Thursday, November 25, 2010

5 Ways to Deal With Your Conservative Relatives This Thanksgiving


Maybe your brother-in-law works on Wall Street and declares he wants to see the Bush tax cuts extended indefinitely as he scoops himself a generous portion of mashed potatoes. Or perhaps your aunt mentions, while checking on the turkey, that Sarah Palin is her role model and she can’t wait to follow her Rupert Murdoch-sponsored book tour from city to city. Or maybe, over a slice of pumpkin pie and coffee, your grandfather suggests that the Tea Party’s ideas aren’t half bad, and he likes that Rand Paul fella because he’s really getting the government out of people’s Medicare.

Given this month’s volatile political climate, chances are someone’s going to break the no politics/no religion rule and say something to make your blood boil as you sit around the table this Thanksgiving. When that cringe-inducing moment arrives, whether it's over appetizers or dessert, you want to defend the honor of progressives and their ideas without coming across as snotty, snarky, or out of touch. And without letting the situation devolve into violence. (You’re a pacifist, right?)


While I wouldn't particularly choose the actual arguments offered by the above linked essay myself, I do like the overall strategy: light skirmishes designed to muck up right-wing "logic" such that your conservative relatives look a bit foolish asserting impossible ideas, rather than attempting to land a glorious knockout blow. I mean, you're not going to get a knockout blow, anyway, because, you know, the moment you're really talking smack is when you lose them, probably resulting in all hell breaking loose and ruining another Thanksgiving.

So it's a good idea to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. You won't win, but you'll look good.

Actually, this is something of a depressing notion for me when it comes to my own family. My father and two brothers are pretty far to the right, and they're all intelligent, especially my older brother. They are the people with whom I would most enjoy discussing politics. Not to grind any axes, not to prove I'm right and they're wrong, but just for sheer enjoyment. Just to see if my ideas can gain any traction or respect. Just to participate in one of my favorite activities with the people I love most. Just to see how well I can hang in a real debate with that smarter older brother, who happens to be a lawyer, which makes him really good with argumentation.

But it's just impossible.

They are just as passionate about their political ideas as I am about mine. But living in Texas, land of hyper-conservatism, they haven't ever had to learn how to hold their tongues at the right moment. I mean, why would they? Most Texans agree with them; icky yucky liberals are other people who live elsewhere, for the most part. I, on the other hand, lived as a liberal in the Lone Star State for many years. Speaking respectfully to conservatives is something of a survival skill. So while I'm ready, willing, and able to have a rip roaring debate, liberal versus conservative, with my family, my family simply can't do it.

At various times in my life, I've pissed off each one of them with some political remark they just couldn't stomach. And this was years ago when I was much more conservative myself. I think it's very likely that if I told them what I really think, screaming and yelling would result in short order. And it's such a drag! Debate, when respectful, is great fun. It's educational. It is, in many ways, who we are as a people, democracy loving children of the Enlightenment. It doesn't even have to produce a winner or loser. The argument is its own reward. Not only do you learn other people's points of view, you learn more about your own views while they are tested under fire.

But this simple pleasure, this most American of pastimes, is denied me. At least with my own family.

Hmph. Really, this situation is not unlike what faces the entire nation. We can't really discuss politics these days. I mean, sure, we discuss politics, but we don't listen to each other, can't listen to each other. For my part, I blame the conservatives, but I also know that for decades liberals treated their right-wing counterparts in much the same way conservatives treat progressives today, with so much contempt that listening is out of the question.

I guess that's something we won't be thankful for this year.

Ah well, Happy Thanksgiving.