After a great deal of discussion and speculation, we finally have the answer: Barack Obama is the New Nixon.
The clincher? I’ll let Anthony Holden tell you in his own words from today’s Daily Beast:
Among the countless blessings conferred by the election of Barack Obama is the energizing fact—until now little-known—that poker will be back in the White House for the first time in 35 years. Not since Richard Nixon has the United States had a dedicated player of its historic national game in the Oval Office.
Apparently the President Elect’s poker skills —about which is had not hitherto been unduly modest— were purposely downplayed during the campaign. (When a reporter asked him to name a hidden talent, he said he considered himself to be “a pretty good poker player.”)
In “The Talk of the Town” in New Yorker in February, Chicago poker maven James McManus mentioned that the rookie Senator was co-hosting a regular game. But the advisers circled the wagons and said: Until you get elected, ixnay ethay okerpay.
As Mr. Holden notes:
It was not a big game—on a bad night, a player could lose 200 bucks—but Obama declined to discuss it as his hopes of the Democratic nomination rose. “American Puritanism,” as my gagged friend McManus complained to me last spring, “has turned playing poker for tiny stakes into radioactive information.”
So it seems likely that yet another change President Obama won’t be making will involve poker — which has a solid presidential pedigree — and that his decorating scheme will include some green baize.
Part of the history of La Casa Pacifica, which was RN and PN’s home during most of the 1970s, was that FDR had played poker there —in the small hexagonal tower room RN used as a study, and where he had his late night meeting with Brezhnev in 1973— during the 1930s and ’40s when the house belonged to his friend Ham Cotton. The train would stop at the foot of the hill at Cotton Point where a special ramp had been rigged to bring the President’s wheel chair up to the house.
(Left: Harry Truman’s poker chips)
RN, famously, had never played a hand of poker until he arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1942, to attend the Navy’s Officers Training School at Quonset Point. His roommate was a New York sophisticate —a habituee of the Stork Club— and accomplished poker player named James Stewart.
Although RN —in RN— wrote that “my poker playing skills during this time have been somewhat exaggerated in terms of both my skill and my winnings” he was (unlike the pre-campaign Obama) being rather modest in that regard.
The games were all low stakes, but there was little else to do so there were a lot of them to fill the long periods of boredom that stretched between the moments of horror and terror. RN’s winnings helped finance the first house he and PN bought when they returned to California in 1946.
More than three decades later RN could vividly recall every moment of a game of stud poker he played one night in 1944 on Green Island in the South Pacific. He drew the ace of diamonds down. Then, with the ace in the hole, he drew, in exact order, the king of diamonds, the queen of diamonds, the jack of diamonds, and the ten of diamonds.
The chances of drawing a Royal Flush are something like 650,000 to 1. And on that night, in that place, at that time, Richard Nixon, the Quaker lad from Whittier, was that 1.
Incidentally, one of the fellow officer candidates in RN’s August ’42 class at Quonset Point was William P. Rogers — Ike’s future Attorney General and RN’s future Secretary of State. In March 1971, RN returned to Newport to address the graduating class. His remarks, which include some reminiscences, may be read here. Among the graduating class that day was a newly-minted LTJG, his son-in-law, David Eisenhower.