Clinton's Conference

BILL CLINTON'S call for a two-day national economic conference indicates his determination to rally as many Americans as possible to meet present challenges.

Perhaps some novel ideas will emerge during the Dec. 14-15 confabulation. The president-elect is right not to put too much stock in the recent slight upturn in the economy.

As governor of Arkansas and in his role as chairman of the National Governors Association in 1986-87, Mr. Clinton used the convocation device to stimulate ideas and win support for plans aimed at countering the loss of aid to the states by a budget-squeezed federal government.

Clearly, the president-elect believes in open and frequent consultation with as many sources, lay or expert, as he can reach before making a decision. Clinton's campaign style, and especially his debate preparation, demonstrated his belief in thorough homework.

Clinton was reportedly going to invite up to 300 people to the economic conference in Little Rock. The total could end up being a more manageable 100, however. The invitations to next week's gathering indicate it will be two days of serious idea-mining: "This conference is part of an ongoing process of soliciting information and ideas from a cross-section of America's leaders from the public and private sectors.... Your expertise is needed."

The cumbersome forum may fall short of expectations. Scoffers could be right when they say the challenges will fall right back into the laps of the professional pols, economists, and Washington-wired academics. But perhaps some stimulating ideas could fall out of the pile of paper that will be left after what some see as Clinton's folly.

Clinton himself has made clear that recent indications of economic growth are not sufficient evidence for him that the recession is easing. He says, correctly, that it is much too early to draw conclusions: "The long-term problems are [still] there."

Though he is clearly signaling that he wants to hear ideas, Clinton policy will be Clinton-made - with, of course, help from his vice president, Cabinet, and carefully recruited White House team.

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