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?)

As tempting as it will be to ask sarcastic questions about teabagging and what kind of scones are served at Tea Parties, that will only get you so far. And you don’t want to ruin your appetite. It’s Thanskgiving, after all.

So how does one deal with the conservatives at the family table while avoiding a massive food fight? Stay calm and relaxed, and follow these simple guidelines.

1. Brush up on Obama conspiracy theories. There’s a good chance you’ll need to defend the president against some of the more outrageous claims being circulated by Fox News--especially the claim that he hasn’t done anything useful for the country. Now, if your relatives are of the “Obama is a Marxist, Satanist, Islamic fundamentalist who wants to put our children in re-education camps” persuasion, you should probably just invest in a hip flask or three and plan on getting out of there ASAP. But assuming you’re dining with nominally reasonable human beings, you should brush up on what the heck Obama has done so far. Conveniently, you can gather some key facts and stats at the Web site What the Heck Has Obama Done So Far (or its raunchier cousin, if that’s more your style). “Yes, cousin Billy, Obama does support our troops; he’s helped provide crucial services like transportation for families of fallen soldiers to Dover air base and counseling for veterans,” you might say. And don’t forget to remember credible sources in case they don’t believe you.

2. Point out the infighting on the Right--and keep yourself out of it. Aunt Daisy’s a big fan of that “spitfire” Sarah Palin, huh? Perhaps just mention that Susan Collins, Aunt Daisy’s very own Republican senator from Maine, thinks Palin is a joke; for the rest of the country, there’s former First Lady Barbara Bush’s recent zinger about how Palin is best left in Alaska. You could go on and on this way: GOP Sen. Richard Lugar thinks Republican stalling on the START treaty is disgraceful, former Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert is appalled by all the climate-change denial in the incoming Congressional class. Whatever the issue, there is probably some Republican infighting going on that could test your relatives’ allegiance to party members (just watch your stepmom squirm as she has to choose between supporting Karl Rove or Sarah Palin). Just make sure you stay out of the fray. Sample script: “I’m not saying anything myself, but I think it’s really interesting what X Republican senator had something so trenchant to say about Y Republican darling. What was that all about?”

3. Bring up the Koch brothers. AlterNet’s Adele Stan wrote an article last month about the massive quantities of corporate dollars flowing into the Tea Party movement and funding its activities. As Stan points out, “Though billed as a people's movement, the Tea Party wouldn't exist without a gusher of cash from oil billionaire David H. Koch and the vast media empire of Rupert Murdoch. Many of the small donations to Tea Party candidates have been cultivated by either Fox News Channel, a property of Murdoch's News Corporation, or the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, chaired by Koch. The movement's major organizations are all run, not by first-time, mad-as-hell activists, but by former GOP officials or operatives.” Read the article, memorize its facts, and be ready to blithely drop them into conversation whenever someone mentions the “authentic,” “grassroots” anger of the Tea Partiers. Your relatives might also take offense to the Kochs having sponsored “elitist,” liberal, Northeasterny things like the New York City Ballet; if so, mention freely.

4. Talk TSA gropings. If there’s one issue that pretty much the entire country, conservatives and liberals alike, can agree on, it’s the absurdity of the TSA’s invasive body scanners and “enhanced pat-downs.” Diffuse any tension that may have erupted over dinner (while subtly spreading radical ideas) by inviting everyone to share their TSA horror stories: “What’s the worst airport security experience you’ve ever had?” No one wants to be groped or manhandled, even if we disagree on how to best handle terrorism threats. If you feel safe upping the ante, point out: “We allowed torture and rendition in the name of keeping us safe from terrorists, and no one spoke up, so this latest incarnation of TSA security theater was an inevitability.”

5. Find common ground by pointing out generational differences. Perhaps you’re on the younger side, and your mom is getting uncomfortable with all the red faces among your older relatives. Bring things down a notch for her sake. Shake your head and shrug, and point out that on most major issues of contention, younger people are significantly more liberal-leaning--that’s just the way it is. Let your relatives grumble about that, and change the subject. But you know the subtext of the point you just made: change is coming, whether they like it or not! Now pass the stuffing.

AlterNet readers, share your coping methods in the comments, and have a happy Thanksgiving!


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