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Changing the Subject

Fri, Oct 31st, 2008
Posted in Commentary

The holidays are coming. I can tell by the weather and the fully stocked shelves of canned pumpkin. Here we will be again, driving to an event with all those relatives that we love and carrying our lists of topics not to mention. You know, John and Mary's divorce and Ted and Joan's son in jail or that weird growth on Howard's forehead. Don't we all turn to our spouses on the drive, cranberries on our laps, and remind them, "Don't start in with them about the Vikings. There are all those Packers people among my cousins!"

So, I offer up a list of things that are impolite, potentially contentious and must be avoided.

• No mention of the American death toll in Iraq, now approaching 4,200 young soldiers. To find this outrageous to accept is to be accused of being unpatriotic and letting the terrorists win.

• Try not to discuss anything about the economy, even though it's bound to come up. It's safe territory, I suppose, to express amazement at how much seven hundred billion dollars is but best to go make coffee when the sparring about who is to blame begins. You don't want to fuel this fire with corollary economic issues, like wages that have stagnated while the wealthy empty the cash stores. It's a less popular position than just blaming immigrants. Kicking someone who is worse off is the easiest course.

• Energy policy, or lack thereof, might be okay if the drapes were pulled so all of our SUV's aren't gleaming from the driveway. Or, we can stop the conversation by saying, "yep, by golly we need to find alternatives." That is where our politicians stop the conversation because it's been the only response since the Iran crisis in the Jimmy Carter years. Until Big Oil figures out how to own the sun and wind, it seems the topic comes to a screeching halt beyond some vague hope that somebody has some idea. They do, actually, but the subject keeps changing.

• The topic of taxes is good if you want to commiserate with Reagan Republicans about how burdened we all are. We might remind ourselves that we wish to live in a civilized, educated culture. There are bills to be paid to support our American dream. The current Republicans seem to have nothing to say except "Lower taxes and grow the economy". Might we ask how that plan has worked so far? Better not- it's pretty obvious.

• Family Values is often code for distaste at the idea of gay people. Statistically though, if your family has more than a few members, there are likely to be some gay ones in there. They may well stay silent during this conversation unless they are Out and Proud. If the topic does come up, we might ask; if married people can only have sex within marriage and gay people are only allowed to have sex outside of marriage is that fair? Shouldn't Family Values traditionalists insist on gay marriage instead of banning it or are we going to let gay people have all the fun?

• The cost of healthcare is easy to have a group whine and moan session about but eventually someone is going to try to figure out who to blame. It's like energy; agreeable to complain about but until we start to seriously examine why it's expensive and who is plundering the system, the tsk tsking is not very helpful.

• So it is with our national dialogue and most of our mainstream news stories. At the holiday gatherings find a relative who has something new to say and share real ideas. In our larger conversation, read a book or a magazine of substance on a topic that matters to you. We may have an opportunity to make change in 2009. Let's be ready to stop changing the subject and be prepared to move forward with new ideas. Perhaps then, next holiday season we'll have achievements to celebrate and new trends to pay attention to.

But, if you have Packer Fans in the house, well, I don't know what to tell you. We have to choose our fights.

Beadrin Youngdahl lives in Peterson. She can be reached at

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