived, and he returned to his duties as a state Senator until 2003 when he decided it was time to take another shot at the Major Leagues. This time he was shooting for a seat in the US Senate. Â After winning the Democratic primary decisively, he squared off against his opponent: Republican Jack Ryan.
Jack Ryan was formidable. Youthful, good-looking, and sporting a great head of hair, he was famous for his daring exploits in the arena of international espionage. He was a man who had gone mano a mano with Soviet agents, international terrorists, and Colombian drug lords. He was a well-educated intellectual, but also a man of action who had put his life on the line over and over in service to his country. Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck had portrayed him in a popular series of movies recounting his most exciting adventures.
Obama had built a laudable record of public service in the Illinois State Senate, but his resume contained nothing as sexy as rescuing US soldiers abandoned in the jungles of Colombia or defeating a terrorist in hand-to-hand combat (On a speeding boat. At night).
Obama’s prospects looked bleak. He needed a miracle. And he got one:
Jeri Ryan was the actress who played the deprogrammed Borg “Seven of Nine” on TV’s Star Trek: Voyager. And, no, it’s not a coincidence that she shares the same last name with Obama’s erstwhile political opponent. She got that name when she married Jack Ryan. The fact he had married this:
was just one more reason to admire Jack Ryan (Inexplicably, Jeri Ryan was portrayed by Anne Archer in the movies. Archer is a lovely woman, but bears no resemblance at all to Jeri Ryan, as far as I can tell).
However, by the time Jack Ryan and Barack Obama squared off in 2004, Jack and Jeri were no more. They had divorced in 1999. As Jack Ryan’s political star began to rise, the Chicago Tribune began trying to get the court records of their divorce released and finally succeeded in June of 2004. The records contained an embarrassing revelation: Jeri Ryan had told the court that Jack had dragged her to various “sex clubs” and tried to coerce her into having sex with him in front of an audience.
The international man of action was revealed to be a pervert and the kind of guy who doesn’t just want you to admire him for sleeping with Seven of Nine, but wants to rub your face in it – he wants you to watch him having sex with Seven of Nine. This probably solidified support for his candidacy among a small base of lonely Trekkies, but everybody else found it creepy.
Back in 2004, the Republican Party was still seriously trying to sell itself as the pro-family, anti-pervert party, so party leaders quickly turned on Jack Ryan and he eventually withdrew from the race. Idiotically, he was replaced by renowned goofball Alan Keyes, probably because some racially clueless would-be Republican king-maker thought it was a clever move. Alan Keyes didn’t even live in Illinois.
Obama rolled Keyes up in cigarette paper and smoked him on his mid-morning break, and the rest is history in the making.
So there you have it: Barack Obama owes his political rise to Seven of Nine, and America is about to inaugurate its first African-American president because Seven of Nine cleared the way for him to enter the US Senate. Why this key part of Obama’s story is so often ignored is not clear, but we can hope future historians will give Jeri Ryan the credit she is due.
You might be wondering what Ernest Borgnine has to do with any of this. I don’t know. But his name is Borgnine. Borg. Nine. And she played a Borg named Seven of Nine. There’s obviously a connection, but I’ve never been able to connect the dots.