How Not to Argue With Your Crazy Relatives at Thanksgiving


Can I waste some time venting about a teensy little pet peeve of mine? Thanks. Here’s a brief Twitter conversation I just had with Chris Hayes:

Hayes: Devoting our whole show on Wednesday to how to talk about politics, news with conservative family members. Should be fun!

Drum: Will be interesting if it’s real. Usually this stuff isn’t. Needs to be arguments that actually address conservative worldview.

Hayes: Oh, I don’t think it will be useful. No one ever persuades anyone of anything. But will be fun!

I don’t really mean to fire off any cruise missiles at Hayes or anyone else over this, but every year there’s a spate of blog/magazine pieces about how to discuss the political hot potato du jour with your crazy right-wing relatives at Thanksgiving. And every year they’re fake. Mostly they provide stock liberal responses to imaginary conservative talking points, and as Hayes says, they don’t really do any good.

Now, maybe there’s no help for this. Liberals and conservatives have been arguing for centuries, and so far neither side has convinced the other to surrender. Still, wouldn’t it be more interesting to at least try and write something real? That is, come up with the kinds of comments that your Fox-watching aunts and uncles are really likely to drop into the conversation, and then come up with replies that might actually persuade someone who’s a conservative. The downside is that this isn’t as much fun: there will be no killer facts and figures in this list that demolish Uncle Joe’s Obamacare tirade and leave a smoking crater in his place. (In our collective imaginations, anyway.) Instead, we’ll have a collection of items that turn the battleship a few degrees at best. No one’s going to suddenly decide that Paul Krugman has been right all along, but maybe you’ll be able to seed a few doubts about Sean Hannity’s commitment to the straight dope.

This would be hard work. You’d have to actually watch Fox News for a while to make sure you know what’s really on conservatives’ minds these days. Listening to a bit of talk radio and reading some chain emails would help too. And that’s not all. You’d almost certainly have to team up with an actual conservative to help you understand both the worldview at work and the kinds of arguments that might appeal to his ideological comrades-in-arms. And why would a conservative help you with this project? Beats me. Maybe you could trade: you get some arguments that appeal to actual conservatives and he gets some arguments that appeal to actual liberals.

Anyway, somebody ought to do this. I’m a hermit, and my entire family is pretty liberal, so I’m not a very good candidate. But someone out there is. Who wants to do the country a public service?

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