The media also speak in such absolutes — and not just in the United States. The British tabloid The Sun, for example, has a feature called "The Heroes And Villains of Westminster."
In America, outlets sympathetic to conservatives — on radio, TV and the Internet — paint Democrats as the nefarious ones, while their liberal counterparts do the same to Republicans.
Yet in the popular culture, there is recent evidence of more subtle views beginning to peek out.
In the Showtime drama "Homeland," the two main characters wear two hats, both battling terrorism and being complicit in it. In fact, some of the best American television of recent years has imbued shades of gray into even the most villainous characters, from the violent but occasionally kind Tony Soprano to the ruthless vampires in "True Blood" to the cruel but oddly moral Al Swearengen of "Deadwood."
And how do we explain conflicted feelings about Lance Armstrong? Even after the famed cancer-beating cyclist admitted lying about doping, he remains a hero to many cancer survivors, a villain to many athletes, and a puzzle to many others.
In such realms, our good-and-evil notions have blurred and become more subtle. But how can the nation bring that sensibility to politics, where the stakes are arguably higher — not successful entertainment, but rather a successful nation?
While people like to categorize ideas, things and each other in easy-to-explain boxes, both politics and the people involved in it have behaviors more subtle and motives far more ambiguous than the labels we use.
Wouldn't this country be better served if politicians stopped pigeonholing each other as heroes and villains, and if people and the media viewed them simply as men and women who serve the nation? That could produce, among other things, more realistic expectations, more civilized discourse and possibly even a more productive Washington.
Wouldn't it be something if, instead of giving the hero-and-villain tags to politicians, we start doing so with the issues? What if we viewed poverty, disease and crime as the villains that we, the heroes of our own national story, seek to conquer?
That way, the heroes and villains we've adored since childhood visits to Disney parks would remain. But maybe we'd be fighting each other just a little bit less.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Liz Sidoti is the national politics editor for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lsidoti