The 2012 presidential campaign continues to roll right along. From the departure of nearly all the early media-anointed front-runners, to the sustained shoestring campaign of Newt Gingrich, to the recent rise of Rick Santorum, it’s been an unusually eventful campaign. But poker players, and gamblers in general, the one constant in the Republican race has been the fact that they have only had one candidate who’s remotely sympathetic to their cause: a social conservative from rural Texas named Ron Paul. Here’s a look at five good reasons poker players should lend their support to him.
1. He opposed UIGEA before it was ever law.
On July 11th, 2006, H.R. 4411, the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act, was up for a vote in the House of Representatives. For just one hour the Republican-controlled House heard debate on the bill, which sponsored by Rep. Jim Leach and cosponsored by 35 members. Plenty of people went on record supporting the bill; one of the lone voices to speak against it was that of Rep. Ron Paul.
“It is not easy to oppose this legislation because it is assumed that proponents of the bill are on the side of the moral high ground,” Paul began. “But there is a higher moral high ground in the sense that protecting liberty is more important than passing a bill that regulates something on the Internet.”
Besides a rejection of regulating the internet, Paul outlined a number of reasons to reject the bill, including its distortion of the Interstate Commerce Clause and the historical inability of prohibition to alter human behavior. Remarkably, none of his stated opposition was fueled by the sort of political expediency that drives the average Congressman’s speech. Outside of C-SPAN’s cameras, nobody was really paying attention to Ron Paul on 7-11-06 – and yet he still took to the floor to oppose the bill that created the online gambling environment we live in today.
2. He sponsored multiple bills intended to repeal or halt implementation of UIGEA.
Ron Paul didn’t stop his opposition to UIGEA after it was passed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s tactic of attaching it to the SAFE Port Act. In 2008, when Rep. Barney Frank introduced HR 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, Paul signed on as one of the bill’s original cosponsors. After that measure failed the two worked together once again, this time to introduce HR 5767, the Payment Systems Protection Act. That bill’s entire purpose was to prevent the federal government from implementing the regulations required by UIGEA.
Both bills failed to reach the House floor. But at a time when almost nobody else in the United States could tell you what the acronym UIGEA stood for – much less its weaknesses as tool of government – Ron Paul was actively working to dismantle it. Nobody else in the presidential race today can say the same.
3. He doesn’t care for gambling himself and he still thinks you should be allowed to do it.
Perhaps the strongest reason to support Ron Paul is also the most counterintuitive, given that it starts with the fact that he thinks gambling is stupid. When Paul took to the House floor in July 2006 to oppose the bill that would later become law as UIGEA, he made it clear to his fellow representatives that he was doing so despite his personal opposition to gambling.
“I see this as a regulation of the Internet, which is a very, very dangerous precedent to set,” he said. “To start with, I can see some things that are much more dangerous than gambling. I happen to personally strongly oppose gambling. I think it is pretty stupid, to tell you the truth.”
“But what about political ideas? What about religious fanaticism?” he continued. “Are we going to get rid of those? I can think of 1,000 things worse [than gambling] coming from those bad ideas. But who will come down here and say, ‘Just think of the evil of these bad ideas and distorted religions, and therefore we have to regulate the Internet?’”
Not only are there no other major-party candidates in this presidential race who want to allow people to gamble if they so choose, there are none who understand that, just like politics and religion, gambling itself is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Paul gets that no matter the subject at hand – be it religion or television or food or drugs or marriage or sexuality – people’s experiences with it are shaped by the choices they make for themselves. (The one exception would be when they’re forced by other people into doing something, and there are already laws against that sort of thing.) In an era where politicians seem to think their calling is to dictate the details of lives they themselves do not have to live, that’s as fresh as the air gets for anyone who likes to make a bet.
4. On a wider scale, he’s not interested in the government telling you what to do with your life.
Though Paul himself tends to hold socially conservative views, his stance on the federal government’s role in private life has often placed him to the left of self-proclaimed social liberals who have continually voted to grant the government more power over spheres of life that have historically been out of its purview. There’s no better proof of that than his long record of introducing legislation.
During Paul’s career in Congress he has introduced more than 450 bills addressing a wide range of issues. Sometimes they have sought sweeping changes like the abolition of the Federal Reserve, the elimination of federal penalties on marijuana, or the return of US armed forces from overseas adventures. Other times they have aimed to help people on a level much closer to home by exempting tips from federal income taxes or creating tax credits for dependent health care expenses. Whatever the particular issue, Paul consistently seeks to decentralize power by reining in the federal government and devolving the powers it has claimed back to the states or the people themselves.
Often Paul’s bills fail to pass committee, much less a full vote on the House floor. Almost all of them have failed for one simple reason: his aims run directly counter to the best interests of many of his fellow representatives, who tend to trade in bills that centralize political power at the expense of the liberty of individual Americans. As you might expect, Paul tends to vote against most of their bills, too; he’s been nicknamed “Dr. No” for his consistent opposition to bills with no basis in Constitutional law.
5. Supporting Ron Paul makes a statement.
Back when Paul and Frank introduced those bills to repeal and block UIGEA, they knew it was unlikely that their bills would pass the House. They presented the bills for consideration anyway. Why do so when they knew they would fail? Because both men were more concerned with leaving a mark on the permanent record that made it clear not everybody was willing to just go along with the party politics of the day.
At this point, Paul’s fate in the 2012 campaign for the presidency seems about as sealed as the fates of HR 2046 and HR 5767. That’s usually the point at which people begin to turn away from a candidate, saying, “He can’t win.” But at some point voters need to stop trying to figure out who’s going to be on the winning team and simply choose the candidate whose philosophy is the friendliest to them. For poker players and all other gamblers, the question becomes one of whom you would rather support: a man who predictably makes his decisions based on principle regardless of how he feels about your personal choices, or someone who thinks everything about you and your hobbies is “un-American” but might win an election.
Unlike so many previously acclaimed “front-runners” who have long since exited stage right, Paul has promised to stay in the race all the way to the Republican convention regardless of the outcome of the remaining primaries and caucuses. He intends to have a presence at the convention and, therefore, a say in the party’s platform. A vote for him, therefore, still has meaning beyond a simple protest against the other candidates, who to a man are against gambling. A vote for Paul is a vote for making the rights of individuals who do no harm to others a national priority. That might be a long shot, but it’s always worth standing up for.