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Will the real President Clinton please stand up?

Is it the Clinton who claims to be a champion of free markets and in his latest State of the Union message declared an end to the era of big government?Or is it the Clinton who recently put the Oval Office into the business of intervening in the commodity markets even as his chief spokesman, Mike McCurry, tried to deny it?

Only a day after deciding to sell off 12 million gallons of government gasoline to drive down gas prices, the chief executive announced the government will buy $50 million worth of beef to prop up cattle prices.

Never mind that this awkward stance puts the White House in the position of favoring cattle raisers at the expense of food buyers. The response from the Oval Office is that consumers will suffer in the long run if cattle ranches are driven out of business, resulting in lower production and higher prices.

But if higher gasoline prices are bad for the country, how can higher beef prices possibly be good for it?

The response from McCurry could not have been more lame: "Well, we dealt with that issue yesterday."

The lesson for voters facing some important decisions during the 1996 election campaign: Pay little or no attention to what candidates say, but watch closely and critically what they do.