As I watched Americans caucus in Iowa and enter voting booths in New Hampshire these past two weeks, I felt the first stirrings of hope for my country that I've felt in a very long time.
It is as though we are peeking out of our caves of fear and despair, still wearing our winter coats and galoshes but preparing to shed them as we step into the promise of springtime.
For seven years, this country has been held in the grip of men who have used us for their own ends. On Sunday, it will be exactly one year until we see the last of the Bush administration.
That is reason for celebration. But it is not reason for turning our attention away from the criminals in the White House. There are times when I barely recognize the carcass of America that they continue to strip as they prepare to discard us.
Only one more year. But we know from experience the kind of damage George Bush and his crowd can do in the space of 12 months. Lest we forget, let's look at just a single year - 2001 - under this, the worst regime in America's history.
Jan. 20, 2001: On the day of Bush's inauguration, his chief of staff issued a moratorium halting all new health, safety and environmental regulations issued in the final days of the Clinton administration.
Jan. 23: Bush reinstates the global gag rule barring U.S. funding for abortion counseling abroad.
Feb. 5: Bush suspends the "roadless rule," which protected 60 million acres of forests from logging and road-building.
Feb. 17: Bush signs fouranti-union executive orders, including measures to prohibit project labor agreements at federal construction sites.
March 7: At Bush's urging, Congress repeals ergomonic regulations designed to protect workers from repetitive-stress injuries.
March 15: Bush abandons his campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
March 20: The Bush administration moves to overturn a regulation reducing the allowable levels of arsenic in drinking water.
March 28: Bush backs out of the Kyoto treaty on global warming.
March 29: Bush shuts down the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach.
April 4: Bush's Department of Agriculture proposes lifting a requirment that all beef used in federal school lunch programs must be tested for salmonella.
April 9: Bush's Department of Interior proposes a limit on lawsuits seeking protection of endangered species.
May 11: Bush abandons the nation's international effort to crack down on offshore tax havens for the rich.
May 16: Vice President Dick Cheney's task force releases its National Energy Policy report, calling for weaker environmental regulations and massive subsidies for the oil and gas, coal, and nuclear power industries.
May 26: At Bush's urging, Congress passes a $1.35 trillion tax cut.
June 19: Cheny refuses to release records of his energy task force meetings to the General Accounting Office.
June 28: Attorney General John Ashcroft announces a policy that would require gun records be destroyed one day after a background check rather than 90 days later.
July 9: Bush opposes a UN treaty to curb international trafficking in small arms and light weapons.
July 26: Bush rejects an international treaty on germ warfare and biological weapons.
Aug. 6: During the presidential daily briefing, Bush is warned that Osama bin Laden is determined to strike in the United States.
Aug. 9: Bush limits stem cell research to existing lines.
Sept. 11: Terrorists organized by bin Laden crash hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands.
Sept. 22: Bush signs a $15 billion airline bailout.
Oct. 26: Bush signs the USA Patriot Act.
Oct. 29: Bush's Justice Department acknowledges but won't identify more than 1,000 individuals detained since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Oc.t 31: Ashcroft authorizes monitoring of attorney-client conversations in terrorism investigations.
Nov. 1: Bush issues an executive order blocking the release of presidential records.
Nov. 13: Bush orders that "enemy combatants" be tried in military tribunals.
Nov. 14: Bush's Justice Department issues regulations allowing illegal immigrants to be detained indefinitely.
Dec. 11: The Bush White House recommends privatizing Social Security.
Dec. 12: Bush announces that he intends to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty unilaterally.
Dec. 27: Bush repeals the "responsible contractor rule" that had required scrutiny of safety and environmental law violations in the awarding of federal contracts.
There are 372 days left 'til Jan. 20, 2009. Let us hang onto hope for the future.
Beth's column appears on Monday. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2008 The Times Herald-Record