Family Matters: Reunion Sparks Debate

Posted: September 8, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog
2016 candidates, marijuana legalization and Caitlyn Jenner were all discussed at Ryan Tunink's family reunion over the Labor Day weekend.

2016 candidates, marijuana legalization and Caitlyn Jenner were all discussed at Ryan Tunink’s family reunion over the Labor Day weekend.

Each Labor Day, for as long as I can remember, my extended family has traveled across the Midwest to spend the long weekend the way any other family reunion is spent. A casual best-ball golf outing, reminiscing on holidays past, catching up on the events of the summer, and of course the “friendly” ladder golf tournament all bear a similarity to many other family reunions. However, there is one thing that may distinguish my family from yours: We live in Iowa. While that may seem like a rather trivial detail, it is important to remember something else: It’s caucus season. And that means one of the most important rules to maintaining the sanity and civility of everyone involved at a reunion — no discussing politics — is broken. A lot.

I arrived for the weekend Saturday morning, and it did not take long for the caucus fever to make itself apparent. Donald Trump, naturally, was the first to make his way into the conversation, followed by Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush. Half the family must have met at least one of the candidates, which is not at all surprising as we mostly reside in eastern and central Iowa. These conversations were not spoken in a hushed tone, with those involved wary of what the family might think. Nor were they short. In fact, at times it seemed to turn into bipartisan, mini-caucus itself, with one cousin battling my uncle over Trump’s electability. At the same time, my aunt was recounting her meeting Rick Santorum in the 2012 cycle, and contrasting him with Carson.

The whole family seemed to be involved in one way or another, from my 94-year-old grandmother sitting quietly but listening intently to my 5-year-old cousin citing how “everything is made in China,” which naturally shifted the conversation to China’s stock market woes and global economics because really, what else is there to talk about with family you haven’t seen in months?

The conversation was not just limited to candidates either. Legalization of marijuana came up Saturday night, with the obligatory “we should make a family business” joke following close behind. Caitlyn Jenner and trans-rights also came up. While it did result in some tense moments, politics did not ruin my family reunion. In fact, it just would not be complete without at least someone saying something that resulted in a prolonged silence, followed by the room erupting with differing opinions.

It’s one of the many things that make Iowa during the Caucuses so special. I thought I was unique in seeing candidates speak every week by being at a politically active college campus such as Drake. While this is somewhat true, my family in Bettendorf had seen just as many candidates as I have, as well as those in Iowa City, Dubuque, and Council Bluffs. And while some of the conversation did drift toward complaining about the flood of politics that has washed over the state this summer, I know we wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, family reunions are just awkward if you can’t talk politics.

Tunink is a sophomore political science and law, politics, and society double major from Waukee, Iowa. He enjoys running on the Drake Cross Country team and binging on Netflix.