It was a relief to have the Clintons out of the White House. It meant an end to eight years of unrelenting harassment on the part of the Republicans. Constant picking - much the way a neurotic picks at a scab.

I've never considered myself a political person. I prided myself in choosing a candidate over a party. I didn't vote for George W. Bush, but he put himself forward as a compassionate conservative and uniter. How bad could he be? I was willing to embrace him. I took him at his word.

The first twinge came when, after his administration was in place, they were still picking at the Clintons. Weren't there more important things to be dealt with? Didn't we need to get a new administration up and running? It didn't appear that way. The Republicans were screaming that the Clintons were stealing things from the White House. Guess they forgot the Republican friends of the Reagans built a home for them in California to hold all of the loot they carried away from the White House.

Then there was that silly thing about the "W's" being stolen from all the keyboards in the White House. They made a big deal about it. Didn't they have more important things to take care of? It came out that the Clinton people were insulted that the Bush people didn't pay them the courtesy, as every other incoming administration has done, of meeting with the outgoing administration to bring them up to speed and turn over the mantle so-to-speak. The tea and cookies were out and no one came. The Clinton staffers had time on their hands and were insulted, it was childish, but right away it struck me: that's a strange way to unite folks. That should have been our first clue as to the arrogant, cavalier attitude that this administration would bring us. (Gee, maybe the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, would never have happened if there had been some sit-down, face time between the two administrations.)

George W., while already pushing his "No Child Left Behind" agenda requiring excellence from everyone, showed up at Yale and told the graduating class: "This is where a C average will get you." Ouch! That was hard to embrace. I suppose some folks thought it was funny, but It seemed that every time he opened his mouth something stupid came out.

Next were the reports of ground shaking blasts taking place around the clock from neighbors near the Vice President's official residence. The government claimed not to know a thing about it. Finally, the neighborhood prevailed, and it was announced that a hidey hole was being built under the grounds of the vice president's mansion. I wondered at the time: what do they know that we don't know? Shouldn't that have been a clue?

That wasn't the only thing carried out in secret. The vice president was meeting with energy czars to set energy policy. That should have been another clue. Don't we all use energy? Why should meetings regarding a commodity we all need be carried out in secret? (The Enron debacle should have surprised no one in the Northwest.)

All of the above was gleaned from reading newspapers and following the news during the early months of this administration. Clueless, I still was looking to embrace George W. Bush as our leader.

Searching for background, I began reading books, title after title, all available at our wonderful Timberland Regional Library. One book led to another. Books about Bush No. 1's administration, the Clinton administration, and of course, the current administration. If Homeland Security were to research my library record (which the Bush Administration would like to have the ability to do) it would be hard-pressed to decipher which side of the fence I'm on based on my reading.

What have I learned? That even though I've always stayed abreast of the news and considered myself nonpolitical, I can't afford to be that way anymore. I can't go into my golden years with the thought that as Americans we all have differences, but our similarities are greater, and that everything will work out to the greater good in the end. The last four years have taught me differently, and it has nothing to do with 9/11. It has to do with the mean-spirited, far right lean the Republican party has taken.

The single most riveting, jaw-dropping book I read during my quest was Susan McDougal's "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk." This is the story of the woman who wouldn't cooperate with Ken Starr's Whitewater Investigation and lie about Bill Clinton (just one of the bogus tactics the Republicans used against the Clintons). McDougal ended up in prison, but that was just the beginning of her ordeal. Never in my life did I dream something like this could happen to a woman in America. Clinton lied but no one died. Susan McDougal refused to lie and she paid dearly.

I have the Bush Administration to thank for causing me to examine my values and to reinvent myself at an advanced age. It isn't enough that I'm comfortable and can go easily into my retirement. Fundamental basic rights of others are in danger. Among those things are an individual's relationship with her God, with her soul mate, and with her doctor. I believe those issues are personal and private, and no one else's business, much less the government's. The Bush administration has used these as a divisive wedges and wants to legislate all these issues.

Try as I might to embrace President Bush and his father's cronies, I was unable to do so. The overriding, cocky, "bring 'em on" attitude is personally distasteful and flies in the face of much of the world's thinking. This administration was asleep at the wheel when 9/11 occurred. It appears that they are unwilling to accept any responsibility for their blunders or to hold anyone within the administration accountable. In fact, the only ones they ask for accountability are teachers and children, with the ludicrous, under-funded No Child Left Behind Act.

It comes down to this: George W. Bush reminds me of a snake oil salesman. "Just trust me folks." Even Laura is out there with that message, although early in her marriage she asked George to never ask her to go out stumping for him. In the past four years I've learned I cannot take Bush at his word. If folks place their faith in snake oil, then he's the guy they're going to trust. I trust a Higher Power.

Terri Dike

Long Beach

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