For Barack Obama, Poker Was a Social Lubricant
James McManus is an author and professional poker player. His most recent book is “Cowboys Full” an account of poker’s role in American history. His bestselling memoir, “Positively Fifth Street” was based on his coverage of a Las Vegas trial and his participation in the 2000 World Series of Poker. His journalism has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's Magazine, and The New Yorker. A teacher at The Art Institute of Chicago, he lives in Kenilworth, Illinois.
Question: What role has poker played in President Obama's life?
James McManus: Obama fits into the largest group of presidential poker players; that is, people who play for very low stakes to relax with friends, to meet some -- as part of their political cronyism. He arrives in 1997 in the Springfield state -- the Illinois Senate in Springfield, not knowing too many Illinois politicians. You know, he's this tall, thin University of Chicago law professor; he's a writer, kind of an egghead. And part of his effort to get along with downstate soybean farmers and Chicago ward bosses was to start a poker game in the basement of his fellow freshman Senator, Terry Link. And they invited Republicans, and they invited fellow Democrats and lobbyists, and it was just -- it was called "the committee meeting," and it was a chance, once a week, for six or seven hours to get to know the people that he had to do business with for the rest of the week in Springfield.
As a newcomer to the Illinois Senate, he started a low-stakes game to which he’d invite fellow Democrats, Republicans, and lobbyists.
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