Several years ago, when I was more active with the League of Woman Voters, I went to Washington, D.C., to meet three other league members in an effort to put a budget issue on the League’s national agenda. One woman was from California, another from New Jersey, and the third from somewhere in the Midwest.
We met as strangers, but we had a lot in common and quickly became friends. Our conversations those three days were wide-ranging. Eventually we talked about religion. Two of the women told similar stories with very different outcomes.
One woman had been raised Catholic, "... the whole shebang," as she put it: Early training at home, Catholic school until 18, Catholic wedding and all that that entails. Then one day she decided she didn’t believe any of it and left the church.
The other woman was raised either as a nominal Protestant or an agnostic. I don’t remember which, but after seeing the dedication Catholic nuns had demonstrated in the cause of peace and justice, she wanted whatever inspired them, and she converted.
Here, apparently, we have diametric opposites, but there was no conflict between us, only respect for a different point of view. Each woman had found her own spiritual ground.
Religion and politics have many similarities. The pastor, like the politician, is expected to be all things to all people. Politics, like religion, engenders intense passion and has a tendency to put ideology over facts. Neither readily admits to error. Perhaps that is why the framers of our Constitution wanted to keep them separate.
However, people do change, and change that comes with maturity is often for the better. Unfortunately, in politics any change in position is looked upon with suspicion, yet not to change in the face of an ever-changing world is in itself suspicious. Furthermore, what motivates us in youth should not necessarily motivate us in our later years.
The change of heart described by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s in his book "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception," has cause a lot of controversy.
"He isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know," voiced one critic. "He’s only coming out with it now so he can sell a book," said another. "Betrayal," complained the White House.
Former Vice President Bob Dole, McClellan’s harshest critic, calls him a "greedy opportunist" who didn’t "... have the guts to speak up or quit."
None of this answers the question: Did George Bush lie to the American public? Did the president knowingly use unsubstantiated intelligence to take the country to war, or did he actually believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction?
I’m not sure we’ll ever know, but we do know those closest to him wanted a war because they said so. They planned an invasion in the Gulf well before Bush was elected.
If Americans realize this, they don’t seem to take it into account when judging the Bush presidency. But the evidence is there. President Bush’s brother, Jeb, along with administration insiders Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby, were all members of a think tank that advocated "regime change" in Iraq as early as 1998.
While this doesn’t explain McClellan, it does tell you something about Bush’s inner circle. It wanted war and was ready to use any excuse to get it. McClellan’s motives in turning a blind eye to what was happening around him are the same as other young men who have been in similar situations.
When you work with powerful people and you believe in their cause, you don’t see things in terms of right or wrong. You do what you think the leader wants, or as often the case, what someone tells you the leader wants.
It’s like religion. When you believe what you’ve been taught is not to be questioned; you don’t try to second-guess those who appear to be God’s emissaries. But as people mature — some people anyway — they begin to look more closely into their own life and their own motivation. They begin to question. They change, and their loyalties shift. They find their own philosophical ground.
So who has been lied to? Who has been deceived? McClellan? President Bush? The American public?
Whoever has been deceived, and whoever has been the deceiver, the cost is heavy. All we can hope for now is not to make the same mistake next time.
Joan King lives in Sautee; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.