Sunday, December 28, 2008

How Jeri Ryan Made Barack Obama the President

I'm a big fan of alternate histories. For anyone who doesn't know, those are stories set in a version of the world where some event in our own past never happened, or happened differently. Or where some event that never happened in the history we know has sent the world in the story skittering off in another direction entirely.

Harry Turtledove cranks them out, for instance, and his plots and skewed versions of our own society tend to keep you reading despite the often clunky line-by-line prose. S.M. Stirling came up with a "modern" world still recovering from a comet strike in the 1870s, which forced the British Empire to move its capital to India. On a regular basis, I fight back the urge to track down Stirling and personally beg him for sequels. Thomas Harlan is writing a series about a future in which the Aztecs, after having conquered the world with their Japanese and Scots allies, are now spreading out among the stars. And on a regular basis, I fight back the urge to track down Harlan and personally beg him to write more quickly.

The trick to these stories is figuring out that one event, usually something very small and unexpected, or that one decision, usually something that seems to be completely unrelated, that in fact changes everything. And I've realized there's a great alternate history involving Barack Obama, who may well owe his election as President of the United States to a seemingly unrelated event involving this woman:

That's actress Jeri Ryan, better known as Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager. And by looking at the recent election through the lens of alternate history, I think she unwittingly gave us the upcoming Obama Administration.

Bear with me now, because we have to trace the chain of events from November 4th back to the lovely and talented Seven of Nine...

Think about it. Barack Obama was able to run for president because he was a sitting (and something of a "celebrity") senator. And he was elected to the U.S. Senate because he was lucky enough to run against Alan Keyes. Even I could get elected against Alan Keyes, and I probably have more skeletons in my closet than Barack Obama does. (I did marry a Canadian, after all.) So, no Alan Keyes, and Barack Obama might still be an obscure state legislator back in Illinois rather than the President-Elect of the United States.

And why was Alan Keyes the Republican nominee running against Barack Obama? Because Senate-hopeful Jack Ryan went through a very messy divorce from, yes, actress Jeri Ryan, and when her allegations that he had taken her to sex clubs in various cities and pressured her to do, well, certain "things" became public, they blew the wheels off his campaign. If the Illinois Republicans had been able to run Jack Ryan for senator, there would have been no candidate Alan Keyes to lose in a 70% to 27% blow-out, and Barack Obama might still be an obscure state legislator back in Illinois rather than the President-Elect of the United States.

Sure, any number of other decisions and events could have put Barack Obama back on track for the White House, and maybe Jack Ryan would have lost, too. And I'm in no way suggesting that Jeri Ryan should have made a different decision regarding Jack Ryan's apparent, well, "requests." Still, I can't help but wonder if, all those years ago, Jack and Jeri Ryan stood in a sex club in New York, or Paris, or wherever, and had any idea that their decisions in that moment were affecting not only their own marriage but also who would be the next President of the United States—and quite possibly the future direction of the entire world itself.

Maybe Harry Turtledove can someday write the four-volume alternate history about how the 44th American presidency would have played out if Jack Ryan had been satisfied just having sex with his wife in private, or if Jeri Ryan had been a different kind of person and made a different decision.

Aren't alternate histories fun? Maybe Jeri Ryan can even play herself in the movie.