Poker & Politics

My View on Politics and Poker


It appears that most of our recent American presidents have had a penchant for the game of poker. Former Pres. Nixon was a notable example. This is probably no coincidence or accidental thing. I used to wonder why my dad engaged in a weekly poker game with the “boys” from his company. He was not a very good player. He even, on occasion, let me sit in and play for him when I was only seven. Only much later in life did I realize the situation. The “boys” were executives in Hotpoint Inc. a subsidiary of General Electric Co. Dad was chief engineer at the company, and wanted to become company President. He must have felt that being one of the “boys” might give him some advantage towards achieving his goal. It appeared that the plan may have backfired when his colleges discovered that if he wasn’t very good at poker, he might not meet the qualifications for president, and the chief salesman for the company was selected. Regardless of this unfortunate result, it’s a good bet that, just as with golf, many individuals today engage in the game to further other aspirations often of a political nature.

As a child I must admit I had many early experiences with cards. I often shot over to my grandmother’s house to play casino with her after school during my early elementary school years. I also turned my bedroom into a neighborhood casino for my playmates. We engaged in almost every possible game from Monopoly to tiddlywinks. I wasn’t that great at math initially, but circumstances forced me to master the odds and nuances involved in dice and cards. I wanted to show my playmates that I was smarter than them! Perhaps then I could get more respect. In truth, though, I believe this had something to do with a desire for power. You guessed it. I was involved in politics at an early age. Of course, everyone is. The difference is only the form that it takes! Of course poker is used in a variety of ways – not simply dedicated to the pursuit of power. As a teacher by profession, I was once involved in a regular rotating home game with a group of principals and a few teachers. A lot of cash was not really involved. However I was shocked by the amount of shouting, swearing, vindictive, and personal abuse taking place during the game. I had to wonder why they returned each week to confront each other again. The answer to this question appeared to be “catharsis”. The tension built up in dealing with the perplexing problems of the job had to somehow be released. To do so would result in disaster if released on students or parents, or even wives. It was poker that saved the day! Another distinct benefit which might be attributed to poker occurred during the late sixties when I became very disillusioned with American foreign policy during the Vietnam War, or genocide as I viewed it, as well as with our more local “unfair housing” policies in California. At the time I became heavily involved in the founding of the California Peace and Freedom Party. In a way it may have been a somewhat failed effort to deal with what I considered a failed electoral system in America. The Party still exists today, and is still on the Official California Ballot. In order to acquire the necessary signatures to qualify the fledgling Party for the ballot, money was necessary. I used fundraisers involving poker games to induce people to contribute the funds. At least people were then given an opportunity to confront the two party – one party (Republicrats) system which ran the show! However it must be admitted, that on the whole, the general purpose of politics is dedicated to the acquisition of power! Consequently, when someone at the dinner table says, “Quiet down. We don’t talk politics or religion here.” You might reply, “Bullshit! You’re applying politics now. Because, after all, politics, at its core, is simply an act exerting the power or effort to have one’s own way. It may take the form of friendly persuasion, using logic, voting, physical force, intimidation, even religion, etc. But it’s politics – nevertheless! Religion, incidentally, whether it be used to comfort family relations, or to gain economic advantage, or to enlist and unify people to engage in wars, as practiced in our world, is primarily about politics. A most glaring example of this is the manner in which today many Islamic and Arab countries encourage their people to be ready and even eager to die in defense against those who they believe are oppressing them. They’re told that a better world awaits them after death. This form of politics works especially well in impoverished lands! Many would view it as their only defense or retort to imperialism. Of course, as we might all notice, the corruption of religion is hardly limited to foreign lands. We in the good old USA have always unabashedly used religion in electoral politics. The hypocrisy apparently knows no bounds. The game of poker, at least until very recently has been among the victims of “Blue Laws” generally fashioned and abetted by religious factions. Instead of practicing religion as a means of self realization and the study and understanding of the “hereafter” it is generally used to coerce and control others – which is in reality not religion, but simply politics! To be honest, laws against gambling, certain sexual practices, drugs, ideologies etc. may be well intentioned, and even unrelated to religious dogma, but they still don’t belong in a free society. And in truth, these so-called vices may often be quite harmful to individuals and societies as well, but the answer really lies not in coercion, but in education. Coercion may actually increase the addiction – and probably does in most cases. The politics and practice of education deserves a much harder look if we are to deal effectively with the rampant and dangerous hypocrisy affecting our lives and our society. Why do we spend more money on alcohol, tobacco, and dangerous drugs than we do on education? Must we continually spend more time and effort in our schools training students for rudimentary job skills and tests than for critical thinking, human understanding and social skills? And finally, how can it be that those who seem to profess most heartily to the teachings of Jesus are the ones that most pursue war, profits and power.

Ralph Shroyer