TERRE HAUTE —
Its label is “Thanksgiving.” As Abraham Lincoln first proclaimed this national holiday in 1863, this 24-hour period celebrates our blessings, to be “solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.”
That said, what do you do when Uncle Eddie interrupts today’s dinner by launching into an “Obamacare” rant?
Suddenly, solemnity disappears quicker than Grandma’s oyster dressing.
All is not lost, though. Your family can still enjoy a peaceful opportunity to give thanks, rather than air grievances. How, you ask?
Four words: Change the subject quickly.
Several publications this autumn have offered how-to-win-Obamacare-Thanksgiving-debates advice for people on either side of the issue involving President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Those guidelines are fine, but frankly involve a lot of study, memorization or 3-by-5 notecards, the latter of which could be rendered useless if spotted with brown gravy or cranberry sauce. Besides, winning an argument with an extended relative — especially as your ears turn red and voices rise to a notch below a yell — won’t earn you a medal.
For some families, a rigorous political exchange fits comfortably into the traditional “Please, pass the green-bean casserole” banter, and each member has a savvy understanding of the issues and a calm tolerance of divergent opinions. For others, not so much. In either case, any Thanksgiving host willing to unleash the rhubarb — the verbal kind, not the pie — should take into consideration any unsuspecting newcomers to the clan, such as the nephew’s new fiancee. If holiday point-counterpoint exchanges are not part of their background, they might wind up in shock, sobbing uncontrollably in the locked bathroom.
Otherwise, at the first utterance of “health care” or the first syllable of the president’s name or the word “Congress,” change the subject quickly. Be prepared to activate Plan B conversations or maneuvers. Here are a few suggestions:
n Prepare a strange dish and hold it in reserve for that moment. “Grandpa, I made you sesame kelp noodles. Here, try some.” It’s bound to cleanse even the most irrational mental palate.
n Blurt out your prediction for today’s NFL games. “Green Bay can’t win without Rodgers at quarterback. The Lions will roll.” Or, “I hate the [insert one of the other four teams playing today].” Your choices are the Raiders, Cowboys, Steelers or Ravens. Being a hater in sports is less volatile, even endearing.
n Issue some stunning revelation, even if it’s untrue. “I’ve decided to quit my job to learn bull riding and join the pro rodeo circuit.” They’ll lose their train of thought, guaranteed, before you confess, “Well, I’m really just thinking about doing it.”
n Start video-recording their argument with your cellphone. Slowly stand up and move around the table as you do it, to capture the participants from various angles. They’ll quiet down.
n Pick up your plate and go sit at the kids’ table. They just want to have fun.
Better yet, after “grace” has been said, if that’s your practice, remind everyone of Lincoln’s objective for the holiday and what a blessing it will be to experience a solemn, grateful, reverent meal. Leave the contentious talk for another day and have a happy Thanksgiving.