WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton on Wednesday injected partisan politics to the funeral of diplomat Madeleine Albright, the nation’s first female secretary of state, saying “fascism” could dominate the United States if “dictators and demagogues” aren’t stopped — taking a clear swipe at former President Donald Trump and his allies.
Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, lost to Trump in a shocking upset and her attacks generally are welcomed by Republicans who describe her as an embittered and base-rallying foe.
“She knew better than most and she warned us in her book on fascism that yes, it can happen here and time and courage are of the essence,” Clinton said in a eulogy at Washington National Cathedral.
“If Madeleine were here with us today, she would also remind us this must be a season of action,” Clinton continued.
“We must heed the wisdom of her life and the cause of her public service, stand up to dictators and demagogues — from the battlefields of Ukraine to the halls of our own capital; defend democracy at home just as vigorously as we do abroad; live up to the ideals of the country that welcomed an 11-year-old refugee sailing into New York Harbor on a ship called SS America and made her secretary of state.”
Trump, 75, is openly teasing a possible 2024 bid after losing the 2020 election to President Biden. Clinton’s mention of the halls of the capital was an apparent reference to last year’s Capitol siege by Trump supporters who disrupted certification of Biden’s victory.
Biden, 79, says he intends to run again, but his approval rating is low, particularly due to soaring inflation, which hit a four-decade highs of 8.5 percent in March.
A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll published March 29 found Trump would beat Biden by 6 percentage points in a rematch. Trump would trounce Vice President Kamala Harris by an even wider 11-point margin, the poll found.
Clinton, 74, is younger than both Biden and Trump and could be a 2024 dark horse candidate for Democrats.
Albright died of cancer last month at age 84, prompting an outpouring of condolences from around the world that also hailed her support for democracy and human rights. Besides the current and former presidents, the service was attended by at least three of her successors as secretary of state along with other current and former Cabinet members, foreign diplomats, lawmakers and an array of others who knew her.
President Biden and former President Bill Clinton also spoke at Albright’s funeral. Former President Barack Obama attended the event and sat alongside Biden in the front pew, but did not deliver remarks.
Clinton, like his wife, used the former UN ambassador and secretary of state’s funeral to discuss domestic politics.
“This is what she would want me to say today: I had a good life. I was happy. I was so blessed in my family and my work and friends. But freedom and democracy and the rule of law are not permanently enshrined just because we’ve survived 200-plus years,” he said.
“Now think about the world you want for your grandchildren and work for it,” Bill Clinton continued. “We love you, Madeleine. We miss you. But I pray to God we never stop hearing you. Just sit on our shoulder and nag us to death til we do the right thing.”
Biden focused on her professional achievements after immigrating to the United States as a child from Czechoslovakia after World War II.
“Her story was America’s story. She loved to speak about America as the indispensable nation,” Biden said.
“To her, the phrase was never a statement of arrogance. It was about gratitude for all this country made possible for her. It was a testament to her belief in the endless possibilities that only America could help unlock around the world and her true understanding of what American power could achieve when it is united with and motivated by enduring American values.”
The crowd that gathered at Washington National Cathedral to honor Albright included the current secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and former secretaries Condoleezza Rice and John Kerry were slated to attend. Other top current officials expected to be present included Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director Bill Burns, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. The members of the VIP audience were masked, as Albright’s family had requested.
Foreign dignitaries invited to the funeral included the presidents of Georgia and Kosovo and senior officials from Colombia, Bosnia and the Czech Republic.
Albright was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, but her family fled twice, first from the Nazis and then from Soviet rule. They ended up in the United States, where she studied at Wellesley College and rose through the ranks of Democratic Party foreign policy circles to become ambassador to the United Nations. Bill Clinton selected her as secretary of state in 1996 for his second term.
Although never in line for the presidency because of her foreign birth, Albright was near universally admired for breaking a glass ceiling, even by her political detractors.
As a Czech refugee who saw the horrors of both Nazi Germany and the Iron Curtain, she was not a dove. She played a leading role in pressing for the Clinton administration to get involved militarily in the conflict in Kosovo. “My mindset is Munich,” she said frequently, referring to the German city where the Western allies abandoned her homeland to the Nazis.
As secretary of state, Albright played a key role in persuading Clinton to go to war against the Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over his treatment of Kosovar Albanians in 1999. As U.N. ambassador, she advocated a tough U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the case of Milosevic’s treatment of Bosnia. NATO’s intervention in Kosovo was eventually dubbed “Madeleine’s War.”
She also took a hard line on Cuba, famously saying at the United Nations that the 1996 Cuban shoot-down of a civilian plane was not “cojones” but rather “cowardice.”
Former President Clinton recalled the moment in his tribute, remembering that Albright faced criticism at the time that the sharp barb was “undiplomatic” and “unladylike.” He absolutely loved it.
“I called her and I said … ‘This is the best line developed and delivered by anybody in this administration,’” Clinton said.
In 2012, Obama awarded Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, saying her life was an inspiration to all Americans.
Born Marie Jana Korbel in Prague on May 15, 1937, she was the daughter of a diplomat, Joseph Korbel. The family was Jewish and converted to Roman Catholicism when she was 5. Three of her Jewish grandparents died in concentration camps.
With Associated Press