To the very long list of reasons we have to give thanks that the election of 2012 has mercifully concluded we can add the holiday that’s coming up, which has become famous for throwing together relatives of disparate political persuasions and turning turkey dinners into turkey shoots. One would like to think that now that the matter is settled, the resulting exhaustion on both sides would mean this Thanksgiving’s political discussions would go something like this:
He (possibly Maureen Dowd’s brother Kevin): Congratulations on your man’s victory.
She (possibly Maureen Dowd herself ): So kind of you to mention it. Thank you.
Then the conversation might smoothly and politely pass on to football, the new cranberry relish recipe, and grandma’s heirloom tablecloth. But don’t bank on any of that if my post-election survey of the losing side’s emotions and intentions are at all accurate.
First, the emotions. I get it. I really do. The 2004 election between Bush and Kerry was the first one I followed in the blogosphere. The half-dozen or so political blogs I read daily each had at least one amateur diviner of polls who would regularly calm us partisans down whenever a poll went against Kerry. "It oversampled Republicans," they sagely informed us. Or, "It overlooked cellphones," they would announce from high atop the cutting edge of obviousness. Or, "Its methodology was wrong," they would proclaim dismissively. With my total absorption in these critiques of the polls rather than the results of the polls, I was able to convince myself and anyone who would listen that Kerry was going to win. And when he didn’t, I was so deeply shocked that I entered a total news black-out for much of a year, buried myself in pamphlets about living abroad, and hung a sign outside my door that read, No habla Inglis.
As I slowly started to regain my mental health, I threw myself into the enterprise of creating and selling John Kerry T-shirts featuring an Elvis album parody. I didn’t sell many, but the therapy was great and helped me return to the state of a functioning, politically engaged citizen once again. My 2004 experience allows me to empathize with the looks on these faces.
And, I daresay, any Obama voter with a sense of fairness and honesty should be able to admit, “Yeah, if my guy had lost that would be me, too.” So I really do understand how certain fellow citizens entered this past week positively, absolutely, indubitably convinced that America, the land that they love, would never give a president they so loathed another lease on their White House. I’ve been there…along with so many of my liberal friends who also reacted to the Bush reelection news by hunting the job and housing market in Canada.
The intentions are another matter though. My personal survey of rightwing media and my encounter in a coffee shop last week with Romney voters who only had visions of Hitler as they watched Obama tearfully thank his young campaign volunteers both indicate that conciliation will not be on the menu this Thanksgiving. The folks on the losing end of this election seem ready to go back on the warpath:
Obama won last night, but we rejoin the fray today. Fight every attempt to spend us further into oblivion. Fight every attempt to further redistribute wealth. Fight every attempt to entrench a new entitlement. Fight every attempt to weaken our military. Fight every attempt to bury Benghazi. Fight every attempt to curb our religious freedom. Fight every attempt to revise history. Fight the enervating imposition of political correctness. Fight for American exceptionalism.Even before the chads were hung out to dry in Florida, they were filling the airwaves with calls for impeachment, secession, and investigations galore into all manner of imagined malfeasance. The unhinged host I heard on rightwing radio this morning was exhorting the 57 million voters who lost the election to confront the 59 million who won and tell them to their faces what’s wrong with them.
So this could be a real Margo Channing Thanksgiving, but there may be more we can do than just fastening our seatbelts for the bumpy night ahead. My friend and neighbor Bob Zink died this week. Bob would easily have been at home with those Romney voters in the coffee shop comparing Obama to Hitler. Over the years, our political discussions—regardless of the subject—global warming, taxation, immigration, whatever—got hot in a microwave instant. Where Bob was a loyal Limbaugh listener; I consider Limbaugh the most toxic person in the country. Bob once introduced me to a group of his fellow Sarah Palin followers as the “the biggest liberal asshole in Vista,” which I took as high praise.
Yet, I am going to greatly miss Bob this Thanksgiving, which I would agree to spend with him in a heartbeat. Bob was the classic guy who would give you the shirt off his back. And he didn’t have to know you to do it either. Once we were traveling together with our wives and standing around waiting for our baggage in Houston when Bob excused himself to approach a pregnant woman at the adjoining carousel. He told her that when she saw her bags to wave him over and he would retrieve them for her. When a lesbian couple at his synagogue adopted a baby, it was Bob they asked to be its honorary grandfather, a role he enthusiastically embraced despite his politics. And whenever we ran into each other around town, he was always keenly sensitive to a personal issue that he knew had deeply plagued me for years and was always ready with a sympathetic ear and fatherly advice. (And the day after calling me the biggest liberal asshole in Vista, he called to apologize profusely...the man had both conscience and soul.)
We kept the politics that divided us to very brief, occasionally sharp exchanges, but both moved quickly and eagerly to the common ground where we knew our relationship could safely exist. We valued our friendship enough to never let politics ruin it. Agreeing to disagree may sound like the lamest of strategies, but given how helpful it was to Bob and me over the years, it may be just the ticket for avoiding a rancorous Thanksgiving. So when your bitter Uncle Buster concludes grace by saying something like, “And God save America from our socialist, Muslim, Kenyan overlord,” you answer by saying something like, “And God save the New England Patriots from that porous secondary of theirs. So now tell me, Uncle Buster, politics aside, what was the happiest day of your life.”