Stop Bickering About Partisan Bickering!

Outtacontext has created a series of WW2-style propaganda posters calling for less partisan division. Here’s a typical example:

First of all, let me say, these posters are gorgeous. Outtacontext, you rock. As a poster designer.

But I find the politics expressed by the posters to be… frankly annoying.

Not all disagreements are shallow partisanship. Some disagreements are based on substance. But “substance” — which is what I’d really like everyone’s politics to be focused on — is entirely ignored by the “stop the partisan bickering!” folks.

If a policy position is right, then it’s also right to advocate for it passionately — even if that turns out, in practice, to create “disunity.” Unity is not the most important value in the world.

One of Outtacontext’s posters calls on us to “vote moderate” in 2010. But is the “moderate” position always correct? Historically, we can see many cases in which splitting the difference between two major sides would have produced fairly horrible and unjust policy. For instance, when the question was if women should be allowed to vote, a “moderate” position might have been to grant women limited voting rights (the right to vote in local but not Federal elections, for example). A position can split the difference and still be horribly wrong.

I’d suggest that, next time Outtacontext is looking for inspiration for posters, he should read Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which — among other things — covers the difference between being moderate and being right.

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another mans freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro the wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating that absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Of course, there’s a lot about partianship as it’s practiced that I have criticized and will criticize. But on the whole, I agree with Nancy Rosemblum: “What we need is not independence or bipartisanship or post-partisanship but better partisanship.”

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25 Responses to Stop Bickering About Partisan Bickering!

  1. 1
    Reverend Manny says:

    See… i don’t understand what this “vote liberal” stuff is either… it’s a choice nowadays between a mediocre idea and no ideas… honestly, that’s not exactly two even sides of the scale…

    furthermore, for all the Repub complaining, Obama has actually gone out of his way to be bi-partisan (even when it’s slowed or watered down legislation)…. one party is attempting some ideas (admittedly not all good) and the other party wants to prevent solutions that aren’t theirs from being used…

    great stuff… i’ll def be checking the blog again…

    one struggle,
    –the rev

  2. 2
    Steve says:


    As you would champion partisianship from the far (from where I stand) Left, I would champion from the Libertarian Right. However your blog is entertaining and I have learned something from almost everyone. And I have listened to the left a lot since the late 60’s. Always took away small particles of wisdom but the boulders were toxic to me. Too many layers designed to obfuscate the deeper goals.
    Marxist goals have always been toxic to me.

    I too think there is far too much moderation. We will see which side wins the (mostly) civil tug of war in November.

  3. 3
    killjoy says:

    The poster design also suggests an equivalence between liberals and conservatives, despite the fact that the bulk of the outright eliminationist rhetoric (comparisons to vermin and disease, death threats à la Coulter) is coming from the right.

    Also, which issues are American liberals supposed to be quieter about for the sake of harmony, to show their good faith (and why does that tactic sound so, so very familiar to me)? Who is supposed to take one (or two, or three) for the team?

    Now if he’s for not comparing people to vermin I’m all for it, but going to great lengths to find “common ground” and “dialogue” with Republicans is…pretty much Democratic Party business as usual.

  4. 4
    Doug S. says:

    I think this calls for one of my favorite quotes.

    “I think it’s important to realize that when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.” – Richard Dawkins

  5. 5
    Jake Squid says:

    Too many layers designed to obfuscate the deeper goals.
    Marxist goals have always been toxic to me.

    This is where I have to stop considering anything you write to be even remotely related to reality. You really believe that liberals are Marxists? Seriously? And are all conservatives Fascists? Sheesh.

    Libertarians just keep posting here and making themselves look more fringe and/or more repugnant every time.

  6. 6
    Kevin Moore says:

    Yes, the poster designs are lovely, but the call for “moderation” and “bipartisanship” is just cringe-inducing. I’d prefer a principled debate and an honest attempt to make honorable compromises (if there are such things), but that presumes the Congress is not overrun by corporate tools corrupted by “lobbying” and “campaign contributions.” There is more to be gained by undermining debate with dishonest complaints and disinformation; perhaps not at the ballot box, but certainly from the board of trustees.

  7. 7
    Jeff says:

    Ampersand, thanks for the comments (I’m Outtacontext). Just to clarify, I’m not calling for no debate or that everyone should just get along. It’s all a matter of degree. In this case moderation is at the other end of extremism. The level of rancor in Congress (and throughout the country) has become toxic. Everything seems black and white, with the subtle shades of gray (those are the interesting parts of disagreements and dialogue) missing. I simply would like to dial it down to a point where we can have fruitful discussions and move forward.

    Perhaps my next posters will build on the discussions here, on Flickr and on Boing Boing to clarify my thoughts. ;-)

    And the graphic designer in me says thank you!

  8. 8
    killjoy says:

    Jeff, it would indeed be very nice to knock off the demonization and death threats.

    But — and this is important — not all issues are properly amenable to compromise. “Compromise” often means “make a two-tiered policy” or “sell out the most vulnerable.” It’s not an inherently good thing.

  9. Pingback: links for 2010-07-07 « Embololalia

  10. 9
    GallingGalla says:

    Jeff @7: Your comment just proves the point that both Amp and some of the other commenters are making. You are making an equivalence between left-wingers who would like to see queer and trans folk (such as myself) be able to get jobs, have roofs over our head and not get the @#$% beat out of us, and the right-wingers who want to eliminate us.

    It is ethically dishonest of you to treat both positions as somehow equal in “extremism” and seek some kind of middle position between the two – not when one position is clearly one of hatred and eliminationism, and the other position merely makes some people uncomfortable with the demand that we be treated as human. There’s no ethically supportable middle position between kicking a trans person to death and welcoming them to apply for jobs and housing on the same basis as other human beings.

    Same applies to gay people, black and brown people (Arizona, anyone?), poor people, disabled people, …

  11. “Bipartisanship” is only a sensible slogan if you’re of the “not a dime’s worth of difference” school (not that every dimesworther is a champion of bipartisanship, but I’d venture to say assuming a bipartisan is a dimesworther is the way to bet). If the “two sides” have different goals, or even, at minimum, grossly different strategies for achieving the same goals*, there’s no together for them to work. If one person wants to turn left and one person wants to turn right, they can’t share the wheel.

    *I think which it is depends on the issue, but even where liberals and conservatives have “the same goal” it’s generally only the same in a very broad way

  12. 11
    steve says:


    Yes I see that you have from your many posts moved your self only a little way out from the tree trunk of pure center – center affiliation. Some here are like squirrels jumping gayly from bouncing slender green swaying twig to bouncing slender green swaying twig on the left side of the tree.

    “Marxist Goals are toxic to me” is a statement about me. You state you are not a marxist. I have no reason to dispute this. Those who self describe as marxists, or if, only marxism were “done right” types are frequent posters.

    I apologize for not specifically narrowing my audience.

    You may draw you’re wet noodle and commnce to strike.

    By the way go to Political Compass and take the test.
    It is both fun an educational.
    Just about yourself for yourself. Share if you like.
    If you do you will understand it when I say
    Vertically I am on the center line
    Horizontally I am three points to the right.

  13. 12
    Duncan says:

    I love that quotation from King, and have often quoted it when liberals have complained about “extremism.” As you no doubt know, King went on to say: “… So the question is not whether we will be extremists but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice –or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? …”

    There’s another good quotation on this matter, from one of Ellen Willis’s satirical pieces: “The male chauvinist bias is that women are inferior to men; the feminist bias is that women are equal to men. The unbiased view is that the truth lies in between.”

    On the posters, I agree that they’re nice graphically but bad politically. The Bush II years were great years for bipartisanship, what with the Democrats giving Bush almost everything he wanted, often quite enthusiastically.

  14. 13
    atheist says:

    I suppose I should thank Outtacontext for explicitly stating the attitude I loathe the most in the modern USA.

  15. 14
    hf says:

    @Jeff: so wait, you didn’t mean it as a parody? What does “our competitive edge” mean, then?

  16. 15
    Jeff says:

    Either I’m not conveying my sense of this very well or we simply don’t see eye-to-eye (or a combo of both).

    I am interested in this country moving forward and yet I feel we are paralyzed. Mainly, I’m talking about the lawmaking process in Congress. The animosity and obstructionism that is coming mainly from the Republicans (but don’t kid yourself, the Dems, in a similar minority position, would be doing the same) is stopping us from moving forward. I am advocating for finding a process which will allow us to do so. My position is not so much a commentary of social issues of the day per se but on the ability of Congress to address the important issues of the day.

    Duncan, I feel strongly about many social issues. If I’d have my way we’d have a much more liberal national agenda. And some of my positions might be bordering on that type of extremism King espoused (you might find it interesting to read a few of my blog posts during the Kerry Presidential campaign. My right-wing next door neighbor called the police when I placed my Kerry signs too close to his property (on my own property). But the fear and anger expressed by my neighbor was a very realistic wake up call to me. And I wouldn’t doubt he would be attracted to the type of extremism the Tea Party conveys today. But all this being said, my interests also reside in moving this country closer to a position I believe in. This is a process. I don’t see this as “you are either with us or against us” position. So, while I have my personal beliefs I also have some realistic sense of what can be accomplished. And this is, in part, what these posters are about.

    hf, there is a huge amount of parody in these posters.

    GallingGalla, I agree with you that conservatives are less likely than liberals to afford gays and transgenders equal rights. But the question here is how can we affect change, given the way things work in Washington. I think the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” issue is a good example of this process. It’s slow (sometimes very slow) and compromise is all part of the game (and by “compromise” I might mean that deals might be part of this as in “you vote for this and I’ll support that” type of compromise). Perhaps it’s my years of living and working in Washington where politics permeates just about everything. So I’m espousing a realistic pov (Washington, DC realism).

    BTW, I’m coming out with five new appropriated posters early next week.

  17. 16
    Jeff says:

    I wrote a detailed response to many of your comments but the commenting system somehow registered it as spam and deleted the whole thing. Waiting to see if the admins can resurrect it. :-(

    [It’s alive! It’s alive! –Amp]

  18. 17
    GallingGalla says:

    @Jeff: Wow, that’s odd, because I got the notification about your response, and the notification contained the full text.

    I have a response, but I’ll wait until your comment is fished out of the spam queue (and if the admins cannot find it, I have the text and can post it if need be), b/c my comment will be out of context otherwise.

  19. 18
    Jeff says:

    GallingGalla, why don’t you send it to me via email. Thx. (Next time I write a long comment I’ll copy it before submitting.)

  20. 19
    Jeff says:

    Comment resurrected. Thanks Moderators! ;-)

  21. 20
    Ampersand says:

    The animosity and obstructionism that is coming mainly from the Republicans (but don’t kid yourself, the Dems, in a similar minority position, would be doing the same) is stopping us from moving forward.

    I’m not sure that’s true. Statistically, when the Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House (so the Dems were in a similar minority position), the Dems were not nearly as obstructionist.

    Maybe they will be that obstructive next time Republicans take the majority of Congress — but I’m not sure the Dems will be that unified. Do you really see conservative Dems like Ben Nelson standing firm against the next huge Republican tax cuts, for instance? Or voting against the next war of choice the Republicans decide on?

    There’s a lot I’d criticize Democrats for, but I’m not sure I buy that the parties are the same when it comes to obstructionism.

  22. 21
    Jake Squid says:

    By the way go to Political Compass and take the test.
    It is both fun an educational.
    Just about yourself for yourself. Share if you like.
    If you do you will understand it when I say
    Vertically I am on the center line
    Horizontally I am three points to the right.

    I am at (if we assume that the point of intersection of the axes is 0,0 and left of center is negative, right of center positive, below center negative and above center postive)… phew. Oh, and written as: X axis, Y axis ….

    -6.2, -6

    So I’m pretty close to the center of the Left Libertarian quadrant. And yet I think libertarians and communists and anarchists are incredibly wrongheaded in their various ways.

  23. 22
    Jeff says:

    In the Financial Reform bill passed by the Senate, only three Republicans voted for the bill (even though, according to the NYTimes “There was more than enough in the financial reform bill …to merit broad support.” Only three Republican Representatives voted for the bill as well. The Times goes onto say:

    “Republican opponents would have you believe that lack of bipartisanship was evidence of the bill’s unworthiness, but the margin of victory was really about partisan politics and not the bill’s content.”

    This is a good example of the point I’ve been trying to make. When members of a political party vote against a bill primarily in order to make the President look bad this is putting political parties ahead of the needs of the people.

  24. 23
    Jeff says:

    Ampersand, regarding your Talking Points Memo chart, I would agree: Republicans have been quite the obstructionists. I think you may like one of the new posters I’ve made. The Dems do have other issues (although, just because statistics show they’ve been less obstructionist when they’ve been in the minority doesn’t mean they have used that ploy to their benefit) and I will be dealing with one of the Dem’s problems in another new poster. ;-)

  25. 24
    Jeff says:

    I’ve just put up six new posters from the Chamomile Tea Party: