03/29/2013 12:06 pm ET Updated May 29, 2013

When Your Parent Has Fallen Over the Right Wing Cliff

From the Elisberg Industries Mailbag. Letters We Get Letters. The following was sent to me. Really.

Dear Answer Man,

Perhaps you can write me a column that will instruct me on what to say to my mother. I was raised by my folks a die-hard liberal -- JFK was their hero, the Peace Corps, folk music hipster who listened to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, their best friends were a gay couple when nobody was "out"... you get the picture. My mom and dad were the same way. Well, dad's been gone a few years -- now mom lives with a Fox-watching Tea-publican. And my former Bill Maher-watching mom? Fox is all she sees now. She thinks I'm not getting the whole picture. She speaks in bumper stickers. It KILLS me. It's like I lost my mom. I told her we cannot talk politics until she changes the channel. At this point, I'll take any channel. Nickelodeon. It's horrible! Write something on what to say to the brainwashed! It never was this awful on the right. Barry Goldwater, Jack Kemp, Bob Dole. Dwight Eisenhower. Mom doesn't even accept that the Tea Party is extreme right. The BF took her to a rally (kill me). She said they were "such nice people." Help.

Lost in Mom Hell

Dear Lost,

I feel your pain. My brother grew up liberal, then got married, and about 10 years in became conservative. But he didn't give birth to me, just noogies.

One thing you must understand -- you really can't debate such people. Whatever flaws the left may have, it isn't that they don't like to argue. It's their reason for being. New ideas, change, think for yourself, discover the best. Like or hate the ideas (like a 40-hour work week, child labor laws, Social Security, Medicare, civil rights law, Federal Deposit Insurance...), that's the core starting point. Empathize with others, hug trees, I feel your pain. The unknown future. To boldly go where no one has gone before.

On the other hand, the very point of conservatives is a safe refuge in what was good about the past. Give me back my America. There is literally nothing you can say to someone on the right because the whole point is that they have their answers from the past. The mind is locked on what they like about what came before. (Like before womenfolk could vote, before blacks could vote, before gays could vote... sorry, I mean, marry, before Social Security, Medicare, child labor laws...) The only thing one can do is ask questions. Get people to face their own hypocrisies rather than tell them they're wrong. Hopefully that can lead to some sort of revelation. But usually -- well, the best I can do is say, "Here, let me give you a hug..." Hey, it works on trees.

Questions you can ask:

So, mom, I remember when I was a kid, you used to tell me about Kennedy. What was he like? What did you like about him?

Yeah, those things were great. Why did you like them so much?

Do you still support those things?

Oh, great. Why doesn't the Tea Party?

I see. Well, when they say they want their country back, why do they think it's "their" country?

When I was a kid, it's funny, I'd always thought you taught me is was all of our country? Did I hear you wrong?

I do understand they want their country back, though. There was a lot of good in the past. How far back do they want to take it?

Oh, yeah, Reagan seemed like a nice guy. Did you know he created the biggest deficit in U.S. history?

No, really, he tripled the budget deficit. Doesn't the Tea Party really hate budget deficits?

I thought so. Then why do you think they're okay with it when Dick Cheney said, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter"?

No, I don't think it was taken out of context, given that Reagan did triple the deficit. Do you think that context explains why the Reagan administration sold arms to Saddam Hussein, and also sold him the materials for making anthrax, a weapon of mass destruction?

Boy, yeah, you're right. That is awful. So maybe you'd want to go back further than Reagan. Would you like to go back to Jimmy Carter?

Okay, well, then, before him. Would you like to go back to Richard Nixon?

Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. How about going back further then. Would you like to go back to John Kennedy?

Great! Do you think we could try to convince your friends at the next Tea Party rally to join you and support the things Kennedy stood for?

Well, that doesn't make them very nice people, does it?

But wouldn't they at least like that Kennedy lowered the highest tax rate and support that?

Thank God. Do you think they know that what he wanted was to lower it from 91 percent to 70 percent -- and also proposed getting rid of most loopholes?

No, I can see why they might not want to support Kennedy like you. But don't at least the black Tea Party members you talk with at rallies support Kennedy's social issues like civil rights and voting rights and food stamps?

You haven't seen any? None?

Why do you think the Tea Party doesn't have black members?

Well, that doesn't make them very nice people, does it?

You're right. That's just wrong of the Tea Party. I'm surprised to find they have so many right wing positions, aren't you?

Why in the world does your BF take you to Tea Party rallies, then?

Geez, that's sort of creepy of him, isn't it?

Do you think you could get him to open up a bit, and be more accepting to others, like blacks and feminists and gays and liberals and you... I mean, you when you support Kennedy and all the things you taught me, which is why I love you so very much?

Do most of the Tea Party most feel the same?

Well, that doesn't make them very nice people, doesn't it?

How critical of the Tea Party is Fox News?

But you just said you were. Why aren't they, too??

Would Fox News at least like all those great issues you love about Kennedy?

None of them?

That is so wrong, isn't it?

Well, how supportive are they, at least, about women's issues?

None of them??

Why do you think that is?

That is so wrong, isn't it?

By the way, what is a transvaginal probe?

Eesh, would you want one?

No, I wouldn't think any woman would. Why do they support it on Fox News?

You mean they don't even report it?!

But if they don't report it, how can you decide?

Well, I guess that's why you've decided you don't like liberals anymore. If there was one liberal program you'd want to cut to save the most money, would it be Social Security, then?

Oh, yeah, I understand. Maybe you'd cut Medicare?

Okay, forget those two, they're really important programs even if they're liberal. There must be other liberal programs you hate and would want to cut. How about the 40-hour work week - or child labor laws -- or minimum wage -- or the Civil Rights Act, federal deposit insurance, the TVA bringing electricity to rural America, unemployment insurance?

Yeah, I agree, those are all really good things. Very important. But I'm sure conservatives have come up with a lot of great programs over the years that you love. In the past 50 years, what would you say are your very favorite programs that conservatives have come up with for America?

Sure, when you can think of one or two, just send me an email. Oh, I just realized, my favorite show is on now. Can we switch Nickelodeon?

Great, let me scroll through. I'm not sure the channel. Let's see. Oh, wait, look at this news story. Can we just watch it a second?

I think her name is Rachel Maddow. She's very nice, isn't she mom?

But not as nice as you. You're such a nice person, mom. Always caring about others. Always caring about those in need. Always caring for those who need care. That's why I love you. Actually, no, that's just one of the reasons I really, really love you. I love you, mom. Any man would be lucky to have someone as wonderful and kind and open-minded as you. No man puts mom in the corner. Do you want to go out for dinner?

No, just the two of us. Just me and my mom. Who I love. Sure, we can wait until Rachel Maddow is over. You want to give me a hug?


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