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Unlucky after all

James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, is against a lot of things: abortion, the radical gay agenda, pornography, divorce.

And if there's one thing he has consistently opposed, it's legalized gambling. Dobson argues that state-supported gambling is both immoral and wrong. Far from protecting its citizens, Dobson argues, any state that legalizes gambling is preying upon them, profiting from the ruinous, self-destructive behavior of gambling addicts behavior that destroys their lives and their families.

That's why it's so bizarre that a group of political activists are trying their hardest, in a national ad campaign, to link him to a casino-operating Indian tribe. I guess you could call this the Swift Boat Theory of politics: Take your opponent's greatest virtue (e.g., John Kerry's wartime heroism) and, using lies and exaggerations, turn that virtue into a vice.

But let's think about gambling. Fifty years ago, there were no state lotteries, and casino gambling was legal only in Nevada. Today, there are casinos and lotteries in virtually every state. Casinos are seen, by legislators and taxpayers alike, as benign, painless, non-polluting businesses that create jobs and generate new tax revenues.

And gambling is a quintessentially American pastime. Long before the invention of baseball, the national sport was poker, our native card game. We invented the slot machine, modern-day craps, Texas Hold 'Em and riverboat gambling. Maybe gambling is ingrained in the American character and maybe it shows up in the most unexpected ways, even in the political party with which Dobson so closely aligns.

Let's consider Ronald Reagan's presidency. Reagan was personally opaque, and politically transparent. He was unconcerned with the minutiae of policy and policymaking, seeing the world through a prism of firm, fixed belief. His opponents (and some of his supporters) were incredulous that such a misinformed, simple-minded man could ever become or remain president.

As it turned out, Reagan was one of the most successful presidents in American history. Maybe he was a little smarter than his opponents thought, or maybe the tide of history was running his way, or maybe ... he was lucky.

At least, that's what the Democrats claim to this very day. Republicans, by contrast, have sought to deify the amiable old cowboy, painting a picture of a man as wise as Lincoln, as thoughtful as Jefferson, as cunning as Roosevelt and as strong as Washington.

Reagan's successor, Bush the elder, got tossed out after a term replaced, in the view of the GOP faithful, with a charming, fast-talking, immoral scoundrel. Pity the poor Republicans; they tried to dispatch the scoundrel four years later, running a deeply sensible, magnificently qualified war hero against him, yet the scoundrel prevailed once again.

Come 2000, what did the Republicans do? They nominated a man who was neither analytical nor well-informed, a man unconcerned with the minutiae of policy and policymaking, a man who still sees the world through a prism of firm, fixed belief. George W. Bush, Reagan Redux, won, and won again in 2004.

Just as the addicted gambler in Cripple Creek returns again and again to his favorite slot machine, sure that it'll hit on the next spin, so, too, did Republicans turn to George W. Bush, sure they could reincarnate Reagan. Does Bush seem dumber than dirt, and pigheaded to boot? They said that about Reagan but now, the legend goes, we realize that Reagan was principled and strong. Is George W. inattentive and delusional? No, like Reagan, he's actually way ahead of the rest of us. Is George W. a cringing, cowardly draft dodger? No, he's a tough, fearless wartime leader.

As a nation, we gambled that Bush would be Reagan. We lost because he's not, and he's a gambler to boot, a man who bet his presidency on the war in Iraq, who bet the New Orleans levees would hold, who bet no one would notice his administration's profligacy and incompetence. In Vegas, you'd call him a whale, a high-roller.

And even if we're OK with the high-stakes gambling, there's one thing we can't forgive: He's playing with our money ... and he's an unlucky loser.

johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

  • Unlucky after all

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