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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Politics of Poker and the Poker of Politics

Ken Kerr Bio

At the final presidential debate, a new American icon emerged—Joe the Plumber. Contrary to popular myth, Barack Obama did not knock on John McCain's new poster boy's front door while canvassing in Joe Wurzelbacher's Toledo, Ohio neighborhood. The "plumber" tracked Obama down and confronted him in front of the cameras. Asking Obama if he believed in the American dream.

It made for good television. It made for good sloganeering. It made no sense.

Wurzelbacher presented himself as a plumber who was on the verge of buying the two-man plumbing company where he works. He falsely indicated that he was an undecided voter who was genuinely curious about how Obama's and McCain's tax plans would affect his entrepreneurial endeavor. He was less than truthful.

Joe is not a plumber. He is an unlicensed contractor who works for a two man company. His partner, too, is unlicensed. He makes about $40,000 a year and has not the money, the means, or even the beginning of a plan to buy Newell Plumbing & Heating from his partner, Al Newell. He was bluffing.

And Joe, like many—too many—Republican voters, is a really bad poker player.

There is a poker strategy—if it can be called a strategy—known as "betting on the come." What that means is, a player does not bet with the hand he has, but bets on the hand he thinks he might get. It is drawing to the inside straight, a low-percentage play, and a proven way to lose almost all the time.

Poker players like Joe usually leave the table broke.

Joe is using his paycheck to bet on the come. It is clear that he will benefit under Obama's tax plan and will not under McCain's. But Joe, and all-too-many working class Republicans, thinks he might be wealthy some day. So he bets (sorry, votes) one the come. He votes to have tax policies already in place that will benefit his long shot, improbable, ill-conceived plan.

At his age, in this economy, with his skills and preparation, making over $250,000 a year is not likely to happen. It may, but probably won't. Just like drawing to an inside straight, you can do it. But there are only four cards in the deck that can get it done and they are likely already in the hands of other players.

It is not just Joe Wurzelbacher; Working class Republicans have a history and tradition of irrational voting. They consistently vote against their own, best self interest. Rural Americans vote to support big-business interests, middle class Republicans who will never inherit anything sizable support repeal of the "Death Tax" that shifts a greater tax burden onto themselves.

Poker is an interesting game. For most players, the more they play, the better they get. They learn from other players, learn to read the table and see if the hand they have is likely to have a chance at winning. If a hand cannot be potentially improved, they fold and wait for the next hand.

In politics, just like in poker, there is always a next hand. The cards are being dealt this November 4Th. In this hand, Barack Obama is the card that will give Joe Wurzelbacher, and all other working Americans, the best chance of winning.


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