Columnists > Voices

'We be bad'

But that shouldn't stop us from confronting those nations that are much, much worse

Issue: "2004 Election: Clinch time," Oct. 30, 2004

"Hey, I have a question," my nephew wrote after spending a few weeks in Europe. "I have found myself overwhelmed by people who hate the Bush administration. Seriously, it's all I've heard for the last few days-especially with the debate. Even most Americans here don't like Bush. It's really annoying not being able to be proud of my country."

Nate's report bothered me. I discounted it a little because he was writing from western Europe-from Germany and the Netherlands. I had twice been in eastern Europe over the last couple of years, and had been struck there by a very different response. Folks who within the last decade had watched the shackles of communism come undone still tend to have an appreciation for the process by which that unshackling happens. Generally speaking, the farther east you go in Europe, the less anti-Americanism you find.

But Nate was about as far west as you can get and still be in Europe, and he was hearing the worst. "Will someone give me a few good reasons," he asked, "why the Republican Party, and specifically the Bush administration, is a good thing to have in charge of our country?"

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WORLD's editor-in-chief, Marvin Olasky, tackles that question from the domestic perspective on p. 52 of this issue, as I also have tried to do with reference to the crisis in the American judiciary (Sept. 18), the healthcare crisis (Aug. 14), and the Social Security crisis (Aug. 21).

But because this particular question was posed from abroad, I want in this last issue of WORLD before Election Day to remind Nate and his questioners why it is so important to the worldwide scheme of things that George W. Bush be returned to his White House office.

President Bush probably wouldn't put it the way I want to put it here. I regret that he has sometimes seemed more inclined to put it the way P.J. O'Rourke has said it, speaking of the United States this way: "WE BE BAD. . . . We're three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock-market crash on our mother's side. You take your Germany, France, and Spain, roll them all together, and it wouldn't give us room to park our cars. We're the big boys, Jack, the original giant economy sized new and improved butt-kickers of all time."

As right as the O'Rourke analysis is, there's a problem with the ambiguity of his very first three words. The problem goes to the heart of the issue.

"We be bad," he says-suggesting that anybody who tangles with us does so at terrifying risk. It is almost certainly both the frightening truth of this assertion, and the cocky arrogance with which we too often state it, that sets so much of the world against us. What if we said "we be bad" with a little different tone in our voice? What if we said it with hearts of contrition and confession? Is that what our critics want?

The challenge for Christians who want to think seriously about foreign policy is that they have to hold three truths simultaneously in tension: First, that we really are a bad and undeserving people. Second, that there are also nations and political leaders out there who are much, much worse. And third, that America needs to stand-even alone if it must-in its recognition of the extraordinary evil of those nations and political leaders and its determination to do something to restrain them.

Think it through, and I believe you'll agree that neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Kerry takes Truth No. 1 seriously enough. You might also well conclude that both of them hold to Truth No. 2. What radically sets the two men apart is that Mr. Bush takes Truth No. 3 as a life-and-death matter, while Mr. Kerry puts it off as an overblown fuss.

So, Nate. Be loyal, but also be modest about your wonderful but often wandering homeland. Rejoice in your heritage, but never boastfully. And tell your friends abroad, those who are glib with their critique of America, that your family and friends back home will be voting to renew the Bush administration because, with all its flaws, it's the only game in town that is even close to realistic about the evil nature of our age.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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