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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Conservative 'full-mooners' find a commie substitute

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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- The end of the Cold War, following the implosion of the Soviet Union, robbed American conservatives of a reliable debating tactic they had used for decades to oppose most major changes advanced by American liberals.

You favor federal civil rights laws that would effectively abolish states' rights and local customs? You want laws to make it easier for labor unions to organize workers? You back universal health insurance? Conservatives had an all-purpose, one-size-fits-all retort: "The communists support that," or, "That's exactly what they do in communist countries."

Finally, a commie substitute has been found for those "full moon" conservatives forever on the prowl to identify the sinister forces behind the intrigues only they are able to detect.

Conspiracy addicts see the dark hand(s) of the Clintons' -- that would be former President Bill and current New York Sen. Hillary -- at work almost everywhere, but most especially today in the fledgling presidential campaign of retired four-star Army Gen. Wesley Clark.

I admit that I like people who have the courage to run for public office. For most of us, life's successes and failures are mostly private matters. If you and I are the two finalists to become the regional sales manager of Universal Widget, the local paper, when you are chosen, does not gratuitously add that Shields was passed over "because of his unexplained behavior at the 1999 company picnic and undocumented items on his expense account."

For political candidates, life is much different. Everybody you ever sat next to in freshman algebra, baby-sat for or double-dated with knows whether you won or, more probably, lost. Most of us go to great lengths to avoid rejection. But the candidate is blessed -- or cursed -- with some extra gland that enables her to court and endure the pain of public rejection.

Usually to qualify as a semi-serious presidential candidate, an individual must have first mastered the politics of a state, often as governor or senator. But then your fate will be in the hands of strangers who will never really know you and whom you will never really know in places like New Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina.

Your campaign's appetite for money you must raise is insatiable. The press coverage is intense and relentless. The whole world seems to be waiting for you, just once on camera, to confuse Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The entire experience is a psychological and emotional roller-coaster. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of successful politicians who run for president lose. Many lose badly. A lot of them never really recover.

Back to Clark. The man's critics and admirers agree that he does not suffer from low self-esteem. Clark's ego is not underdeveloped.

What the cabal-peddlers are irrationally peddling goes like this: Clark, who led NATO's successful war in Kosovo, is ready to risk the public indignity of being a failed, rookie presidential candidate for the long-shot chance of winning a string of presidential primaries so ... that ... he will be able to step humbly aside in favor of the White House ambitions of Hillary Clinton.

Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund writes a column titled " The Clintons' Candidate" online to tell us Fox News reports that Clinton's office does not deny that a plan for her to serve as co-chairman of the Clark campaign is "in the works and might happen." Honest.

Republican columnist Jay Bryant writes, "It is entirely possible (Clark) does not know he is being duped into being a decoy." New York Times columnist William Safire has written, "If Bush stumbles and the Democratic nomination becomes highly valuable, the Clintons probably think they would be able to get Clark to step aside without splitting the party, rewarding his loyalty with second place on the ticket."

Anybody who buys these theories is, sadly, at least two tacos short of a combination platter. They qualify as space cadets, wackoes and pod persons.

Make no mistake. There are some Bush fellow-travellers in the press who would use any alleged Clinton connection to cripple or suffocate Clark's campaign in its infancy. Why? Because the two constants in presidential elections remain the issues of peace and prosperity. Both are now in short supply. The lone remaining advantage Bush enjoys over Democrats is on the relevant issue of national security. Clark could conceivably neutralize the Bush edge on national security.

Aren't conspiracies great? Next, we'll explore whether the Clintons were behind both the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the late-season collapse of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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