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Clinton Forthrightness

PRESIDENT Clinton's apparent trial balloon to put a limit on cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients, or to tax their benefits, initially produced a vehement response. That may have been just what he wanted.

Sen. Daniel Moynihan of New York, champion of the Social Security system, rose to the challenge, declaring a freeze on the cost-of-living "unacceptable."

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The Social Security tempest is one of many instances before and after Mr. Clinton's election, when the new president's political technique has been faulted. His handling of the issue of permitting homosexuals to serve in the military is the most notable.

But on closer examination there may be a method behind these dust-ups. Consider that they draw potential and apparent adversaries into the open and cause them to reveal their positions.

One notes that Senator Moynihan did not rule out at least discussion of a tax hike for some Social Security recipients.

And Clinton has already had his way in the debate on whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the armed forces.

The Pentagon can and should make the rules under which homosexuals live and work in the military, but the president appears to have established the fact that they have the right to serve.

If this head-on approach to issues remains Clinton's strategy, and if it works, the entire legislative process could become more open, honest, and efficient. But only a forceful, self-confident, knowledgeable, and respected leader can pull it off.

Many Americans, even though they may have closely followed the elections, may not realize how important Clinton's four-year term is to the future well-being of the nation and themselves. This is not just rhetoric: Many issues and trends around which the campaign unfolded may not be solvable four years from now.

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Clinton and Vice President Albert Gore know this; presumably they are communicating it to their new team. Now they must make the American people understand and act on it.

So, if this president bangs on the doors of our consciousness and our consciences, it behooves us to respond - positively or negatively, but responsibly. Clinton appears to be a president who doesn't like to equivocate.

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