"I think in this election we are going to be the peace party," says Ed Clark, the Libertarian Party candidate for the presidency. That may be the case if peace is not declared to be on the wrong side of the lunatic fringe by the national media, whose power to declare who is sane and who is insane among candidates determines who has a chance to be listened to seriously.

Jerry Brown, the only person contending for a major party nomination with position anything like Clark's, ha been ruled a flake. It remains to be seen whether Clark, a 49-year-old Los Angeles lawyer of admirably unobjectionable Ivy League background (Dartmouth and Harvard Law School), will be deprived of a national podium on the grounds that he is a wacko.

When Libertarian candidates aren't being treated as psychiatric specimens, these urgent opponents of big government and dedicated advocates of personal civic and economic liberty are treated as human interest items, oneshot personality profiles that get done during a lull in the campaign so that the paper or the television station can say, "Oh, we pay attention to every candidate, no matter how loony or quaint."

Clark is neither of these. In fact, he is an unflashy man, the antithesis of the Moses-like figures, the leaders-out-of-the-wilderness who ordinarily run on third-party tickets. Clark, who polled almost 400,000 votes in the last California gubernatorial election, is par excellence the middle class, white color, modern-day suburban American who speaks in the mooted mode we associate with reason.

What he's saying, however, is deviant. No MX missile, no B-1 bomber, no new bases in the region of the Indian Ocean. No draft, no arms build-up and a return to the definition of "defense," before it was polluted to mean landing expeditionary forces 10,000 miles from the motherland. Defense for Clark has the old-fashioned meaning of defending American lives and American property in America.

To Clark, what the geopoliticians in Washington call our vital interests don't appear quite so vital. Although he would like to continue to buy that sticky black liquid from Iran, if they don't sell it to us for whatever reason, he points out, "it isn't our oil," Free-market man, that he is, Clark believes that if the Iranians or any other foreign suppliers cut off sales, the ensuing price jump will afford entrepreneurs the exactly correct incentive to find cheaper substitutes, as well as bottom-line reason for making the same barrel of oil do more things. So Clark and the Libertarians combine this foreign-policy approach with an insistence that the government get out of controlling oil prices either directly through regulation or indirectly via such convoluted mechanisms as the windfall profits tax.

By and large, the other presidential candidates don't bring up the questions of why our allies' defense effort is so skimpy compared to our own. Why, Clark wants to know, do the Japanese devote 1 percent of their gross national product to defending themselves, while the United States spends 6?

He asks the same question about Western Europe. Given their advanced technology, their wealth, their numbers and their ferocious military tradition, Germany, France, England, Holland, and the rest should be able to repel any Russian invasion, especially one that relies on the dubious loyalties of Warsaw Pact states like Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, societies that oscillate between sabotage and sullen disloyalty to the Kremlin and outright rebellion against Russia and communism. Such a position logically leads to advocating the eventual, but not the immediate, American withdrawal from NATO, which Clark does, even as he concedes that tactical nuclear weapons will have to pass over to Western European control.

Libertarians see what conservatives always avoid confronting in their thinking, namely that a world-girdling or "interventionist foreign policy," as Clark calls it, demands a strong centralized government here at home -- a domestic interventionist policy. From a Libertarian point of view, at home or abroad, interventionism doesn't even have the merit of practical success. From China in the late 1940s to Iran in the late 1970s, the United States has lost every round. At home the excesses of government regulation and control need no further dilation.

Between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, there is scarcely a hair's difference. The real debate is between them and Ed Clark, but will we ever hear it?