WASHINGTON – New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) said Wednesday that the re-election of President Bush would be "an overwhelming setback for our country" as she denied talk that she was secretly promoting the candidacy of Democrat Wesley Clark (search).
Amid speculation about her political intentions concerning the crowded field of Democrats seeking the party's nomination, Clinton said she and her husband, former President Clinton, "are not supporting or endorsing any candidate" at this stage in the primary process.
"I am convinced totally that four more years of this administration, unaccountable, no election at the end, would be an overwhelming setback for our country and I will do everything I can to elect whoever emerges from this process. That's my goal," Clinton said at a breakfast meeting with reporters.
Clinton was asked about speculation that she and her husband may be using Clark's latecomer candidacy as a stalking horse for her own presidential bid.
She dismissed the idea as "an absurd feat of imagination, I guess one could say,"
Clinton criticized Bush on several issues, from the environment to job losses to the U.S. led war against Iraq (search), and said he may be the only president to cut taxes while taking up a war.
"I view that as incredibly irresponsible," the Democrat said. "I am just bewildered by this administration's priorities and values."
She cited examples of what she said was a "larger pattern" of missteps by the Bush administration, including the Environmental Protection Agency (search)'s handling of air safety issues after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, inadequate funding for homeland security and Labor Department efforts to change overtime rules. Democrats argue that the latter move would deny overtime pay to millions of American workers.
"That just boggles the mind," Clinton said.
She was also exceptionally harsh in her assessment of Bush's handling of postwar Iraq, saying "to be so poorly prepared is just a shocking failure of leadership."
She called the president's request for $87 billion for rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan "a bill for failed leadership," and criticized the administration for its inability to garner more international support.
The absence of weapons of mass destruction (search) in Iraq is reason to question the reliability of U.S. intelligence assessments, she said.
"If we were so misled, so wrong that now we cannot justify the intelligence on which we took action, that has serious implications for any president's policies," she said. "We cannot expect the American public or frankly the world community to be convinced or united if we're acting on intelligence that has proven to be so wrong."