Saturday, November 26, 2005

Dinner Conversations

In the aftermath of Thanksgiving, my mother pronounced to me, "In the future, I think we should ban all politics talk."

"Then what the hell else would we talk about?" I asked her back. She didn't seem to have any suggestions. I don't know what other families talk about at the Thanksgiving dinner table, or any table for that matter, but my family talks politics. For example, served up with this year's dinner was: a discussion about the recent mayoral election in Detroit and the requested recount from the loser; Sharon, Likud, and the creation of a new political party in Israel, generational culpability of the national, state, and local government for what happened in New Orleans; not politics here, but we discussed the failure of the 17th Street Canal and current theories about why it failed; black prisons (i.e., our scary offshore secret prisons); the incredibly chilling nature of our current government; why my mother was not as surprised as her children at how frightening our government has become (and a digression into the Vietnam war and Kent State); Rumsfeld vs. Cheney: Who's More Creepy; and finally the Iraq War.

I know there are certain topics that polite people are supposed to avoid at the dinner table, but I guess we've just always been rude. And my family has had some doozy fights stemming from talk that started innocently enough, but derailed. I can remember storming away from the table after discussions about abortion rights. I know we've had some serious rifts regarding social security. What do other families fight about if not this stuff?

When I was a child, we had Thanksgiving at my grandmother's every year. One of our "must have" dishes is rutabagas, a taste that one probably adores or abhors. As I've gotten older, I've found that I actually like rutabagas, which is more evidence of my taste buds dying, but as a child, I needed a lot of inducement to eat these bitter root vegetables. My gramma, who I adored, would tell me to eat them right up because I couldn't be a republican and not like rutabagas. My grandmother was a republican alright and her main advice to me as I went into the voting booth for the first time in my life was to "pull the arm for the straight ticket." (Man; I am not that old, but I really did pull the arm! We need those old voting booths back with the heavy curtains and big machines. I hate those flimsy grey things.) She was also a banker, and if our professions have anything to do with our voting, I suppose I can understand it that way. Still, I can't imagine many other families where proving your political alliance was an effective way of getting a kid to eat her veggies.

And we're all pretty savvy and across the political spectrum. I'm a little fond of some of our family politicians too, starting with this guy, the founder of the modern day Republican party. I'm inordinately proud of my relation here, and find myself more in line with this particular political proclivity than the former family member. But no one in this immediate house, with the exception of me, has ever really expressed an interest of going into politics, just discussing them, sometimes ad nauseum. Partner was pretty intrigued by the whole thing when she first started coming to family dinners, but now I'd say she's an eager participant, and on the whole I don't think this type of discussion has done me any harm. It's made me have to think about issues through some tangly parts, and it's probably honed my logic. I have to use evidence to convince anyone in my family, and more often than not, know my source. This hasn't hurt me as a scholar, and even though we've had some doozy fights, I'm not prepared to give up politics at the table.

On Thanksgiving night, when we finally delved into the pumpkin pie and Iraq war conversation, everyone was in agreement, even the highly conservative Pater. He may not have agreed with our more strident opinions that our ever-so-truthful prez should step down, but he did agree that we all seemed to be lead into the war by false pretenses. (I kept my mouth shut here about all the protests Partner and I walked in and letters I wrote and how we never felt lead into war, but more bound and gagged into the whole thing, but okay, okay, I digress.) One brother solemnly proclaimed that in his opinion every Senator who voted for the war should step down out of disgrace, except for Byrd, who was, he maintained the sole dissenter.

"No way," I said. "Levin's been against this thing from the start." I like our veteran Senator from the mitten state, Carl Levin, who has been a vocal opponent of our action in Iraq from the start. (If you think Trump is the king of the combover, think again.) In my opinion, the fact that he's on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is privy to a certain level of intelligence due to that, and was so openly opposed to the whole Iraq quagmire is a thinking point. Then again, others on that committee did indeed vote to move forward, so it's not that compelling a thinking point, but still. Think. The brother did not believe me and continued to tell me that the vote was 99-1. "Uh-uh. 77-23" Which was still not believed and I was challenged to find a credible source, which I did, and then thought (silly me) the whole thing was dropped. Until I made a schtoopid comment after the topic has been long gone (but brother is still searching for that 99-1 vote). I made the comment in what I thought was a moment of levity, but it was perceived as rubbing it in. Big argument follows. Brother leaves house. Mother cries. Sister cries. Everyone eventually sleeps. Next morning, Mother tries to ban politics talk. Our own personal Patriot Act, one might say. But this house of little rebels won't allow such a thing to happen. (It will never work, Mom!) The next morning, as my mother was trying to make sense of the argument she wisely stayed out of, she kept saying to me, "It was political, wasn't it?" and I kept saying it wasn't political at all. But it was. Because at the end of the day, it's all politics. Even the fights we have with each other that seeminly not based on politicss (and are rare) are based on some political system our own family has devised over the years.

We'll go on loving each other fiercely; that's what we do in my family: love and fight with passion. As much as the dear mother wants peace, love, and happiness 24-7-364, I'm fairly certain the concept bores the rest of us to tears. We couldn't stand the silence. It would be like those Chicken Soup books all the time, and I for one, might have to be in the bathroom throwing up the entire night if that's what our house was like. I do think we probably need to learn to argue with each other and not take so personally when we're wrong, or someone makes an argument that is so contrary to our own belief. That's probably what gets us into trouble. But for now, never one to tremble silently at the table, I'm gearing for the Christmas political season, keeping my head in the news, and I'll be ready. With my rutabagas.


Blogger Career Guy said...

What a great post. Sounds like the Kennedy's at dinner or something. We never did that at our house when I was growing up, and we don't really do it now since we have enough daggers to the heart of our family unity these days. After daughter Ann moved out of the country, we started getting her mail. One of the neat things we got was her subscription to The Nation. Good stuff for arguments there.
There was a blogger I used to go back and forth with, but I've since decided his blog was a hate crime in progress so I no longer read it. In one exchange, he finally called me "unpatriotic"--high praise indeed.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Pamplemousse said...

Aaah, rutabagas. Is that what we call neeps? I am always the one who ends up sobbing in the bathroom cos some political argument got way out of hand!

2:54 PM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

Political discussions are something my family dances around rather than participating in open dialogue. The dance is an interesting exercise in patience and digging deep to find respect for the other's position.

I've never eaten rutabaga. Should I seek some out? :)


10:20 AM  
Anonymous pixi said...

I avoid political disscussions with my brother, because I want to keep liking him. And I think he feels the same way. We just don't go there! Also, since there's been enough tumult in our family, we're treasuring this new era of peace. No need to mess with that.

Still, it sounds like you have quite a lot of heated fun at your family gatherings. I'll bet it's never boring!

4:40 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Yea, the last political conversation my family got into at dinner was in a crowded restaurant, and i wound up in tears and practically shouting the f* word across the table at my aunt and uncle. Nice. We specifically avoid politics in my family, because only approximately 10% did NOT vote for George W. Bush. And most likely, we're the only ones who wouldn't vote AGAIN for George W. Bush. Scary. Your family's healthy debate sounds like fun, though!

10:35 AM  

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