Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why I Would Have Voted for Baltar, Too

by Dana Taryn Sweeney

(This essay covers information up through the Season 2 Presidential election and is based only on the data available at that time.)

It's clear that I would have regretted it; that's a given. Just so there's no confusion, I'll say it à la Mr. Waturi (Joe vs. the Volcano): "I'm not arguing dat wit' you!" (The other part of the quote is also apt: "I know he can get the job…but can he do the job? I'm not arguing dat wit' you!")

But from any vantage point within or without, as audience member or imagining myself part of the Galacticaverse on any level with any amount of access, I would have cast my ballot for Baltar, and here's why….

First of all, imagining myself as the least-informed sort of civilian, not privy to any inside info, knowing only what has been made widely known about Roslin and Baltar, he's the clear choice, the sane choice. He's got the brilliant reputation and a pile of well-known recent saves-the-day achievements; he's a scientist rather than a mystic; his integrity is publicly unquestioned, and his record of service since the Cylon attacks paints him a loyal, patriotic, reliable, self-sacrificing man of the people.

Roslin, on the other hand, is an unapologetic religious fanatic, and they have no business being heads of state, even if they've happened to make a correct prediction or two. She chose Baltar as her VP, and so her combative competitiveness once they are opponents in the campaign has an air of disingenuousness about it; if he's as big a joke as she'd have the voters believe once he's her challenger, what faith are they to have in she who relied on him so heavily before?

His timing was also impossibly perfect in announcing his candidacy, as she left the opening for him to do so by issuing a very discomforting edict: the abortion ban. My own strong leanings on this issue in reality would make me resent her anyway, but Baltar's press conference disavowal of the decision would be compelling to many without any preconceived bias for or against abortion rights, because he argues subtly but convincingly that Roslin is attempting to impose a fascistic regime, and the remnants of humanity need to maintain their cultural identity rather than surrender what little they have left of their liberty and become little more than machines of their collective.

If I were part of that 'verse in a more connected fashion, aware of much that the ordinary citizen could not be, I would be even more vehemently opposed to Roslin's remaining in power, because that woman is like an eccentric has-been celebrity in our world; the more you learn, the scarier she becomes.

To begin with, she makes promises with a straight face and then instantly reneges as soon as she has gotten her way (see episodes "Flesh and Bone" and "Home, part I" for examples of this behavior).

But her actions in the episodes "Bastille Day," "Epiphanies," and "Sacrifice" may be the most damning example of the political calculations she makes in times of civil unrest. In all three plots, she dealt with terrorist actions among the humans, and the choices she made in each situation were so contradictory that they clearly reveal her motives to be based on maintaining public opinion more than anything else.

In "Epiphanies," the terrorist group is made up of utter lunatics who call themselves "Cylon sympathizers" and are willing to engage in violent, destructive acts of sabotage, endangering the entire fleet, in the hopes of winning the powers that be over to their plan of making peace with the Cylons and ultimately even reparations for decades of enslavement and intolerance. Roslin's benevolent response toward them is perplexing, as it does little to ensure the safety of the fleet, and it seems as though she is willing to forgive them their actions to date, despite the damage done. Even more bizarrely, she pledges to "hear them out" on their concerns, and "maybe even act" on them. There is no way we can take this promise seriously (even if she had a strong track record in the promise-keeping area), so we have to wonder what she thought would be their reaction when she failed to take them seriously at any point down the line.

In both "Bastille Day" and "Sacrifice," however, faced with similar situations, she takes the hard line and says flatly that her administration does not negotiate with terrorists. It's only because she's surrounded by dutiful military officers that no one thinks to contradict her on this claim. Clearly, she does negotiate with terrorists when it suits her, so there must be some reason why on these occasions she will not….

In all three cases, she is dealing with a group of human terrorists, so it's not a question of the sanctity of human life. In all these cases, the terrorists are a deadly threat to others, so it's not a question of stakes. The glaring difference between the situations is in the terrorists' demands.

The Cylon sympathizers have an agenda so ridiculous as to be politically harmless; no one will "see their point" or join their cause. By showing mercy to them, she can seem a magnanimous leader who values her subjects sufficiently that even when they stray from her path, she is willing to work toward bringing them back to the fold.

However, the insurgents in "Sacrifice" threaten to compromise the plausible deniability she maintains regarding State secrets, and their contention that the leaders of the fleet are influenced by a Cylon captive is not entirely unfounded. Therefore, their propaganda could be damaging to her political future; therefore, "we don't negotiate with terrorists."

It struck even closer to home for her when Tom Zarek took hostages and demanded her resignation as President so that elections could be held. Granted, that's unreasonable, but think of her reaction then to the compromise Lee offered Zarek, which successfully ended the terrorist activities aboard the Astral Queen. He very reasonably agreed to hold the election that would have occurred anyway under Colonial law in seven months' time, and she was incensed. Only Lee's impressive (and singular) ability to shame her by shining a light on her outrageous hypocrisy was sufficient to calm her down.

So clearly, the truth about Roslin's stance on terrorism is that we only negotiate when their faction's claims or proposals are so outlandish that we can feel confident they will be viewed as lunatics, not when they have any evidence of our own questionable actions backing their theories, and certainly not when their demands might threaten our power or influence.

That attitude of political expediency above all else, and the choice to use military force essentially to silence potentially damaging voices, are what make Roslin such an untrustworthy leader in the months leading up to the election. I would have voted for Baltar, too, even if I'd heard he talks to himself in empty corridors.

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