There is also a set script to what we do in preparation of Thanksgiving in the media — whether it be on the local news station, newspapers or on the Internet. It happens every year. We trade stuffing recipes and pre-complain about the traffic. We worry about seeing the family we haven't thought about since the last time we ate stuffing. And we talk about talking about politics at dinner, which has become the holiday version of talking to voters at polling places. You might get the same answers every year, but abolishing it would kind of feel like getting rid of the candles on a birthday cake.
And although the broad angles of politically-driven family disputes never seem to change, the details do, in a helpful reminder that families tend to go on — as does the republic — despite the fact that someone might break the rules and bring up the midterms, which seemed inevitable long before the Internet began providing study guides for those preparing for all-out political war this holiday season.
In honor of this tradition, here is a brief appreciation of what we talked about when we talked about talking about politics at Thanksgiving. Some of it is very dated. Some of it involves family members who stopped talking to one another. All of it is wonderful.
We bolded the especially entertaining stuff, since we figure you may already have Thanksgiving brain. Tryptophan is contagious.
The most entertaining stories about talking about politics involve stories from people who refuse to give their name because they are afraid about the potential backlash from their family. If your family is so intense while passing the mashed potatoes that you can only speak about it anonymously, that might be a good reason to talk about Grandma and Grandpa's kitchen remodeling instead.
Her relationship with her father-in-law in particular had always been fraught with tension, said Smith, who asked that her name be changed to preserve family relations. She was the "screaming liberal from New York" who'd corrupted his Texas-bred son into moving to "Taxachusetts" and voting Democrat. As far as she was concerned, he was a good ol' boy who didn't like to talk politics as much as preach his views. Her resolve was put to the test three years ago at Thanksgiving dinner, right after Barack Obama was elected president. She was picking at her turkey when, she says, her father-in-law suggested an act of violence toward Obama ... Unfortunately, things haven't been the same since, she says. They haven't spoken in more than two years, and he refuses to visit her family, though her mother-in-law visits regularly.
The Washington Post, 2000:
Of course, some people relish a Thanksgiving rumble. "I think it'll be fun," said a shopper at Fresh Fields in Tysons Corner, who declined to give her name lest her ex-husband find out she is spending the holiday with her new boyfriend in Bethesda. For one thing, the divorcee, a Gore woman, has a bone to pick with her boyfriend's two college-age daughters, who supported Ralph Nader. "I'm going to ask them if they're aware that they essentially voted for Bush. They can take it. They're smart and charming."
Some families, guarding against such aroused passions, may avoid the topic altogether and go politically incognito for the holiday, leaving even party registrations undisclosed. There still could be telling clues, however. "I think my younger sister, because she spent some time living in San Francisco, I think if she's not a Democrat, she's a very moderate Republican," said John Stammreich, a San Pedro resident and Republican Central Committee member. The choice of a spouse may also send up red flags. "Her husband is from Switzerland," Stammreich disclosed. "He's very European in his politics."
And here is a reminder that no matter how heated your family fights about Obama and Mitch McConnell get this year, everyone will forget about it by next year. Political fights don't tend to have a long shelf life.
"And Joe was a huge Reagan fan. And he kept talking about how Walter Mondale was an idiot," Loera recalls. "And I, of course, was going to vote for Mondale [in 1984]. It got really heated, and I got so angry I opened the door of the station wagon and said, `I'm going to get out!' " And so it goes when the topic is politics, a discussion that can quickly ratchet up when extended families gather for the holidays. If you're Alex P. Keaton in a family of liberals or vice versa how do you survive? Can things be merry when the topic is Murtha?
Before escalating to stronger language, my older brother Harry sometimes calls me a “mental defective” in conversations about politics. He thinks that I have been Bush-whacked. I think that he has been L’Obamatized. That is the highly scientific condition of having half of your brain removed and the other half turned into jelly with no off/on switch to control veneration of the 44th president.
The Associated Press, 2000:
Relatives hooking up for the holiday don't want to initiate a conversation that could turn nasty and some are just so sick of the presidential election they can't stand hearing about it. Patsy Stutte, who spent several hours at Will Rogers World Airport because her flight to San Diego was delayed Tuesday, doesn't discuss politics with her sister, Linda, anymore. The last time they talked about the presidential election Stutte, who voted for Bush, told her sister that paying attention to late election returns was "as important as the fungus on your toe" because Gore is not going to win.
On one level, it's a great diversion. Yammer on about Bush and Gore, says Helen Fisher, Rutgers University anthropologist, "and the family won't discuss the baby who just died or who's getting divorced."
Whether you're hosting or visiting, Thanksgiving dinner with relatives often means going over the river and through the woods and up the wall. Take an overworked cook and hostess. Blend in relatives -- the crusty and critical grandparent, the little Visigoth children, the medical re-enactor who shares intimate details of his pancreas operation. Marinate in a mixture of politics, grudges and clashing expectations of what constitutes a proper Thanksgiving dinner. Add alcohol to taste. Let simmer, and you can have a recipe for disaster.
I was terrified we wouldn't have enough to talk about. In the interest of harmony, there's a tacit agreement in my family to avoid the following subjects in any conversation longer than a minute and a half: national politics, state and local politics, any music by any person who never headlined at the Grand Ole Opry, my personal life, and their god. Five whole days. When I visit them back home in Montana, conversation isn't a problem because we go to the movies every afternoon. That way, we can be together but without the burden of actually talking to each other. Tommy Lee Jones, bless his heart, does the talking for us.
If you only want to talk about politics in a boring and safe cocoon of harmony, invite all of your similarly-minded relatives for another party next week.
On Thanksgiving, Debra Miller and her immediate family will agree not to talk about politics at the table. She'll make a second, smaller family dinner next Sunday for her husband's family — all Democrats. "We can speak our minds, and we don't feel like we're offending anyone."
And if all else fails, listen to Jerry's great advice.
The Bergen Record, 2004:
Jerry Mendelson, a World War II veteran and musician from Lodi, says discussing the news would wreck his holiday because he's so upset about the war in Iraq. "I'm thoroughly disgusted by the whole setup," he says. "This is a day you should talk about family and not bring politics up." How would he avoid it? "Talk about sex."