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Only the President ...

Debate may be stirring in San Francisco over whether Shakespeare should be required in school. But let's not banish the Bard from Washington before his words remind President Clinton of some wise career advice:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."

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All US presidents, by definition, surf a tide into the White House. It may be a tsunami or near to ebbing. But few presidents have better grasped the first part of Shakespeare's maxim than Bill Clinton.

In 1992, he plunged into a little-perceived rising tide that more seasoned aspirants spurned. For his daring, he got to ride the crest of the richest economic season many Americans had ever known.

But now he faces the other half of Shakespeare's dictum - the shallows and miseries that accompany inaction - unless he takes back command of his own defense from White House spinmeisters and attack tacticians.

Mr. Clinton is right to go on doing "the job the American people sent me here to do." He is wrong, though, to hide behind the spurious excuse that he can't comment further on allegations about his behavior and truthfulness while they are under grand jury scrutiny. He can and should do what he promised the American people he would do after the Lewinsky news: Explain.

Opinion polls may imply that stonewalling works. But not forever. He might recall the public's relief when his idol Jack Kennedy frankly admitted responsibility for the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion. Even a limited further report to Mr. Clinton's fellow citizens could help clear the increasingly uneasy atmosphere.

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