Kenneth Adelman, the beleaguered nominee to head the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, went out to a dinner honoring a friend last night, because, as he explained with a chuckle, "What am I supposed to do? Sit home and bleed?"

There was little bleeding last night at the Woodrow Wilson International Center's dinner for its former chairman, Max Kampelman, a Washington lawyer and the U.S. delegate to the Madrid Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The reception and dinner in the Smithsonian Castle brought together about 80 friends and colleagues, liberals and conservatives, members of Congress and academics. A number of them had worked for the late Hubert Humphrey.

"Max Kampelman is an old friend of mine," said Adelman. "I saw Max today and I knew I wanted to celebrate with him. I just happened to run into him at State today."

And as appearances go, Adelman was in fine spirits, seemingly undaunted by a Senate Foreign Relations Committee that has grilled him three times, worried that he doesn't take arms control seriously enough, and last Friday sent his nomination to the full Senate with an unfavorable recommendation. Adelman didn't want to talk about this. But a lot of the guests were eager to tell him a good quip or Adelman story.

"The calls were divided between you and Gorsuch," Cable News Network's Daniel Schorr told Adelman in a group huddled together with their drinks before dinner. Schorr was referring to the CNN Saturday show of "Washington Dialogue," in which viewers call Schorr to talk about the news of the week.

And Frank Shakespeare, president of RKO General Inc., had this story: When Shakespeare and Adelman were attending a conference in Williamsburg, Adelman played tennis with Shakespeare's 16-year-old daughter. Shakespeare just got back from a 10-day trip to Munich to find that his daughter, having read all the recent accounts of the Adelman brouhaha, "had stars in her eyes," said Shakespeare. "My daughter said to me, 'Daddy, you didn't tell me Mr. Adelman was famous!' "

Meanwhile, at the door, Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), a longtime friend of Kampelman's and a speaker at the dinner, exchanged words with Adelman. "I said, 'You look well and you look like you're surviving,' " said Jackson. "He said, 'I'm enjoying it.' "

"Invite me to your swearing-in," said Wilson Center trustee Ted Barreaux, and Adelman laughed. "That's how confident I am," Barreaux added.

Even U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, a Kampelman friend who spoke movingly of the guest of honor, referred to Adelman purely in the context of foreign policy but nonetheless with a grin as "my colleague and sometime deputy, Ken Adelman."

There were other words of support for him, not the least of which came from Ernest Lefever, Reagan's one-time nominee for assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, whose appointment was criticized and opposed by the same committee that recommended against Adelman. Lefever finally withdrew.

"I extended all the sympathy I could," said Lefever. "It's a similar situation. My wife in particular wanted to extend sympathy to his wife. He told me that no one in this room could understand it like we could." Lefever smiled. "We are suffering vicariously."

"If I were a member of the Senate," said Kampelman, who has known Adelman through foreign policy work over the past five years, "I would very gladly vote for him."

Kampelman's job as U.S. delegate to the Madrid conference, charged with continuing the process of the Helsinki accords, has lasted longer than most everyone thought. "When I took on this assignment, we thought it would last five or six months," he said. "It's been 2 1/2 years."

"In Madrid, Max is in the most fundamental sense working toward the only real basis of world peace," said Kirkpatrick, "and that is openness, tolerance, respect for human freedom and respect for one another."

And in this arena, the reports on Kampelman last night were glowing. "We're all here to pay homage to our leader," said Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), putting a hand on Kampelman's shoulder. "I am a hasid of Reb Kampelman."

Kampelman chuckled. "He represents a hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn."

Asked how it was going, Kampelman replied, "It's drudgery in that the Soviets move so slowly."

During the dinner remarks, William Baroody Jr., Kampelman's successor as chairman of the Wilson Center, read telegrams of praise sent from three former secretaries of state (Vance, Muskie, Haig), the current one (Shultz), one former president (Carter), the current one (Reagan), and one future hopeful (Walter Mondale, who wrote, "Max is a consummate mensch").

"You certainly read a wire from almost everyone you could think of," said Jackson to the group. "The only one missing is Andropov."