A Thanksgiving Guide to Winning Political Arguments With Your Conservative Relatives


For the millions of Americans denied easy access to the family liquor reserves, this Thanksgiving promises another round of sober, serious conversations with the relatives we work so hard to avoid the rest of the year. 

But if you're going to be buttonholed by that bloviating cousin — you know, that archconservative who identifies as libertarian — why not put him in his place? Your aunt will forgive you. She didn't raise him to be like that.

The past year has given our dear (extended) family members a particularly bountiful crop of nonsense to hold forth. From the still-developing mess in Ferguson, Missouri, to President Barack Obama's decision to shield a few million hard-working people from deportation, there are scores of unreasonable, knee-jerk opinions sure to be headed your way.

So let us be your shepherd. Please enjoy — and use! — this handy guide to winning these hot-button Thanksgiving debates:

On Ferguson


They say: "Darren Wilson did nothing wrong, and justice prevailed. Police face life-or-death situations every day, and we can't second-guess their actions in the heat of the moment. The real problem is the protesters who are exploiting the situation to loot and riot all over Ferguson!" 

You say: Do you think you're being a little flippant in saying justice has prevailed? I don't see any winner when I turn on the news or read about what happened that day. An unarmed teenager was shot dead in the street of an American suburb. The officer who pulled the trigger — who repeatedly pulled that trigger — has a responsibility to that community to protect and preserve life. 

We might never know every detail of what happened that day, but even if you believe Wilson's story, it is seriously upsetting. So blame that small sliver of angry protesters if that's convenient for you, but remember that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by a cop than whites are. And that cop is usually white.

Now if you'd excuse me, I'm going to grab a drink.

On immigration


They say: "This proves that Obama's a dictator. He thinks he can just make up laws! He thinks he can give amnesty to millions of illegals while trampling on the Constitution. Why should people who broke our laws go to the front of the line while other people have been waiting for years to get into the country legally? Obama's only encouraging more of them to come across the border to get amnesty."

You say: Can we stop with the dictator stuff? If he was a dictator, you would be in a secret prison right now, talking like that. But really, let's just run down the facts real fast: Obama has not made up any laws. He doesn't have that power and didn't try to pretend he did. There isn't a serious legal expert who believes he's broken the law.

All Obama did last week was defer deportations for a little more than 4 million of the 11 million people living here without legal status. People, by the way, who are probably working harder than you and paying taxes for benefits they'll likely never see. 

Oh, and if you are really interested in establishing a more fair line to enter the country, send a note to the Republicans in the House. They are refusing to vote on a bipartisan Senate bill that would create just a path to citizenship that sounds a lot like what you want.

Now if you'd excuse me, I'm going to grab a drink.

On Obamacare 

They say: "My friend — a doctor — tells me that Obamacare is destroying the health care system. Costs are skyrocketing, people are losing their insurance and the ones who to buy it now hate their plans."

You say: Are we still having this debate?

If we can put ideology aside for a second and look at the statistics, you'll see how tired this argument is. The Affordable Care Act hasn't caused a spike in health care costs. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates Obamacare premiums are likely to increase by only 2%, the same rate of change expected for employee-sponsored premiums. And the quality of the plans is going up. People who lost their plans lost them because they didn't meet a minimum standard.

How do I know that? Well, the new Gallup poll says it all: 74% of people insured through the Obamacare exchanges said their coverage was good or excellent, and 75% said they were satisfied with the cost of their plan. Only 61% of people who bought their coverage on the private market were as happy. 

And seriously, who told you all this? I think it's time we looked at facts, not hearsay.

Now if you'd excuse me, I'm going to grab a drink.

On Bill Cosby

Getty Images

They say: "Who's to say whether the claims these women are making are true? This was all a long time ago, and people are probably trying to take advantage of an old man. I just think he's innocent until proven guilty."

You say: Good news for you on that last point. Cosby is not in jail tonight. He is, as you say, innocent until proven guilty. But that's just in the eyes of the law. In the eyes of a right-thinking person, the case against him looks really bad. The Washington Post counts 16 women now publicly accusing Cosby of sexual assault. And 13 of them have said he did it, or tried to, by drugging their cocktails. Are you suggesting they all got together beforehand to plan this out?

Studies have found that only 4 in 10 incidents of sexual assaults ever get reported to police. Only 1 in 10 ever goes to trial. Just 3 in 100 rapists ever spend a day in prison. Oh, and if you think they're doing it for notoriety or fame, then come over here and watch this video of one of Cosby's alleged victims being questioned by CNN anchor Don Lemon.

Yup, you heard that right. He told her on live TV that the assault was basically her fault because she failed to do the obvious and bite his penis. Ever think that maybe stuff like that is why people tend to stay quiet?

Now if you'd excuse me, I'm going to grab a drink.

On legalizing marijuana 

Getty Images

They say: "If we legalize marijuana, what's next? Legalized cocaine? Heroin? I just think it's dangerous, and hippies don't need to be given the right to smoke pot. If you look at where it has been legalized, it's led to more people using it than ever before. And don't tell me it's 'medicine,' either. People don't smoke it for the medical value."

You say: Let's start at the end. You're not alone in thinking legalizing any kind of pot is a bad idea. The federal government is also dead-set against it. But its palliative benefits are plain to see.

As for this slippery slope argument, well, it's simply untrue. There is no serious movement pushing for legal heroin or cocaine. And there's no actual evidence that someone who smokes pot becomes any more likely to use those drugs than someone who gets started with the legal stuff, like Scotch whisky.

Now if you'd excuse me, I'm going to have a smoke.

On the Islamic State

They say: "The Islamic State never would have existed if Obama wasn't so dead-set against leaving Iraq before the mission was complete. It's because of his arbitrary withdrawal date that we're in this mess in the first place. Plus he called them a JV team and downplayed the threat until it was already too late. Now they're starting to cross the border from down in Mexico!"

You say: This is a convenient rewriting of history. If you want to ascribe wholesale blame for the rise of a radical group in the Middle East, maybe look all the way back to the Ottoman Empire, or how the British drew up the current borders on the back of an envelope, guaranteeing the sectarian divides we see causing so much violence today. You could even ask why Obama was in a position to withdraw troops from Iraq. How did those troops even get there?

But let's put that aside and play on your home field. While IS is quite clearly a brutal, bloodthirsty band of medieval thugs, it's important to note that they pose, for now, basically no threat to the U.S. That is mostly because they're preoccupied with taking control of western Iraq and Syria, the country in which they formed as a more radical cousin to al-Qaida. It was the Syrian civil war, not the American withdrawal from Iraq, that created the power vacuum filled by IS. 

We could talk about the president's decision not to more strongly pursue an agreement called a SOFA with the Iraqi government, which would have let a small number of U.S. troops stay there, but I bet you'd rather just go fall asleep on one.

Oh, and no matter what Republican candidates for Congress told you during election season, there are no IS agents coming over the Mexican border. That isn't a real thing.

Now if you'd excuse me, I'm going to grab a drink.

On Ebola 

They say: "The White House put politics ahead of Americans' safety. If it was really concerned about Ebola, it would have shut down flights and quarantined people who had been to West Africa. The fact that it bungled the response so badly just points to Obama's incompetence."

You say: If you feel compelled to blame Obama for something Ebola-related, criticize him for not sending more aid faster to West Africa, where the death toll has risen to 5,459 over the course of this months-long outbreak. But if you're talking about Americans, the fact is that not a single one has gotten sick on U.S. soil and died. The two who did contract the disease, those brave nurses in Dallas, were given the best care possible and made full, fast recoveries. 

The two people who did die in the states got sick in West Africa and came here seeking treatment. One, a doctor, was a legal permanent resident who had been treating patients in his native Sierra Leone. He was rushed back here to a hospital in Nebraska for emergency care. Why was he brought back to the States? Probably because this country has the best doctors and medical technology in the world. Obama deserves as much credit for that as he does blame for the hysteria that followed the first diagnosis — that is, not much.

Now if you'd excuse me, I'm going to grab one last drink.

Remember: You don't have to get a drink or a smoke after each argument, no matter how tempting the prospect. In fact, for some folks, overindulgence can lead to more sparring. But that's just something we've heard. As for the rest of the stuff above, feel free to cite us or the other outlets and studies we've cited. You won't be let down. With that, have a very happy holiday and many winning arguments.