Barack Obama and the First Poker Lesson

The first poker lesson is: patience!

There’s a story about a boy who asked his father to teach him how to play poker. The father said, “All right, your first poker lesson starts now. Get a deck of cards and the chips, go to your room, and wait for me.” The boy complied.

Two hours later, the father came to his son’s room. His son protested, “Dad! You said you were going to give me my first poker lesson! I’ve been waiting for two hours!”

The father replied, “Son, you wanted a poker lesson, and you’ve just had it. The first poker lesson is: Patience!”

I thought of this when I read Obama’s response to a press query about why he’s not specifying right now the consequences if the Iranian government persists in its crackdown:

Because I think that we don’t know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I’m not.

Of course, the same answer applies to all the folks who are demanding why he hasn’t undone Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or DOMA or excessive secrecy yet. Obama’s two defining character traits are self-possession and patience.

As Kevin Drum says, that can lead to frustration for Obama’s supporters. The same was true during the campaign: remember Bill Galston’s semi-hysterical rant, written just before Obama, by continuing to do exactly what he had been doing, rolled over McCain? But it seems to me Team Obama (not just the man himself, but Axelrod, Plouffe, Emmanuel, and the rest) has earned a certain amount of confidence in their competence.

As to their goals, here it seems to me that the fanatics of the right see Obama more clearly than those who are closer to his positions. Obviously, it’s insane to call him a “socialist” or “a man of the hard left.” But equally obviously he’s more deeply committed to progressive reform than any President since LBJ. He’ll take what he can get, when he can get it. He’ll take it easy, if he can. But he’ll take it.

Remember, Fabius didn’t want to compromise with Hannibal. He wanted to beat Hannibal. And he did beat Hannibal. What he understood &#8212 that others didn’t &#8212 was that the way to beat Hannibal was … patiently.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com