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DECISION 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

White Meat Vs. Dark Meat Is Passe Today

Families: No, the real philosophical divide begins in Tallahassee, Fla., and runs right through the middle of many Thanksgiving tables.

November 23, 2000|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The ever-evolving, never-ending Florida election imbroglio leaves hanging in the balance today not only the great American office of the presidency but the great American holiday as well.

As Democrats and Republicans eyeball each other over steaming plates of turkey and yams this Thanksgiving, they are bound to ask: Can domestic peace and tranquillity prevail?

The holiday's nondenominational nature means that nearly everyone participates and has somewhere to go. Experts predicted record levels of travel and crowding at airports this year. To many folks, that means the usual helpings of good cheer and a little family intrigue. But to others, more than ever it portends the arrival of the archconservative in-law or the oh-so-liberal aunt.

So easily, a slip of the tongue could send it all crashing down. "Could you pass the dimpled. . . . No, no, really, I meant the dumplings."

"It's hitting very close to everyone's feelings," said Donna Termeer, a Republican who will be in a distinct minority at her mother's table in Lancaster today. "I think [the subject] will be avoided instead of embraced. It's getting very nerve-racking. . . . It's gotten to be too sensitive of an issue for everyone."

Coping mechanisms were already being deployed in force Wednesday as families prepared for the big day. Some people said they were planning other topics of conversation. Others will unplug CNN and rely on highly partisan seating plans.

John Dorsey, a marine biologist for the city of Los Angeles, said he actually relishes the interchange between "Gorites" and "my Republican brother-in-law." But if necessary, he has the family's Colombian iguana, Yuban, available to distract warring guests.

"If things get too heated," Dorsey said, "I can always let the dogs loose or I can bring out the lizard."

Democrat Michael Racinowski of El Segundo was free to rail about Republicans' efforts to block hand recounts as he stuffed last-minute groceries and baking pans into his sport-utility vehicle outside a supermarket Wednesday. But today, he will back off.

"My grandparents are Republicans," he said. Not only that, they are registered Florida voters, live in the Philippines, vote by absentee ballot and have been calling continually to ask whether their votes counted.

"Hopefully, Thanksgiving dinner won't all be about politics, but I guess it's unavoidable," he said.

Indeed, at an Albertson's supermarket in Costa Mesa on Wednesday afternoon, the battle had already been joined. As Bill Burgess and his mother pushed a shopping cart loaded with children, turkeys and vegetables, Burgess said, "We're already fighting."

"I'm kind of worried about the meal," joked Betty Burgess, a social worker from Colorado. "I'm the only Democrat and I'm going to be outnumbered. . . . I'm rehearsing my arguments now."

Even Los Angeles' Republican mayor and his Democratic wife have agreed to disagree on the election-without-end. They don't plan to raise the topic today.

"I have stopped talking about it because he has a totally closed mind on the issue," said Nancy Daly Riordan. "And he has stopped talking to me because he thinks I have a totally closed mind on the issue."

Listening in to the phone conversation, Mayor Riordan chimed in: "To save our marriage, we have to keep it pretty much to ourselves."

The topic, nonetheless, may be unavoidable today in the Riordans' Brentwood home, as more than a dozen adults (and half a dozen children) from both parties gather.

"It's close friends and family only," Nancy Riordan said. "Hopefully we can still enjoy the day."

Patti Davis--the daughter of former President Reagan and no stranger to political disagreements over the dinner table--advised a giant dollop of good humor along with the second helping of mashed potatoes.

"It's so absurd and so unprecedented," Davis said. "As long as Leno and Letterman are willing to run with it, so am I." Davis' phone machine answers: "I'm on my way to Florida to count the ballots myself."

The experts, if there are any on highly charged holiday gatherings, had their differences. One authority on family dynamics warned against ignoring the 800-pound elephant (or donkey) in the room.

"Everyone knows it's there anyway, and it's going to be very stressful to ignore it," said Alan Entin, president of the media psychology division of the American Psychological Assn. "Get it out in the open, but don't let it get in the way of your family relationships."

That's a noble sentiment but perhaps not a very realistic one in family gatherings where expectations and emotions already are at the bursting point, said another family therapist.

"In a sense, if you bring it up, you are almost begging for some disagreement," said Lilli Friedland, past president of the Los Angeles County Psychological Assn.

Abigail "Dear Abby" Van Buren seconded that emotion. "While the turkey is on the table," the etiquette arbiter said Wednesday, "keep the subject of politics off the table.

"It's difficult to discuss without becoming emotional, regardless of which side you're for. And that's not conducive to good digestion."

Actually Abby's old-school manners may be backed by new-school science, said Dr. Russell Yang, associate professor of gastroenterology at USC's Keck School of Medicine. Thanksgiving Day stress will only add insult to gastrointestinal injury.

"There's a direct mind-gut connection--I think that's best demonstrated in the holidays," said Yang, who already sees a steady stream of patients with digestive problems this time of year. "Save your arguments for before or after. Preferably after."

*

Times staff writers Jessica Garrison, Rosie Mestel, Stephanie Stassel and Laura Wides contributed to this story.

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