BOSTON -- Ellie Smeal is not one to mince her words when she can use them to Cuisinart an opponent. More than once in her two tenures as president of the National Organization for Women she has made moderate colleagues wince at her talk about ''fascist'' tendencies in the New Right, or about the possibility of impeaching the president.
In an era when other women shrink at being labeled ''strident'' and decorate their opinions with an acceptable ruffle or two, Smeal prefers a good, straight-ahead, feminist fight. And as head of NOW, she has led a lot of them.
But her current battle is against the conventional political wisdom, the wisdom that says it is time to move toward the right, time for incremental change. Smeal has a very different sense of timing: ''It is time to be bold. To organize the outrage.'' Indeed, organizing outrage is what she's about.
So as NOW holds its annual convention in Philadelphia this week, Smeal will not be running for reelection. She's going to spend her considerable energy urging and inspiring progressive women to run for public office. After six years of witnessing the feminization of poverty, she wants to see ''the feminization of power.''
Unlike those with a piecemeal strategy, women who carefully target ''winnable'' races and chart the rise of women one seat at a time, one percentage point after another, Smeal wants to ''flood the ticket'' with candidates. To encourage the flood, she is founding the Fund for the Feminist Majority.
''We keep saying, we're making slow gradual progress,'' says Smeal with her usual intensity, ''But it's not good enough. There's no way we're going to do anything unless we change those faces.''
She cites her own frustrating lessons in outsider politics this way. In 1986 it was the women's vote that pushed the Democrats into a Senate majority. But when NOW and others went to the 100th Congress with their agenda, she says, ''it was as if nothing had happened. I'll never forget the senator who told me, 'You people don't have the numbers.' We heard essentially the same rhetoric: the country is moving to the right.''
Similarly, in California, even after women's rights groups beat back the attempts to put anti-abortion referenda on the ballot, the legislature voted new restrictions. It is one thing to come to legislators asking for their help, quite another to have your ''own'' in office.
In her view, 1988 presents a real chance for ''organizing the outrage'' against Irangate, against the feminization of poverty, against a world ''where arms dealers get richer and child-care workers get poorer.''
''We don't always have to choose the lesser of two evils if we have the guts to put someone up there,'' says Smeal. ''In a country of 240 million we have them. We have women with the right qualifications, and we need to change the notion of those qualifications to include public-health nurses, social workers, teachers.''
After Watergate, 103 new members of Congress were elected. If, in fact, half of that size crop of new members in 1989 were women, it would mean 69 women out of 535 members, ''a chance for real change.''
She wants women to run for office because they can win: ''If we flood the ticket, more will make it through than if we target one woman at a time, husbanding our resources, figuring out where we can get a seat. That strategy will limit us to another generation out of power.''