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“Try Getting To Know Each Other”: Don’t Argue About Politics This Thanksgiving. Just Don’t

Imagine this scene on Thanksgiving day. The turkey is partly carved, the mashed potatoes are being passed around.

Your Mother: What are you thankful for?

You: Well, if I can say so, I’m thankful for ObamaCare because it was great that I was able to sign up for health insurance on the internet.

Caricatured Uncle: Hope Reverend Wright isn’t on your death panel! Payback for Ferguson coming to you.

Your Mother [hoping to get control of the situation]: I did something different this year with the sweet potatoes! Do you like it?

Never fear. The pundits are here to save you. Think Progress has a guide on “how to argue with your Evangelical uncle” about marriage equality. Vox is advising you on Bill Cosby, Ferguson, and immigration (you’re for it as much as possible, of course).

Last year, some of Michael Bloomberg’s dollars trickled down to someone who gave you talking points on gun control. Chris Hayes is once again dedicating an hour of his MSNBC show to the cause.

Less combatively, Conor Friedersdorf advises you to adopt his brand of nodding empathy: “Before you focus on any point of disagreement, ask questions of your interlocutor to figure out why they think the way they do about the subject at hand.”

These advice columns are becoming a genre unto themselves. The stock villain: crazy right-wing uncle, the jokes about stuffing. But I recognize them by what they unwittingly emulate: guides for religious evangelism. The gentle, righteous self-regard, the slightly orthogonal response guides, the implied urgency to cure your loved ones of their ignorance. Your raging uncle will know the truth, and the truth will set him free.

That’s a problem. Our politics are taking on a religious shape. Increasingly we allow politics to form our moral identity and self-conception. We surround ourselves with an invisible community of the “elect” who share our convictions, and convince ourselves that even our closest and beloved relatives are not only wrong, but enemies of goodness itself. And so one of the best, least religious holidays in the calendar becomes a chance to deliver your uncle up as a sinner in the hands of an angry niece.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. As a conservative raised in an argumentative and left-leaning Irish-American family, Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners did more than any professional media training to prepare me for MSNBC panels. But arguments like these, particularly when we allow politics to dominate our notions of ourselves, can leave lasting scars. And precisely because our familial relationships are so personal, the likely responses to our creamed and beaten talking points will be defensive, anxious, off-subject, or overly aggressive.

You might think you can sneak in a killer talking point about immigration reform, only to touch off a sprawling congress about the personhood of unborn children, the Vietnam War, and whether it is really sexist to describe Nancy Pelosi as a “tough broad.”

Instead, what we really need are guides for gently deflecting the conversation away from politics, as our polite grandmothers once did.

Bringing up politics can be a form of self-assertion, or a way for a family member to test whether he is accepted for who he is. One of the reasons the “conservative uncle” has become the cliched oaf of the Thanksgiving dinner is precisely because he may feel, rightly or wrongly, that the country is moving away from him. He could be testing to see whether his family is ready to reject him, too. Or he could just be an oafish, self-regarding lout. Either way, it doesn’t have to be that hard to show he is appreciated as a family member and human being.

Caricatured Uncle: Obummer sure got waxed in that election. Guess he isn’t the Messiah, huh?

You: Har har, you got me. But hey, I get to read and think about the news every day. I only see you twice a year. How is the renovation going?

Instead of honing your argument on tax reform into unassailability, maybe ask your parents or siblings ahead of time what some of the further-flung or more volatile members of your family are up to in their lives before they sit down. Get the family’s talking points, rather than Mike Bloomberg’s.

And if you do want to pointlessly and frustratingly argue about politics with your uncle, just friend him on Facebook.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, November 26, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Family Values, Politics, Thanksgiving | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Great National ‘Franksgiving’ Uproar”: Imagine The Reaction If Obama Used An Executive Order To Change Date Of A Major Holiday

The story of Franklin Roosevelt moving Thanksgiving is probably pretty well known, but with the holiday coming up tomorrow, and with the ongoing debate about executive powers apparently fresh on the political world’s mind, it’s probably worth a trip down memory lane.

Historically, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the final Thursday of November. But in 1939, with the nation still dealing with the effects of the Great Depression and the unemployment rate above 15%, there was a small problem with the calendar: Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 30.

This may not sound especially important, but for businesses relying on holiday sales, this was a threat to bottom lines – it shortened the number of shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Business owners, pointing to the weak economy, demanded action.

And FDR delivered, issuing an executive order that moved the official date of Thanksgiving up a week, from Nov. 30 to Nov. 23. As Andrew Prokop explained, this really didn’t go over well.

What may have seemed like a wonkish, technocratic, good-government policy clashed with what turned out to be deeply-ingrained feelings among many Americans about when Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The Associated Press story announcing the move said Roosevelt “was shattering another precedent,” and quoted a town official of Plymouth, Massachusetts saying the traditional date was “sacred.” […]

Republicans pounced, and used the move to portray Roosevelt as a power-mad tyrant. In an early example of Godwin’s Law, FDR’s recent presidential opponent Alf Landon said Roosevelt sprung his decision on “an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire suggested that while Roosevelt was at it, he should abolish winter.

One Republican mayor labeled the new date “Franksgiving.” Extending the protest further, roughly half the states chose to honor the old date rather than the new one.

The date then bounced around for a couple of years, until Congress eventually passed a new law, moving the date from the final Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday in November.

So, FDR and businesses owners scored a partial win, at least insofar as the Nov. 30 problem is concerned.

The thing I like about this story now is its contemporary salience: President Obama, for example, is not the first Democratic president that Republicans compared to Hitler.

Plus, try to imagine the reaction if Obama used an executive order to change the date of a major holiday without congressional approval. If his critics go berserk when he uses prosecutorial discretion on immigration, Republicans might very well faint if Thanksgiving moved to create more shopping days.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, FDR, Thanksgiving | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Difficult Not To Think About Loss”: Face It; Thanksgiving Is Depressing This Year, And You Don’t Have To Give Thanks

This Thanksgiving, it’s difficult not to think about loss.

For a lot of people, this time of year brings more sadness than cheer – thinking about the kinds of relationships you wish you could have with family or friend, thinking about loved ones that aren’t there. And as injustice prevails in Ferguson, as another young man of color is killed with seeming impunity, as sexual predators are given standing ovations and sexual violence across the US continues to be unearthed, it’s hard to remember how to be thankful. It’s easier to ask what we are supposed to be thankful for at all.

Hard times can bring out the best in people – whether it’s a national tragedy or an individual loss, some of us comfort each other and try to send hope even when it feels like there is none. More than once this year, as people in my life have suffered losses, I’ve sent around this Rumi quote: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

But what if there are just too many wounds? What if we can’t see any light?

Earlier this month I found out that a friend (with whom I’d fallen out of touch) had killed himself. I struggled to reconcile the memories I had of him – equal parts kind and hilarious – with what his last days or weeks must have been like. He was an artist, and I still have one of his paintings – it’s chaotic and beautiful, and I wish I could find some answer in it as to why he is gone. But all I see is paint.

Sometimes it’s all we can do not to let our losses eat us whole.

It’s incredible, really, that those who experience tremendous loss and injustice have the strength to go on fighting. It’s amazing that people – parents – whose children’s lives and futures were stolen from continue on with grace. But I wonder how the rest of us can think to ask them, even for one day a year, to be thankful. To look on the bright side. To be positive.

Whether their wounds are fresh or years old, asking such a thing of hurt people feels a bit selfish – like we don’t want to bear witness to their pain, so we ask them to put a happy face on it. Maybe asking people to think about what they’re grateful for can be a way to help them to move on or be happy despite their hurt – or maybe that’s just what we like to tell ourselves. But doing so requires enough self reflection to be sure it’s about what someone really needs instead of our desires to do something.

As I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family this week, I’m acutely aware of how incredibly lucky I am to have a family that loves me, to have food on the table.

But I’m not thankful, and this year – for reasons much more important than my own – I don’t believe we should ask anyone else to be either. We can be there for each other, and we can comfort each other, but let’s not demand gratefulness from one another in a time of sorrow.

 

By: Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Thanksgiving, Violence Against Women | , , | Leave a comment

“How Darren Wilson Saw Michael Brown In Ferguson”: “Like It Was ‘Making Him Mad’ That I’m Shooting At Him”

After announcing that Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown this summer, would not be indicted, Ferguson officials made available Mr. Wilson’s testimony. Here’s how he described shooting the unarmed teenager.

“As he is coming towards me, I tell, keep telling him to get on the ground, he doesn’t. I shoot a series of shots. I don’t know how many I shot, I just know I shot it.”

(Ed. note, he fired twelve shots total at Mr. Brown over the course of the incident.)

“I know I missed a couple, I don’t know how many, but I know I hit him at least once because I saw his body kind of jerk.”

He continued: “At this point I start backpedaling and again, I tell him get on the ground, get on the ground, he doesn’t. I shoot another round of shots. Again, I don’t recall how many [hit] him every time. I know at least once because he flinched again. At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even anything in his way.” (Emphasis mine.)

This description sounds like it was lifted from a comic book. Mr. Brown “looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots”?  That’s what happens when The Hulk faces a spray of bullets; not what happens when a human does. (On the other hand, it’s totally believable that Mr. Brown was “mad” at Mr. Wilson for shooting at him.)

Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Brown was 6-foot-4 and weighed roughly 290 pounds. Mr. Wilson, though, is not a small guy: He’s also 6-foot-4, and about 210 pounds.

But let’s give the officer the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say he was so genuinely scared that his fear distorted what was happening. Whether or not he committed a crime, as defined by a criminal justice system that tends to let cops off the hook, he shouldn’t be carrying a gun. Someone who can let fear get the better of him—who sees a teenager like a super-villain—shouldn’t have easy access to deadly force.

 

By: Juliet Lapidos, The Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, November 25, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Undeniable Truth”: Why I’m (Still) Thankful For President Obama

On a day when we pause to consider those things for which Americans ought to be thankful, I feel obliged to mention my appreciation for many of the things that Barack Obama has accomplished as President of the United States, and my profound relief that he is in the Oval Office rather than any of the Republicans who sought to displace him.

On this day, it seems appropriate to reflect not only on Obama’s considerable achievements, but on how much worse our situation might be if his opponents had been in control of events from January 2009 until now.

With our continuous immersion in harsh commentary from factions and ideologues across the spectrum, a mindless negativity tends to dominate assessments of his presidency. He is certainly more flawed than his most zealous supporters would ever have admitted six or seven years ago, which is why some of them are disproportionately disappointed today; he has made regrettable mistakes in both policy and politics; and, as we saw in this month’s midterm election, he has suffered declines in public confidence that injured his image and the fortunes of his party. His approval ratings remain low.

And yet, whatever his fellow citizens may feel, the undeniable truth is that Obama righted the nation in a moment of deep crisis and set us on a navigable course toward the future, despite bitter, extreme, and partisan opposition that was eager to sink us rather than see him succeed.

So I’m thankful that Obama was president at the nadir of the Great Recession, rather than John McCain, Mitt Romney, or any other Republican who might have insisted on austerity and prevented the stimulus spending that saved us from economic catastrophe. It wasn’t large enough or long enough to prevent the human suffering of unemployment, but it was sufficient to bring recovery, more rapidly than most countries have recovered after a major panic.

The simple proof may be found in the record of growth that outpaced every other industrialized country in the world – a record that seems even more impressive because the crash began here, as a consequence of irresponsibility and criminality in American financial markets. Undergirding the stimulus was his courageous decision to bail out the automotive industry, denounced as “socialism,” saved at least a million jobs and prevented the further deindustrialization of America.

I’m also thankful that Obama – a politician who respects science and listens to scientists — was president as we began to encounter the difficult realities of climate change. Having declared his determination to double the production of renewable energy in this country, he has far exceeded that objective already. Under his guidance, the federal government has acted against excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, required automakers to double their fuel economy by 2025, ordered agencies to achieve sustainability in operations and purchases, and invested tens of billons in smart electric grids, conservation, and clean fuels.

I’m thankful that he oversaw passage of financial reform, despite his overly cautious failure to prosecute the financial felons who caused the crisis and his refusal to take down any of the big banks. Like the stimulus and the auto bailout, the Dodd-Frank Act is imperfect but useful and necessary – and wouldn’t have occurred if the bankers and their most abject Republican servants had been fully in charge.

I’m even more thankful that he pushed through the most extensive and generous reform in American health care since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act – which, despite its troubled debut, has proved to be a remarkable success. It isn’t Medicare for all, but Obamacare is insuring and protecting millions of Americans who would otherwise be subject to the Tea Party Republican policy, pithily summarized by that mob screaming “let ‘em die” at the GOP debate in 2012. Health care costs are falling, Medicare’s solvency has improved, and millions more of the country’s poor and working families are covered by Medicaid, in spite of Republican legislators and governors who would, quite literally, let them die.

Finally, I’m appreciative of many other policy decisions Obama has made – promoting human rights by ending anti-gay discrimination in the military, banning the Bush era tolerance of torture, outlawing unequal pay for women, and most recently his executive order on immigration. I’m grateful that he is seeking peace through negotiation with Iran, instead of going directly (and insanely) to war as McCain or Romney would almost surely have done. I’m glad he had the guts to order the operation that finished Osama bin Laden.

None of this diminishes the president’s political errors, his sometimes naïve attitude about “bipartisanship,” his excessive deference to the national security and defense establishments, or his persistent susceptibility to wrongheaded cant about entitlements and deficits.

But he remains admirably cool under attacks that would madden most people. He refuses to mimic the cynical, mindless, and ugly conduct of his adversaries. He still proclaims American values of shared responsibility and prosperity, of cooperation and community, of malice toward none and charity for all.

In different ways, those ideals were epitomized by the presidential founders of this national holiday – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt – and their persistence is reason for thanksgiving, too.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, November 27, 2014

November 27, 2014 Posted by | Politics, President Obama, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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