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Dole, Clinton, and Fear

HE'S the opposite of Bob from Accountemps. Bob Dole has been there all the time working tirelessly and competently for the firm. And now he's close to being anointed.

As to whether Senator Dole yet looks presidential, there's plenty of time to wait and observe. Presidential Bill Clinton would certainly admit that few candidates look typecast for the presidency during the battering of the early primaries. He, too, remembers the turmoil surrounding New Hampshire.

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But New Hampshire seems far behind when, in one great burst, Dole can climb almost a third of the way to the 996 delegates needed in San Diego next August.

As is often remarked, parliamentary democracies can have short election campaigns in part because their competing candidates are already in place. The prime minister and his loyal opposition leader usually joust for years in campaign-like debate.

Big, conglomerate America, in contrast, sends candidates through more regional gates than medieval kings sent suitors through quests to win the princess's hand.

There will be a few more thrills as Republicans in the rest of the nation get their say. But both parties are now preparing campaign strategy and ''big tent'' consolidation.

The general shape of Dole's strategy was evident in his declaration, after ''junior Tuesday'' victories, that he was a ''doer not a talker.'' One can imagine that as a slogan and a framework for the inevitable Dole-Clinton debate(s). Dole will argue that he acted on budget-balancing, Medicare reform, and welfare reform while Clinton promised action but then vetoed. Clinton will reply that he saved America by fending off bills that went too far.

But now is now, and debates are seven months off. Meanwhile, here are three proposals of some urgency:

1. Republicans in Congress raise the debt ceiling for a sensible period without strings.

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2. Messrs. Clinton, Gingrich, and Dole make one last effort to reach a compromise seven-year budget-balancing package. Then, whoever wins in November can revise priorities or tighten further.

3. Both Dole and Clinton tell their strategists they want to avoid campaign fearmongering. That's asking a lot - but not too much. Older, and younger, Americans have been barraged too often with exaggerated fears of Medicare destruction and massive job losses. Both subjects require action, not finger-pointing.

The candidates ought to be telling us what they plan to do about these problems, not that the other guy will destroy the American way of life.

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