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Clinton voices partisan, yet centrist, themes during lecture

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Times have changed --- drastically in five years --- U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech Sunday in Atlanta.

The country's wallet is empty, and its manufacturing jobs --- one time bountiful in the South and upstate New York --- have been vacuumed into Asia, she said.

There now is a starkly different portrait, she told a crowd of 3,000, from the days when her husband, Bill, led the country.

"It turned out that deficit reduction, balancing the budget and creating a surplus was good for the economy, so we saw 22 million jobs created," said Clinton, a Democratic senator from New York up for re-election next year.

The former first lady was a guest at Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Buckhead, invited to give a 1 1/2-hour lecture free to the public.

Lines of cars snaked through tree-covered Peachtree Battle Avenue and Northside Drive.

The sanctuary was packed with many Georgians who weren't Jewish but showed up to catch a glimpse of Clinton. The front row included a congressional friend, 5th District Rep. John Lewis.

They welcomed her with applause, and, time to time, clapped again and again to remind her of their admiration for a woman who is the first former first lady elected to the Senate.

Clinton was a centrist throughout the speech. She urged bipartisanship as the solution in an ultra-polarized society. She spoke firmly on the need to strengthen national defense, urging better-equipped forces abroad, especially in Iraq.

Like a presidential candidate, Clinton spoke on a wide range of topics, including nuclear arms disarmament, the genocide in Sudan and better Internet connection at homes. But she did not declare her candidacy for the highest public office in 2008.

She spoke like a reformer. The big impediment in the job market, she said, was the burdensome cost of health care, which the private sector is solely responsible for. That has got to change, she added, but she said she's much savvier now, after learning from her failed attempt at providing all Americans with universal health care during her White House days.

"At some point we have to reach a consensus on our health care process," she said. "The public sector can't do it alone. I tried to help. It was very difficult, and we made a lot of mistakes."

The audience clapped. She smiled.

Clinton offered a sobering portrait of the nation's checking account.

"We know we're back in the deep deficits. We know we are borrowing money at an unbelievable rate. Where are we borrowing from? Well, we are borrowing from the Social Security trust fund. We're borrowing it from overseas. We borrow about $60 billion a month."

The audience let out a big gasp.

Another deeply troubling trend, she noted, is U.S. students' off of interest in science and technology.

"The Chinese and Indians are producing hundreds of thousands of engineers. We are not. And that matters."

She added, "I'm not one of those people who believe we can be the best when we don't make anything."

Clinton, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, did not nail down any black-or-white solution to the Iraq war. She said she didn't support a deadline or an open-ended stay in Iraq.

After her lecture, Clinton answered a few questions from the audience, including her view of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. She said she voted against Chief Justice John Roberts.

"Please tell us one thing you disagree with President Bush," she would want to ask Miers.

Clinton wasn't all academic. During the speech, the guest needed a glass of water. A cough interrupted her passionate talk on health care reform. "I need health care," she joked. "It's so warm down here."

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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