Presidential hobbies include poker

As the United States has grown and developed, the game of poker has grown and developed right alongside, though some might argue that the game is intertwined and inseparable from many parts of the nation's history.

For example, when talking about the "Wild West," when the nation was expanding into new territories, people often conjure up the image of saloons with gunslingers playing poker. Or perhaps when life started booming along the Mississippi and riverboat gambling popped up along with it.

There are also many stories of soldiers and seamen playing poker to pass the time during the many big wars the United States has been involved with. The game may not have had a starring role all throughout American history, but it has at least been a strong supporting cast member.

Some of the reason for it being kept such a small part of the nation's history could be because of the public perception of poker. It has sort of been the red-headed stepchild of the hobby world. It's prestigious to play chess or even checkers, but to use your strategy knowledge to win money was just "shady" for a population with a Puritanical religion- and morality-based background.

But if you look back, some of the most prestigious members of the American community played poker. That includes several U.S. presidents.

Presidents are generally thought of as being the epitome of what an American citizen should strive to be like. They're the model of a successful, powerful, upstanding U.S. citizen.

OK, so not every president has lived up to that model, especially in recent history with all the scandals and revelations about their personal lives. Really, when you look at Clinton's Lewinski incident or Nixon's Watergate scandal, playing poker doesn't seem all that bad.

Some of the nation's earliest presidents were poker players. Ulysses S. Grant conveniently left it out of his autobiography, but William Tecumseh Sherman recounts how Grant used to play poker throughout his presidency for money.

History books show that Warren G. Harding, the 29th president, used to host poker games twice a week while in office. He played regularly with his advisors, who came to be known as the "Poker Cabinet," and rumor has it he gambled away a full set of White House china.

Both Roosevelts, Teddy and Franklin, were said to be avid poker players, and Dwight D. Eisenhower used to host stag poker nights while in office.

Even more recently, Harry Truman would host weekly games on the presidential yacht, often with members of the cabinet there or his advisory staff. Even Lyndon Johnson would drop in on the game once in a while, though some think the Texan may have been more into the political discussions than the actual poker game.

Once when Winston Churchill was visiting, he sat in on one of Truman's games as well.

In more recent history, Richard Nixon was a rounder too. After growing up in a strict Quaker household, the future President learned to play poker while in the Navy during World War II.

It was his poker playing that helped just start his political career. He won $8,000 while playing and used that money to fund his first Congressional campaign.

Even more recently, George W. Bush was an occasional poker player while working on his MBA at Harvard. According to American Thinker, Bush was actually considered a very skilled player.

It's hard to imagine that a pastime that these men, arguably considered pillars of American history, could be condemned by so many just because there is an element of luck and gamble mixed in with the skill needed to be successful in the game.

Perhaps America's legislators should take a look at these presidents and the game of poker in America's history before condemning the online gambling industry. If the game is good enough for presidents to play, it's good enough for people to be playing online from the comfort of their own homes.

2009-07-07 03:12:00

I agree and that is probably why the Grand Ol’ Gang and the True BLues image is so popular. Presidents playing poker around a table at a convention. Great image if you didn’t see it at www andythomas com

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