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PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATIONS FUEL FLIP-FLOPS

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Just about a year from now, conventional wisdom says, Bob Dole and Bill Clinton will be anointed by their parties to go forth and do serious battle with each other.

It's not too early to take a look at the similarities and differences between these two hard-core politicians to see what choice Americans are likely to have.The one thing that Kansas Bob, 72, and Arkansas Bill, 48, most have in common is fire in the belly to be president.

Dole has been seeking the prize for more than 20 years. Clinton has the prize and will do whatever he must to keep it.

The second thing that both men have in common is that they frequently change their beliefs to fit the political situation.

The biggest complaint many people have about Clinton is that he changes his stand on issues from Bosnia to Haiti to the deficit to tax cuts - the famous "waffle" complaint.

Now many, including Republicans, say the same thing about Dole. He became Senate GOP leader by being a political pragmatist and moderate and now is vying to be the conservatives' man of the year.

Dole, who supported affirmative action for years, has just introduced legislation to get rid of it. Having said for years that the president must be supported on foreign policy, he is spearheading the campaign to undercut Clinton's Bosnia policy, whatever it is.

Having ridiculed Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, Dole now embraces it. Having said Oliver North was a near-traitor for his role in the Iran-Contra affair, Dole then enthusiastically endorsed North's losing 1994 Senate candidacy.

Eager to cut the size of government, he also wants to continue farm subsidies. Suddenly, after decades in the Senate, he has discovered the evils of Hollywood violence, even as he promised the National Rifle Association he'd lead the crusade to repeal the ban on 16 assault weapons.

Dole's now-defunct Better America Foundation, a conservative think tank he set up in 1993 to further his political aspirations, received $800,000 from the telecommunications industry. Then Dole pushed an industry-friendly bill through the Senate. It would let regional Bell companies into the long-distance market, permit long-distance companies to have more access to the local phone business and eliminate many restrictions on the broadcast industry.

In 1988, Dole said it was irresponsible to say he'd never raise taxes if elected president. Now he says the opposite. Having once said the U.S. Embassy in Israel should be kept in Tel Aviv, he now has introduced a bill to move it to Jerusalem to try to appeal to Jewish voters.

Cynicism about political strategy aside, Americans will have a definite choice if Clinton and Dole are the Democratic and Republican nominees.

The election will be a referendum on what role Americans want the federal government to play. Clinton wants it to be an activist government, intervening in issues of international and national morality and fairness, health, safety and environmental degradation. Dole wants more power and money to go to the states.

As each man fights to win, the favorite lance of each will be insisting that he alone shares the same "values" as most Americans do.