Like every Public Policy student, I look forward to holidays not just for the food, or the presents, or the avoidance of doing a load of laundry, but because of the inevitable political banter that goes on in every U.S. household when extended families reunite. Whether alcohol-induced or not, most families will likely have at least one political conversation on Thanksgiving. This year was certainly no exception with the government shutdown still pretty fresh in all of our minds, nuclear talks with Iran, and of course, the wildly successful rollout of HealthCare.gov.
In my family, you better know what you’re talking about when it comes to politics. If you make a stupid argument or a baseless claim, there’s no doubt that someone will bury you for it. For years, I’ve been arguing that all Maillet holiday family functions should have a stenographer present for this exact reason.
Growing up, I remember sitting around the table after Thanksgiving dinner arguing about former President George Bush’s torture policies with the grownups in my family while all the other kids played downstairs. Sure, these were the early signs of being a massive political geek, but that’s how I learned how to express an argument and how to win a debate.
Although these debates inevitably happen year in and year out, I can’t help but feel that they have grown more militant over the past couple years. Where we once may have agreed on certain things, now it seems like every time a debate happens within my family, both people leave the conversation more entrenched in their own perspective with little understanding of how someone could possibly see another side.
One debate that I always look forward to is the one that inevitably breaks out between Uncle Jim and me. While I do love Jim dearly, let’s just say he and I don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on just about anything in terms of politics. For starters, Jim thinks Senator Ted Cruz (R–Texas) should be our next president. Need I say more?
Jim is a proud Tea Partier and still truthfully believes that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya. I don’t really take the “birther” claims seriously anymore, but this year, Jim said something that truly resonated with me.
In the heat of a conversation, while Jim and I were screaming at each other as the rest of the family desperately tried to hold a conversation in the other room, Jim said, “Obama is your president, not mine.”
This statement made me take a step back. Where could the conversation go from here? If we couldn’t agree on the very concept that Obama is the commander-in-chief of our nation, then what else is there to talk about?
Even after the Thanksgiving plates were cleared and everyone gave their goodbye hugs, Jim’s words stuck with me.
Never, even in the darkest of times during the Bush administration, did I ever think that the former Texas governor George Bush was not my president. I know this is easy to say in hindsight, but if Mitt Romney had won last November, I would be calling him “my president.” I might not be happy about it, but I would still respect the office.
The reason that Jim’s statement haunted me so much was because I immediately realized that he wasn’t alone in this belief. Millions of Americans do not even acknowledge Obama as their president. More importantly, many elected officials do not make this acknowledgment. Any bill that Obama presents to Congress is immediately shut down.
Why? Not because it may be good or bad or partisan or bipartisan, but because it has the president’s name on it. Tea Party candidates obviously can’t support anything backed by Obama — they are elected in districts where voters don’t recognize Obama as their president!
Our democracy is not based on the concept that the minority just doesn’t have to acknowledge the legitimacy of the opposition party. Across the country, we are seeing extremism on either side of the political spectrum rewarded. While compromise used to be an inevitable part of government, it has now become a surefire way for a candidate to lose his or her upcoming primary. We need to start respecting each other and not entrench ourselves so deeply into our respective parties that we are incapable of accepting that the other side might have a good idea every once in a while.
Our conversations need to start being a lot more civil, otherwise the only thing Jim and I will have to talk about on Thanksgiving is, well … turkey.
Patrick Maillet can be reached at email@example.com.