Ask Auntie Pinko
December 9, 2004
By Auntie Pinko
The holidays are fast approaching, which means spending time
with my gun-toting, liberal-hating, ultra-conservative father. I'd
love to just have a pleasant holiday with my family without bringing
up politics at all, but of course my dad just won't be able to resist
crowing about the Republican "victory," the "liberal media,"
or other right-wing shibboleths.
I've tried to explain my position logically (I consider myself
a progressive centrist politically), but my dad just spews facile
slogans from the right-wing talk shows, and any discussion with
him turns into a circular argument. I've tried to steer the conversation
away from politics anytime I've talked to him since we got into
a very heated four-hour-long argument about the Iraq war two years
ago. It seems he just can't understand why anyone would think differently
than him, and that he isn't consciously trying to antagonize me,
but every time we speak he manages to say something that makes my
Any suggestions about how to survive the holidays with your
conservative relatives without ending up in a huge screaming match?
Auntie is sorry this response is too late to help you with Thanksgiving.
I hope things didn't go too badly. And I hope you won't mind if
I answer it now, because with the rest of the year-end holidays
upon us, I think many readers share your problem. I have some conservative
relations of my own, so I'm not a stranger to this experience.
Ideally, holidays should offer us a chance to share time with
the people we love, and feel the warmth and pleasure of their company.
In reality, of course, it doesn't always work out that way. Stress
often interferes, and we don't always find all of our family members
very lovable. Even the most earnest resolutions to stay away from
controversy and be pleasant to everyone get broken.
The most effective way to keep differing political views from
becoming a problem in family interactions is to avoid political
subjects. This isn't always easy, as you've already found out. Others
may feel it's their mission to "convert" you - and that's irritating
enough (which is why you don't do the same to them, right? You know
how annoying it is). Or they may not be able to restrain themselves
from gloating over perceived points scored by their side.
You can try simply saying something along these lines: "Well,
we both know we have very different views about that, and nothing
we can say to each other is likely to change our minds. So why don't
we discuss something else - something that won't get us feeling
all frustrated with each other?" You may have to do this a great
many times before your conservative relatives catch on, but if you're
pleasant and cheerful as you do it, sooner or later it might work.
It may help if you spend some time beforehand thinking up a list
of half a dozen or so possible topics of conversation to bring up
when political arguments rear their ugly heads. Family history or
old gossip ("Did Grandfather ever have a car that wasn't
an Oldsmobile?") can be good for this. So can "News of the Weird"
type items culled from the Internet or other sources. Sports, movies,
books, and so on can also provide diversions. Ask others for feedback
on the best vacation spots for your next years' vacation, and then
get them talking about why they like their nomination.
If they're absolutely determined to provoke an argument with you,
the best thing you can do is keep chuckling, and saying, "You're
just trying to annoy me, aren't you? It's not going to work, and
I'm not going to change my mind, so why bother?" (If they've made
you mad already, this is twice as satisfying as arguing point to
point - it will really frustrate them.)
Finally, if your conservative relations are people who are actually
thoughtful and open-minded, read the article "How to Talk to a Bush
Voter" from Democratic Underground's home page. Here's a link:
Mr. Bradford has some excellent advice and makes some wonderful
points, including, "At this point in time we need to talk to
Bush voters not to convince them of the rightness or our cause or
the wisdom of our policies, but to find common ground and point
out inconsistencies in the Bush agenda."
He goes on to give several examples of topics where you and your
conservative relations may have some common viewpoints, and how
to point out the negative impact that Mr. Bush's policies and Administration
will have in these areas.
I think it's actually better to defer these discussions until
after the holidays, myself - sometimes the mix of stress and alcohol
and family dynamics at holiday occasions can doom even the most
tactful and thoughtful intentions. But if you have to talk politics
with conservatives, this is a way to do it that can avoid an out-and-out
shouting matches that spoils the occasion for everyone.
Best wishes for peaceful year-end holidays to you and your family,
Frank, and to everyone planning family gatherings. Thanks for asking
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