I thought I had seen almost every possible poll imaginable until AP-AOL News issued its leading "good guys/bad guys" poll today. President Bush tops both polls. People either think he is worse than Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden or they think he is the best guy of the year. (His numbers for best guy were much lower than for worst!) In fact, President Bush won the villain poll by a huge landslide, with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein very far behind him.

Regardless of your political views, and regardless of whether you like or do not like George W. Bush, you have to admit that this kind of response reveals far more about our culture than about the president. Bush may offend you, with his confident and brash Texas style, and he may be wrong about a lot of important issues as well. There is clearly room to disapprove of Bush’s handling of the job. The ratings say most Americans do disapprove. But to compare Bush with Saddam and Osama as the "bad guy of the year" is beyond sanity. I have to say that I do sincerely fear for a people, a country and a culture that picks President Bush as the worst villain in 2006. We seem to have lost all reasonable ability to disagree without demonizing those that we disagree with. There are many reasons for this, and the media is clearly a major one, but in the end this kind of hatred reveals how shallow and stupid many Americans really are at the end of the day. Our culture is crumbling and the evidence for this conclusion abounds.

Look, I did not think too highly of President Clinton but I would never would have voted for him as the biggest villain of the year, ever. And I think Jimmy Carter has become an unmitigated public diasaster (politically) in recent years. But I still respect him as a former president even though I strongly dislike his public stance on almost everything that he speaks about politically. The partisanship in our land has become so severe that I wonder if we will ever find a leader we can respect in the foreseeable future. Given the names that are likely to run for the presidency in 2008 there seems right now to be little hope for some kind of public respect, and good will, being restored to the office of president. This all reflects more on us than on the men (or women perhaps in the future) who have held, or will hold this office. Our culture is sick and it would serve Christians well to contribute to healing it rather than by adding more poison to it.

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  1. Helen December 30, 2006 at 8:44 am

    John wrote: “this kind of hatred reveals how shallow and stupid many Americans really are at the end of the day.”
    I would be interested to hear from the people who picked Bush as the worst villain of the year, why they did so.
    Perhaps I would then conclude they are shallow and stupid.
    What I do already know from many other things I’ve read is that many smart thoughtful people are very unhappy with Bush’s decisions and do consider some of them ‘evil’. The decisions he makes and the way he makes them are the issues, not his ‘style’.

  2. Dave Moorhead December 30, 2006 at 10:53 am

    We not talking about whether or not we agree with President Bush. I don’t. We’re talking about whether or not his decisions and the way he makes them are worse than the decisions Osama and Saddam made and the way they made them. Bush made bad decisions and I don’t like the way he made them. To somehow say he is worse than Osama and Saddam is, as John very boldly and aptly put it, shallow and stupid.

  3. David Bahnsen December 30, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    We have a society that has lost moral clarity. That is the only explanation for calling President Bush the most evil man of the year. Period. From an unbelieving liberal, I am disappointed but not surprised. From professing Christians (key word: “professing’), I am disguested.

  4. Adam December 31, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    You are interpreting the poll as if people were given a list of people and then were asked which of them was the biggest villan of the year. That isn’t what happened. People were asked about who was a villan and they had to come up with someone. Bin Ladden has been out of the news for a while and Sadaam is now dead and has been in custody for over a year so I understand why people would not have picked either of them. I agree that Bush was not a great choice but you are putting words in people mouth when you say that they chose Bush over Bin Ladden or Sadaam.

  5. John H. Armstrong December 31, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    I am putting words in no one’s mouth if you read the AP account and go over the the poll itself. Sorry but there are a lot of folks who really do see Bush as the world’s greatest villain in 2006. And Saddam is on many minds these days, are you reading the news? All attempts to reconcile this kind of response, or soften it somehow, will simply not work in my view. President Bush is deeply hated and profoundly vilified by many Americans, even if the poll is not a perfect tool for determing how widespread that hated really is at this point.
    Religious liberals may hate him the most if the editorials and comments of many of them are taken seriously. I read their words quite regularly. As much as some on the far right hated Clinton, making terrible videos and gross untrue stories about him, all to discredit him, the same is now taking place in reverse. The Iraq War has actually made it even worse in the case of Bush since he is blamed for the whole business and the left sees this as making him more immoral than just about any world leader in recent memory.

  6. Mike Clawson January 1, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    I don’t know… wasn’t it Augustine who said that the only real difference between a pirate and a king was one of scale?
    Violence is violence and evil is evil regardless of whether it’s perpetrated by a small band of men hiding in caves, or large bands of men sitting in board rooms. I don’t think Bush is the worst “villian” in the world, but he certainly represents one of the most powerful “Babylons” of our era – and as I see it, the consistent message of the New Testament, from Jesus to Paul to John, is that the values of “empire” are always opposed to the values of the Kingdom of God.

  7. Mike Clawson January 1, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    BTW, regarding whether the so-called “religious left” actually “hates” Bush, I suppose you’ve read Jim Wallis’ recent column on the God’s Politics blog where he explicitly denies this, but admits that he does hate the war. If Wallis is the most prominent member of the “religious left” then I suggest we take him at his word and also assume that he probably speaks for a lot of us in that regard.

  8. John H. Armstrong January 2, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    If you hold to this view of “evil” for long you will find living meaningfully in this confused world will bring about deeper and deeper cynicism and mistrust of everyone. This use of terms like “evil” and “Babylon” is the kind of terminology that is rampant in much postmodern conversation and it lacks serious nuance.
    Is Bush “evil”? Not in the sense that we normally use this term. Has he done wrong? Of course he has. “All have sinned . . . ” but not all are “evil” as Saddam was “evil” or bin Laden is “evil.” The word must retain some sense that it can discrimnate between people and actions or it has no real use at all.

  9. Adam January 2, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    It was Bush that brought “evil” back to political discussion. That was one of the main points of John Danforth’s book. You can’t use words like evil to describe other political leaders and then be resistant when others of different perspectives use it against you. It is not Post Moderns that like to use language like Good or Evil to discuss individuals, it is moderns, often religious ones. I still am not defending the use of the word evil to describe Bush, let alone villan, but I think it brings up some good points that should be discussed.

  10. Mike Clawson January 2, 2007 at 11:31 pm

    John, if you really think my, and other “postmoderns'” use of terms like “Babylon” is unnuanced, then might I recommend that you first read “Colossians Remixed” by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat before you pass judgment. You might disagree with them, but you can hardly call their work “unnuanced”.
    Or for that matter, what about NT Wright? I know you appreciate Wright, so I’m genuinely surprised that you would take issue with the “postmodern” recognition that the New Testament’s condemnation of the values of empire (i.e. “Babylon”, aka “powers and principalities”) is just as applicable to today’s systems of power and domination – which certainly include oppressive dictatorships and terrorist networks; but, IMHO, also include our Western systems of economic exploitation, nationalism, and rampant militarism. Wright’s work, it seems to me, consistently makes this connection between the gospel of Christ and the way that it challenges the gospel of Caesar – including the ways in which the gospel of Caesar continues to manifest itself in our own world today.
    Frankly, I’m not so postmodern that I shy away from using words like “evil” and “unjust”. I tend to agree with Derrida who said that some things, such as justice, are undeconstructable.
    And in this age of spin and corporately owned media, I tend to view cynicism as a virtue. As John Mayer sings, “When they own the information, they can bend it all they want.”
    As for whether Bush is “evil”, I never said he was. But many of his actions as president have been, IMHO (not just in Iraq, but also in regards to his fiscal, domestic, and especially his environmental policies). I’ll leave it up to you to decide how far we should go in distinguishing between people’s outward behavior and their underlying character.

  11. John H. Armstrong January 3, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Just for the record I love N. T Wright’s biblical-theological paradigm, think he is a first-rate New Testament scholar, and a horrible political theorist. This is not about “principalities and powers” in the Walter Wink sense, which is where much of this thinking comes from on the whole. That is where we will have to leave it. You have opened a Pandora’s box here that demonstrates why I think this line of thinking is so politically and socially unfruitful. By these standards I wonder: “Is Barrack Obama good or evil?”
    I am reading The Audacity of Hope and will comment later on the book but his chapter on his own faith is actually quite good. Even he does not treat Bush, whom he strongly opposes, with these types of expressions. My appeal is for a rhetoric that is far more sanguine and lingustically responsible, at least in my view.

  12. Mike Clawson January 5, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    I don’t know whether Obama is “good or evil”. Again, I didn’t apply that label to Bush or to him. However, I think both of them are capable of contributing to or resisting the systems of oppression in our world that are evil. Bush, again in my humble opinion, has done much to contribute to the destructive and oppressive systems of Western society in the past six years. (And he has done a few things to resist them too – I appreciate his ongoing support for African AIDS relief, despite the occasional lack of follow through on his promises in that regard.)
    Obama likewise can either feed the system or resist it. With less of a track record to examine, it’s hard to say at this point. However, I do respect the years he spent as a community organizer among the urban poor on the south side of Chicago. That, to me, is an example of positive resistance, and the kind of real world experience among the poor that I’d like to see in a future president… but that’s just me. 🙂

  13. John H. Armstrong January 7, 2007 at 7:47 am

    Mike, I may surprise you but the general direction of much of what you say I agree with, though I am not as dark in my estimation of GWB. I do respect Obama for the same reasons you state. I will say more when I am done reading The Audacity of Hope, which I would encourage you to read. There is much to like and much to doubt too, as with any book of this sort. I do find him a cempelling person, as I have stated on these blogs before. I also disagree with him on a number of points but I also disagree with Bush’s conduct of several significant matters including the War in Iraq.

  14. Mike Clawson January 7, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    I have Obama’s book. I meant to read it a few months ago, but got sidetracked by my reading for a leadership course we started at church. I’m sure I’ll get back to it sometime before the 2008 election. 🙂

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