T-Shirt Wars

Digby has generated a minor Democratic blogstorm over t-shirt ads seen on Republican sites.

Whenever you visit a rightwing site, you are sure to see “those” tshirts. I saw an ad for them on the Washington Times the other day. Now, I know that wingnuts have great sense of humor as you can tell by the huge number of successful comedians and humorists on the right. (Dennis? PJ? Are you getting tired?)I assume that these t-shirts are what passes for humor in their lives.

They are big on gun stuff and death and violence but I just can’t help but notice that with only a few exceptions, these t-shirts aren’t about killing terrorists or fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. This is what they’re all about:

Shirt Know Thine Enemy
Shirt Rope Tree Journalist


I have said before that while the left has plenty of people who cannot be called angels, it’s the right that makes a profit at this violent, eliminationist discourse. As long as they are selling this shit on their sites I can see no reason why we should listen to their whining about leftist incivility.

Certainly, some of the t-shirts on the linked page (although, oddly, not the one above) strike me as over-the-top. I’ve had different t-shirt makers advertise on OTB, with both pro- and anti-Republican themes. The only time one that appeared on the ad itself struck me as distasteful (A Calvin urinating on some liberal/Democrat symbol of some sort) I suspended the ad and suggested to the advertiser that a more clever choice might be more appealing to my readers and it was changed.

Short of the KKK or al Qaeda, I’ll sell ads to anyone so long as the ad itself doesn’t bother me. I’ve sold BlogAds to MoveOn.org and George Soros. I’m not proud.

Regardless, though, I don’t see how a shirt with some slightly sophomoric humor is “violent, eliminationist discourse”? Surely, the number of College Republicans who have bought one of these shirts and then run a hybrid car off the road in gleeful spite could be counted on one hand with four fingers and a thumb left over. It is also unclear how the fact that some teenagers and college kids are buying some gear that makes fun of their political opponents obviates calls for civility among elected policymakers in middle age?

Further, let’s not pretend this is one-sided. Literally the first Google result for “Democrat t-shirts” produced this page. Here are some of the charming, non-insulting, uplifting, pro-Democratic agenda slogans I found:

Bush Screw DubyaShirt FU GWB

Shirt Bush LoserShirt Bush Dumbass

Shirt Buck FushBush Idiot Europe

The last of these, featured on the main page, is “European Travel White T-Shirt.”

Traveling to Europe this year? Ashamed of President Bush? This shirt apologizes for having an idiot as a president. “Sorry my president is an idiot” in French, German, Dutch, Italian & Spanish.

At least the IMAO shirt required formulation of a punch line.

Another site had this one:

Shirt Bush Pretzel

Of course, there’s nothing “eliminationist” about this. It’s just good fun, right?

Now, it’s true that the Republican shirts are anti-liberal and the Democrat shirts are anti-Bush. But there’s not a specific Democrat for Republicans to focus on, other than maybe Hillary Clinton. During the 1990s, the GOP shirts were mostly anti-[Bill] Clinton.

So, to recap: They’re just t-shirts. Free speech. Worn almost entirely by immature people. Of both parties.

In the sage words of SFC Hulka, “Lighten up, Francis.”

Update: Much nastier ones are out there if one looks for “anti-Republican tshirt.” For example, this site sells lovely bumper stickers like these:

Sticker Conservative FascistsSticker Republican Chickenhawks

Sticker Republican ThugsRepublican Apes

Button Republicans off Island

Some less family-friendly ones are available here.

Lovely, yes?

Update 2: Barbara O’Brien has an interesting discussion on the topic. After some history, she asserts that, “Liberals laugh at righties, but as a rule, liberals don’t make jokes about righties being lynched or slapped or punched. Yet these acts of aggression are staples of rightie humor. That says something, IMO.”

She notes the examples I post here and says she does not find the stickers or the raunchier ones I link to funny but points out that,

Thanks to services like Cafe Press anybody with half a brain can create nasty T-shirts and stickers and try to sell them on the web. The “Know the Enemy” shirt, however, comes from IMAO, a long-established rightie “humor” site and member of Pajamas Media. I’d be very surprised to find a leftie blog with a comparable blogosphere ranking pushing “all conservatives are the enemy so let’s smack them” merchandise.

I’m not sure what a comparable leftie sight would be. Certainly, we have actual liberals pelting actual conservatives with foodstuffs and the like when they show up to speak, but I don’t know what kind of humor merchandise they advertise.

Still, as I note in Mahablog’s comments, I don’t disagree that IMAO is more mainstream than the sites pushing the bumper stickers, although I do disagree that Frank J is actually advocating violence. He’s a humorist in his early 20s. Certainly, it’s lighter in spirit than, say, Ted Rall or several hard left comics out there.

My view isn’t that one justifies the other, just that it’s all juvenile stuff. Yes, there has long been a “Democrats hate America” meme that arose in reaction to the Warren Court and the hippie culture. It came from a frustrated segment of society who thought their culture was being undermined by a powerful minority. Now, though, there’s a not-insignificant segment on the left who hates conservative America, especially the Religious Right, and is directing anger and vitriol at them.

Basically, these shirts and stickers are a way for people without better ways to express themselves to vent. I wouldn’t wear them, but I’m a grown man. I suspect I would have found some of them funnier 20 years ago.

Update 3: Commenter Shystee notes that I did not include the “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” slogan from the other side of the shirt. For whatever reason, it didn’t load when I first read Digby’s post. I’ve appended it now. As I note in the comments, though, I don’t find that any more objectionable than “Kill all the lawyers.” Both are humorous hyperbole, not incitement.

Update 4: Frank J informs in the comments that he’s now in his late 20s. Apparently, the t-shirt depicted above is out of print, however.

It occurs to me that, if we are taking these shirts literally, a lot of Democrats are having sexual fantasies about the president. And that, folks, is just wrong.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brian says:

    Sheesh. I am quite liberal, but I find the “Fun Facts About Liberals” shirt to be very entertaining. Fellow liberals need to lighten up!

  2. Andy Vance says:
  3. Shystee says:

    Do you really, honestly, fail to see the difference between immature political humor and immature political “humor” that explicitly calls for violence?

    You neglected to post the front of the shirt at the top of your page: “Rope, Tree, Journalist. Some assembly required.”

    While the Lefty examples you post do express strong feelings, even hatred for the Right wing, none of the Lefty examples call for injuring or killing anyone, and definitely not lynching.

    That’s “violent, eliminationist discourse,” my friend. T-shirts saying “f— Bush” are strong language but they don’t call for violence. And that’s the difference. Trying to present both sides as equivalent because they are both “immature” and “hate-filled” is intellectually dishohest.

    I’m all for passionate partisan debate, but when you call for people to be harmed you’ve crossed the line.

  4. Mark says:

    I recall Atrios and other lefties went after the “Celebrate Diversity” with an array of handguns on it. I found the shirt funny (it reminded me of a similar college shirt, only with beer cans instead of guns), but for some reason Atrios insisted that it smacked of racism.

    As if THAT card has never been played before…

  5. James Joyner says:


    I don’t see “Rope, Tree, Journalist. Some assembly required” as any more an advocacy of actual violence than “Kill all the lawyers.”

    I don’t know Frank J personally but I’ve read his IMAO blog occasionally since starting my own blog three plus years ago. He isn’t an advocate of violence, unless one counts killing terrorists. He’s anti-gun control and anti-liberal, to be sure, and his schtick includes satirical humor along those lines. But it’s just absurd to claim that he’s trying to encourage the actual lynching of journalists.

  6. RA says:

    It sounds like a good idea to me. Especially those Pulitzer traitors.

  7. Geek, Esq. says:

    The only violence done by those t-shirts is that they are painfully unfunny.

    I would also suggest that anyone who wears a t-shirt bragging about how he likes to slap liberals around has a tiny dick.

  8. Steven Plunk says:

    At least with “Rope, tree, journalist” I don’t have to cover my kids eyes. While both sides use humor and are never really serious the liberal T’s use slightly disguised off color remarks not fit for polite conversation. I find those more offensive and much less creative.

  9. Andy Vance says:

    Yeah, what great dinner table conversation.

    “Dadee, what do ropes, trees, and journalmalists have to do with one another?”

  10. Boyd says:

    I guess I’m considerably more immature than you are, James. It’s not my maturity keeping me from buying one of these T-shirts, it’s because I’m too damn cheap.

    And Geek, why are you looking at my dick? Oh, that bulge? That’s not my dick, it’s my pistol.


    Note for the humor impaired: while you may legitimately think I’m not very funny, the above is intended as humor, not as a call to bitch-slap (or worse) a liberal.

    Despite their desperate need for a good bitch-slapping. In fact, I think I’ll relieve my stress by starting with my good liberal friend, David Anderson, just so you’ll know I’m serious.

    Incoherence: live it, love it, be it.

  11. floyd says:

    the difference is ; the ones from the right are funny!

  12. Frank J. says:

    I’ve actually moved on to late twenties now.

  13. Jimmie says:

    I’d like to point out one other difference. The folks on the right are making jokes about beating people up. I distinctly remember a good dozen examples or more during the last election of lefties *actually* beating people up.

  14. sarahk says:

    Geek, Esq.: SarahK here, Frank J.’s wife. I can say with absolute certainty that Frank J. does not have a tiny (thingy).

  15. scats says:

    hmm…I wonder what the response would have been to a t-shirt that said, “Rope. Tree. Christian…” or “Rope, Tree, Cop/CEO/Republican/etc…”?

    would you believe someone who made a shirt like that if they said they were “just joking”? or would you find that a pretty feeble defense?

    Jimmie – liberals beating people up? these stories are probably common coin in right blogistan, but i’d love to see the examples. I’m asking honestly since i really don’t know what you’re talking about.

    the t-shirt examples above are hostile, but relatively tame to their rightist counterparts. calling someone an idiot or saying, “screw them” or “F*** them” isn’t on par with “joking” about a lynching or a beating. Antipathy is different from physical violence.

    as for the ones on your “less family friendly” link, there isn’t a one that calls for violence. calling Bush a Fascist isn’t even close: there isn’t a Democrat or liberal in the country that hasn’t been called a Communist at some time or another in all kinds of media. So please save all the mock indignation about being called Fascists.

    sure they’re just t-shirts. and its definitely immature. and of course its free speech. no one’s saying poeople should be prohibited from printing them. but if you’re gonna make “jokes” about lynching, and beating and poisoning people don’t be surprised if it puts people on their guard.