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EVER SINCE BOB WOODWARD'S new book "The Choice" appeared, everyone has been talking about his claim that Hillary Clinton has been involved in "intellectual role playing," or having imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Because Eleanor was a very active first lady, who frequently made people angry at her, it seems natural that Hillary, who has some of the same problems, would select her.Hillary was getting some help from it, too, even if it seems odd to some people. She was not participating in a seance, though - she was stimulating a fresh approach to her problems by pretending to conduct a dialogue with an expert - even one who is dead.

The more I thought about it, the more annoyed I got with Hillary. Not because Eleanor is dead, but because she was a newspaper columnist - and if anyone carries on imaginary conversations with her, it really should be me, not Hillary.

Ernie Pyle, a famous World War II columnist, once wrote about his meeting with Eleanor before she was dead. It was during a press conference in San Antonio in 1937.

He had always wanted to meet her, and he hoped she would recognize him. After all, his column appeared in many newspapers around the country right next to hers.

Pyle sat in a corner with four high school journalism students. He was sure Eleanor was thinking, "How admirable it is for a bald-headed man to keep on trying to get through high school."

He loved her beautiful enunciation during the conference. When she closed it, she said, "I've got to go - I've got a daily column to write, you know."

Then she looked at Pyle with a knowing smile. He was sure she would lean over and say, "Stay behind a minute, Ernie. Let's talk about our columns."

But she didn't. That didn't stop Pyle from having some sort of catharsis, though, from his imaginary conversations with Eleanor.

That seems to make it all right for other columnists to do the same thing.

Taking the lead from both Hillary and Ernie, I have begun talking with Eleanor for a few minutes every afternoon, asking how things are going, telling her about my latest problems and column ideas, and then basking in her reactions.

It is true, as Pyle said, that she does occasionally split infinitives. But that is an endearing quality.

I started my first day by saying, "Good afternoon, Mrs. Roosevelt, how are you doing, today?"

I was pleased that she preferred that I address her in the more familiar "Eleanor."That means she was allowing me into her personal space, undoubtedly because we are both colum-nists.

So I asked her if she ever wrote anything controversial, and her reaction was immediate. "Oh, my, yes - virtually everything I do is controversial. You should relax, dear, and just be yourself, because there is no way you can make everyone happy."

That's really what she said.

And you know, as I talk to her, I can just feel my whole body loosening up. I feel better about myself, and I really get relaxed - and it's all because I have these regular conversations with Eleanor.

So I'm no longer angry with Hillary. I'm pretty sure that with the criticisms she has had to take in the White House, that she could benefit from talking to Eleanor even more than I can. So I say to all the critics, "Just back off, grow up, and let Hillary talk with Eleanor."

I know I'm going to - no matter what people say.