Black helicopters over 43rd Street!

The New York Times' chief conspiracy theorist unloads a corker: Wes Clark as pawn of Hillary.

By Charles Taylor

Published September 23, 2003 5:03PM (EDT)

Conspiracy theories, like old habits, die hard. In Monday's New York Times, William Safire, formerly of the Nixon White House, advanced the theory that the Clintons are encouraging Gen. Wesley Clark in his bid for the presidency to extend their nefarious hold over the Democratic Party, keeping Howard Dean's pesky upstarts in check and ensuring that the party keeps a center-left agenda. As Safire sees it, Bill and Hillary are waiting for Bush to become vulnerable (become vulnerable?) so "the politically inexperienced" Clark, having routed all the other Democratic candidates, can step aside to make way for Hillary.

This is such a doozy that the next time I pass by the corner of West 43rd Street in Times Square, I fully expect to see that Safire has staked out a piece of pavement down the block from the Black Israelites to alert passersby to the Clintons' evil scheme. (The LaRouche people have already claimed Union Square.)

None of it should be surprising, though, coming from a writer who spent column after column theorizing about the "real" reasons for Vince Foster's "apparent suicide," a man who once wrote a column entitled "Reading Hillary's Mind" (presumably the Times could not engage Jeanne Dixon that day), who demanded special prosecutor Robert Fiske's resignation when he reported Foster's suicide had nothing to do with Whitewater or the Clintons.

This, of course, wasn't enough to distinguish Safire at the Times where the reporting on Whitewater in particular and the Clintons in general appears to have been fact-checked by Jayson Blair. But in the aftermath of the brouhaha Blair stirred up, you'd think the Times would be more careful. By the end of the third paragraph of Safire's column ("Clintons Anoint Clark") he has suggested that Clark improperly arranged defense contracts for clients following his retirement. And that the press will not be able to get to the bottom of that because the general has surrounded himself with Clintonian obfuscators.

If there's anything useful about Safire's column it's that it offers a glimpse into just how sleazy the right's smear tactics will be against Wesley Clark. In the best piece I've seen on Clark, Richard Goldstein, in last week's Village Voice, recounted the slams already made by Tom "Bug Juice" DeLay and George "Stretch" Will. After months of hearing the right wing tell us that anyone who questions our military policies is unpatriotic, it will be instructive to record all the potshots they are willing to take at Clark.

Like a greyhound at the dog track, Safire is already out of the gate, his beady eyes focused on the mechanical rabbit. He has perfected the dubious art of conjecture as smear. And despite his avuncular demeanor, and the esteem in which he's held among colleagues, that shouldn't keep anyone from calling him on the loopiness of his premises or the Times' acquiescence in running them. He genuinely believes there was something dark and covered up in Vince Foster's suicide. He believes that Clark is the Trojan horse for Clinton II. Hell, he probably believes that Sidney Blumenthal is attempting to control his thoughts by beaming alpha waves off the top of the Chrysler Building. The difference between William Safire and the average crazy old coot to be found in any New York City diner explaining to anyone who listens that the aliens have taken over is that Safire gets paid for his ramblings and has a better tailor. Not much difference at all.

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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