Politics & Policy

Saved from Myself

And in a nick of time, too.

If it weren’t for Congress — man, I’d be in a lot of trouble. But you can always count on the boys and girls down in Washington to save you from yourself. Here I’d been accustomed to go online early in the week and make a wager or two on the upcoming football games. Why, just last week, I took the Packers, plus twelve, over the Eagles in the Monday-night game. Final score: Philly 36, Packers 6. But the first half was interesting, and, for a while there, it looked like I might win enough to fill up my truck with gas. Regular, of course.

I knew, I suppose, that by making this bet I was doing something illegal. The law, however, was enforced about as robustly as the speed limit on one of those Wyoming four lanes where, if you’re doing 80, you’re running in the slow lane. Anyway, it’s hard to think of gambling as forbidden when you can’t turn on the television without seeing a come-on for the lottery; when Nevada’s Clark County is growing faster than any in the country; and when every Indian tribe with 100 acres it can call a reservation is throwing up a casino. If you can gamble in New Jersey and Mississippi, I figured, then why not in cyberspace?

I also assumed that the government had bigger fish to fry. I might have been willing to fly to Las Vegas to make my bets if air travel hadn’t been made into such an ordeal by the TSA (Thousands Standing Around). The pols still had some fine tuning to do there, I thought. Surely they wouldn’t be wasting time and money trying to stamp out gambling online as long as there was a passenger somewhere trying to bring a bottle of shampoo on an airplane in his hand luggage.

But I hadn’t counted on the relentless dedication of the people sent to Washington to do the nation’s business. I’d neglected the strength of their conviction that they know what is best for me, and if I disagree, well then, I’ll just have to go to jail for a while and think about it. I might believe that taking the Patriots and the points against the Bengals (won that one) is harmless and unlikely to cost me more than what some of the K-Street commandos spend on a single cocktail…but what do I know?

Last Saturday, Congress — which was working weekends, because Election Day was coming and the members had to get home and campaign — passed a law that decreed the nation’s ports should be secure.  There was a little add-on to bill (which cleared the Senate on a voice vote), and it had to do with internet gambling. It makes it illegal for banks and credit card companies to move funds to the sites that handle online wagers. President Bush is expected to sign this bill in a few days. Until then, of course, people can still make bets — so none of us is safe.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist pushed the bill through the Senate, and how can we thank him enough? “Gambling is a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams and frays the fabric of society,” Frist explained. A “war” on gambling is probably not far off, and, going by the record of the one on drugs, we can figure it will result in a full-employment bill for bookies. We’ve been waging a war on drugs since at least the first Bush presidency, and there isn’t a 12-year-old in the country who couldn’t score some grass in an hour ( coke might take just a bit longer).

The folly of this is bearable — what the hell, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when legislators pass stupid laws — but the thing that grinds your gears is that these particular people should presume to worry about other people being reckless and profligate with money. When Congress stops salivating every time a piece of pork gets dragged though chambers, then they’ll be qualified to take measures to prevent the rest of us from spending the rent money on the lock of the week. I’ve got more faith in my ability to pick the winner of the Ravens/Broncos game — against the spread, of course — than I do in Congress’ capacity to balance the budget, fix Social Security, or even just to say “no and hell no” to a multi-million dollar bridge to an uninhabited island in Alaska.

You want a sure thing? Bet against Congress to balance the budget. If you can find anyone, that is, who will take the action.

 Geoffrey Norman writes for NRO and other publications.

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