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CLINTON PROCLAIMS `NEW ERA' OF PRESIDENTIAL PRAGMATISM

President Clinton has told aides that to be re-elected, he must convince voters he is neither a liberal nor a conservative, but a pragmatist.

Having won election claiming to be a moderate Democrat, Clinton has grown increasingly uneasy as Republicans have successfully tagged him as "liberal." He insists that the label is unfair.The president has often told interviewers that the liberal-conservative terminology is old-fash-ioned and meaningless in today's world.

In a recent discussion with aides on the Republicans' success in the House with their first 100 days in control, Clinton emphasized that he wants the White House portrayed as the friend of the middle class and to be seen almost as nonpartisan.

After weeks of purposefully keeping silent as House Republicans passed one piece of legislation after another, Clinton now intends to be the "voice of reason," one aide said.

He said he wants his administration seen as "realistic" and effective, getting things done while the Republicans talk, another senior official said.

In his "re-emergence" speech last week in Dallas to signal that he gave the Republicans their 100 days and now he wants back in the game, Clinton touched on the "new pragmatism" of his "new covenant" theme.

"We have entered a new era," he told newspaper editors. "For years, out here in the country, the old political categories have basically been defunct, and a new political discussion has been begging to be born. It must be now so in Washington as well.

"The old labels of liberal and conservative, spender and cutter, even Democrat and Republican, are not what matter most anymore," Clinton declared.

"What matters most is finding practical, pragmatic solutions based on what we know works in our lives and our shared experiences so that we can go forward together as a nation," he said.

Clinton all but spat at what he called "ideological purity." That, he said, is for "partisan extremists."

What the country needs, he said, is "practical solutions, based on real experience, hard evidence and common sense."

With his new nod to pragmatism, Clinton at first debated whether to even spend a day in Warm Springs, Ga., commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Franklin Roosevelt, who symbolizes the so-called welfare state that Republicans are trying to dismantle.

But he decided to go because even Republicans, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now pay open homage to FDR and claim to know what he'd say about modern America.

In coming weeks, aides say, Clinton will focus more sharply on what he's doing to try to end the "culture" of welfare, pare the size of government, improve education, limit tax cuts to mid-level income families, combat cynicism and prepare the American economy for the next century so that stagnant incomes start to rise.

But, as one aide conceded, Clinton has yet to convince many Americans he has the vision, the will and the effectiveness to accomplish such goals.