We Gather Together
A U.S. Thanksgiving—Family Style: Fractious but Friendly
Imagine what might happen if the nation’s leaders had to sit down together for Thanksgiving dinner. They might find more in common than turkey.
Maybe it’s the smell of pine needles from the Christmas tree my wife made me buy entirely too early (thanks a lot for the irresistibly enticing display, Home Depot). Maybe it’s the buzz from one too many pumpkin spice lattes, or the mind-boggling (gobbling?) image of fresh white meat from a Greenberg turkey dancing around my head.
Whatever the reason, I’ve got holidays on the brain, and a particular vision that I just can’t shake: what would happen if we forced political and media opposites to sit together around the same Thanksgiving dinner table; locked the door; and asked them to tell each other what they’re thankful for?
That would be quite a sight.
Imagine President Obama passing the cranberry sauce, and a word of thanks, to Speaker of the House John Boehner. “John, I don’t appreciate you guys slowing down immigration reform," the president would say. "And I have a sneaking suspicion that you're not being all that helpful with health care implementation."
"But honestly"--he clears his throat here--"in a room full of Bachmanns and Goehmerts, you're a pretty reasonable dude. And I think it's important to our country that you guys keep a healthy skepticism of government. It makes us refine our arguments, and search for greater efficiencies, and do our jobs better. So ... thank you."
"Well Mr. President," I can see Boehner replying as he hands over the stuffing, "this better not leave the room. But there's more to you than a pretty good golf game. I know you want the best for our country: if you had it your way, we would've done something about entitlement reform a couple years ago, and long-term debt."
"And I've to got to say," Boehner continues, "we may be the party of 'family values,' but you're really living those values out. You're a good husband, and a good dad, and that's sending a good message across America. In another world, maybe we'd be smoking Camel Ultras together on Fridays after work." ("Is Boehner tearing up?" I hear someone whisper at this point.)
"But again, Barack--if you see my Tea Party friends, this conversation Never. Happened."
Confidentiality ensured, the yams and thanks starting moving around the table to old-ish media titan Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, and new media champ Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed. What would these guys possibly find in each other to be thankful for?
"Well Ben," we hear Arthur say, "I have never met a corgi in my life, and I can't even bare to say the 'L-word," ("listicles," someone else at the table mumbles.) "But the bottom line is, you guys keep people coming back for news. Multiple times a day, readers are dipping in and out of your site for content. Sometimes it's cotton-candy-content, but sometimes it's real meat. Either way, more people, especially more young people, are reading, and you're helping the whole industry stay relevant. In the long run that's good for all of us. So, thanks Ben."
"Hold on, Arthur, I'm live-tweeting your comments," Ben replies. "Kidding man--kidding. Listen, we joke about how slow newspapers can be on picking up trends and adapting to changing market dynamics. And every time I visit your website, I'm surprised that home delivery is still a thing."
"But," Ben continues, "you--and other print newspapers--are still the source material for much of the news that matters today. You're holding governments and companies accountable. Your foreign bureaus are watchdogs for human rights. Honestly, most of the posts and tweets that matter trace their way back to an ink-stained finger on some muckraker somewhere. And for that, we're grateful."
All of the cousins hold their breath for the next one, as Cecile Richards from Planned Parenthood nudges the mashed potatoes towards Cardinal Timothy Dolan, outgoing president of the Catholic Bishops Conference. "I'll start, Cecile," Dolan says, with a deep breath.
"This one is hard for me, and I admit that when I saw the seating card, I tried to switch places with Barack."
"You know that I find abortion morally abhorrent," Dolan continues, "and I can't wrap my mind around why you don't feel the same."
"That said, I'm for all life--in the womb and out. Between pap tests and breath cancer screenings, you're helping a whole lot of women stay healthy, and testing men and women for HIV. You know that I believe lives are lost at Planned Parenthood. But I have to admit that they're also saved. And for the latter, I'll say--thank you."
"I know that took a lot, Cardinal," we hear Cecile reply in a hushed room. "And I hear you; I tried to switch seats with John myself. Honestly, what you all and the 'anti-choice' movement are doing in states like Texas is infuriating to me: I mean, lots of women won't get that same cancer screenings you care about because of Rick Perry and his crew. It drives me crazy."
"But our culture is growing coarser," Richards continues. "Just look at Miley twerking by the turkey down there. There's something about the Catholic church reminding us about the importance of family, and the sanctity of relationships, and other things that matter most that's critical in this changing society. And you're doing so much good in the world through Catholic Charities, and Catholic Relief Services, and the nuns and all the rest. Finally, I have to admit, you've got a good Pope. So, Tim--thank you."
Our eyes get a little misty at this point, but the peace is quickly shattered by Ted Cruz launching a filibuster about the inadequacy of the stuffing, and Harry Reid trying to break it up by yelling, "nuclear option!" For a minute there, we felt less like a divide country and more like a passionate, quirky, intimate ... family. A family with deeply divergent views on big, important issues, but a family nonetheless.
Crazy, I know.