Heaven help us.
By PATRICK D. HEALY
Senator Hillary Clinton castigated President Bush and Washington Republicans today as mad with power and bent on marginalizing Democrats during a speech to 1,000 supporters at her first major re-election fund-raiser, which netted about $250,000.
Mrs. Clinton, who is running for a second term in 2006 and is widely described as a possible Democratic nominee for the presidency in 2008, said that her party is hamstrung because Republicans dissemble and smear without shame and the news media has lost its investigatory zeal for exposing misdeeds.
Left unchallenged, especially if Democrats fail to pick up seats in next year's Congressional elections, she said, Republican leaders could ram through extremist conservative judges, wreck Social Security and make unacceptable concessions to China, Saudi Arabia and other nations that are needed to finance the United States budget deficit.
"There has never been an administration, I don't believe in our history, more intent upon consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda," Mrs. Clinton told the audience at a "Women for Hillary" gathering in Midtown Manhattan this morning.
"I know it's frustrating for many of you; it's frustrating for me: Why can't the Democrats do more to stop them?" she continued to growing applause and cheers. "I can tell you this: It's very hard to stop people who have no shame about what they're doing. It is very hard to tell people that they are making decisions that will undermine our checks and balances and constitutional system of government who don't care. It is very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth."
Mrs. Clinton described Republican leaders as messianic in their beliefs, willing to manipulate facts and even "destroy" the Senate to gain political advantage over the Democratic minority. She also labeled the House of Representatives as "a dictatorship of the Republican leadership," where individual members are all but required to vote in lock-step with the majority's agenda.
Referring to Congress' Republican leadership, she said, "Some honestly believe they are motivated by the truth, they are motivated by a higher calling, they are motivated by, I guess, a direct line to the heavens."
Then, leavening the moment a bit, she referred to reports from the Clinton White House that she would try to channel with a favorite First Lady of the past. "Now, I talk to Eleanor Roosevelt all the time, and she has never said there is any reason to only have one point of view," she said. "But apparently they have a different direct line."
While Mrs. Clinton has sought opportunities in recent months to stake claims to the political center, emphasizing nuances on abortion and immigration that may appeal to some Republicans and conservatives, her speech today was a starkly partisan rallying cry to her troops at a time when at least four New York Republicans are preparing to challenge her in 2006. She did, however, have some kind words for some past Republican presidents - Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush - but only to praise their stabs at bipartisanship and to slight the current President Bush's posture by comparison.
"We can't ever, ever give in to the Republican agenda," she declared. "It isn't good for New York and it isn't good for America."
Abetting the Republicans, she said in some of her sharpest language, is a Washington press corps that has become a pale imitation of the Watergate-era reporters who are being celebrated this month amid the identification of the anonymous Washington Post source, Deep Throat.
"The press is missing in action, with all due respect," she said. "Where are the investigative reporters today? Why aren't they asking the hard questions? It's shocking when you see how easily they fold in the media today. They don't stand their ground. If they're criticized by the White House, they just fall apart.
"I mean, c'mon, toughen up, guys, it's only our Constitution and country at stake," she said. "Let's get some spine."
Suggesting some lines of reporting, she asserted that the Bush administration could not account for $9 billion in Coalition Authority spending in Iraq, and that the Food and Drug Administration had allowed religious and political bias to interfere with science-driven decision-making on reproductive drugs.
Mrs. Clinton said she wanted to "move back toward a progressive agenda that will lift up people." The other side, she argued, was pressing retrograde steps like the nomination of Janice Rogers Brown, a California Supreme Court Justice, for a federal appeals court seat. Many Democrats plan to vote against Judge Brown if her nomination comes to the Senate floor as expected this week, taking issue with an array of her court decisions and past remarks, like her once describing President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal as "the triumph of our own socialist revolution."
"If you read about her, try not to get upset - I had to read about her and it kept me upset for months," Mrs. Clinton said of Judge Brown. "This is a woman who truly sees the world in 19th century terms. You know, during the Clinton administration, we used to talk about building a bridge to the 21st century. This administration wants to build a bridge to the 19th century.
"They want to undo and turn the clock back on the progress of the 20th century, whether it's the right to organize, whether it's the right to be able to have a choice when it comes to the most private and intimate decisions that a woman has to make, whether it is to protect the environment."
A particularly "excruciating test" for the nation's political future, Mrs. Clinton predicted, could come this summer in a showdown over a nominee to the United States Supreme Court, if one or more current members retire.
President Bush "wants to nominate someone, I believe, who will be a confrontational nominee so that he can provide support to his far-right extremist base," Mrs. Clinton said. "And we have to stand as firmly as possible against that."
On a brighter note, she said, Democrats appear to have all but "stopped" President Bush's "scheme" to overhaul Social Security. But she decried his fiscal policies, particularly Republican-backed tax cuts, saying they were ballooning the deficit and ceding "fiscal sovereignty" to countries like China, which are harder to influence when they become "your banker."