Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

December 9, 2004
By Auntie Pinko

Dear 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 blood boil.

Any suggestions about how to survive the holidays with your conservative relatives without ending up in a huge screaming match?

Chicago, IL

Dear Frank,

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 Auntie Pinko!

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