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Conservative event ends "Dark Ages'

Really, truly, they are not the Anti-Clinton Party, say the conservatives who are meeting here in this sun-baked desert for their now-annual examination of their identity crisis.

But disgust with the president is so pervasive, and the perception that he is "winning" the political and cultural wars despite his recent impeachment is so galling, that he seems to have replaced the Soviet Union as the organizing principle around which conservatives can rally.

Welcome to the Dark Ages, a conservative conclave designed as a send-up of the Renaissance Weekend in Hilton Head, S.C.

In its third go-round, conscious of the signals the name Dark Ages sent, organizers dropped the parody and called their gathering The Weekend in an attempt to give themselves an identity that is not Clinton-dependent.

But it's so much fun.

When Laura Ingraham, a a co-founder of The Weekend, opened the event Thursday, she could not resist spoofing the notoriously earnest, self-absorbed, politically correct panel discussions at Hilton Head.

This year's topics, Ingraham deadpanned, ranged from "A Path Toward Personal Empowerment: How Perjury Can Work For You," to "Understanding the Politics of Personal Destruction. Panelists include Sidney Blumenthal, James Carville, Maxine Waters and Ann Lewis."

Despite the name change, the rules for the 300 Weekend guests are consistent with those of the Dark Ages: "No sharing the pain of another, and no building of bridges to the next century," the program cautioned.

As at Renaissance, there are panel discussions here. But they are more outward than inward, more political than personal.

But beyond the theatrics conservatives here expressed deep anguish about the conservative movement and its wayward parent, the Republican Party.

It bubbled up from the rank-and-file activists, many of them Californians who believed the Republican Party abandoned them in the last election and who sought clues from the panelists as to some of Washington's mysteries.

"Why are all the liberals willing to fall on their swords for a narcissistic sociopath like Bill Clinton?" asked one.