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Steve Forbes should have fun with President Clinton's cumbersome, pathetic comments about how the country might be in a "funk" but definitely isn't suffering from "malaise."

The president, at all costs, doesn't want to go down the road to malaise. That was the wrong turn, as you recall, that led to Jimmy Carter's presidency driving off the road.

So President Clinton is at the crossroads of a rock and a hard place. This funk remark conjured up Jimmy Carter's ill-starred comments about the malaise gripping the country, and how he was going to lead us out of it.

"Malaise is a state of mind," President Clinton clarified. "Funk is something you can bounce out of." Besides, he added, he was talking about last year's funk.

Reporters jumped to the not illogical conclusion that the president was talking about a fresh funk. But it really doesn't matter, because any talk of a funky feeling escalates the discussion to a formidable and possibly fractious funk that carries with it serious repercussions for the president.

Perhaps the president misspoke and really meant that the nation was in a funky mood. If he had played his funky card he never would have had to utter the "M" word. Look what the "N" word did to Mark Fuhrman. Is it a coincidence that the two forbidden letters are next-door neighbors? I don't think so.

Steve Forbes, in declaring his bid for the presidency, could be just the ticket to get us all out of our funk, or malaise, or even funkiness, if indeed we are in one or all of those conditions.

He thinks all the other Republican candidates are too "glum," what with their focus on cutting the budget rather than growing the country. Mr. Forbes is not glum by nature, any more than his father was.

He is not glib either. I would say he has a puckish sense of humor that will serve him well in injecting a little life in a so-far drab campaign.

And he is a very down-to-earth guy-quite a contrast from Sen. Dole and all those guys who are deathly afraid they're going to say the wrong thing. So they don't say much of anything, or much of anything that sticks in your mind.

Steve's upbeat message has a chance of cutting through the funk. He's able to explain complex economic issues in a way most of us can understand, including, I'm sure, how a cut in the capital gains tax can be good for the average Joe.

Above all, Steve Forbes is one smart guy. I've heard him speak, with few notes, on his prognostications for the economy. He not only made sense, he turned out to be right. He could be the right man for the job.

And New York-based Steve Forbes also could play the role of bailing out New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The mayor is getting into hot water with state party leaders by refusing to endorse Sen. Dole. But endorsing Mr. Forbes would get the mayor off the hook.

That would be good for Mayor Giuliani and give Steve the credibility his campaign so richly deserves

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