The public mind, like wax, is easiest to shape when heated. President Reagan has not just missed an opportunity to shape it; he has labored to minimize the opportunity.

The Korean airliner atrocity raised the public's temperature to a healthy degree. But Reagan has squandered the moment, using it to solve what he evidently thinks is one of his political problems--a perception that he is not as peace-loving as the editors of The New York Times. In the process he has dissipated a national asset: the Kremlin's anxiety that he just might mean what he says.

It would be one thing--unconvincing and unbecoming but at least intelligible--for him to cite reasons why he should not do any of the many things he could do to strengthen U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. It is something else for him to deny the existence of options other than rhetoric or war.

Sen. William Armstrong (R-Colo.) and others have made him a list. It includes declaring Poland in default on debts owed to the Commodity Credit Corporation.

Last summer, saying there must be "deeds not just words" in Poland, Reagan said: "The Soviets should not be afforded the additional security of a new long-term (grain) agreement as long as repression continues in Poland." Evidently he thinks repression no longer continues in Poland--perhaps because the regime, using words to disguise deeds, took features of martial law and put them in the normal law. Anyway, Reagan also said the Soviet Union would not be guaranteed minimum grain sales if it engaged in "heinous" acts.

Reagan obviously did not mean what he said. He has made a serious case against the usefulness of grain embargoes. But why are we subsidizing Poland?

Armstrong and others want Reagan to report on Soviet violations of existing arms control agreements. Reagan has talked not at all to the American people and only flaccidly to the Soviet Union about violations.

The Wall Street Journal predicts that when Pershing missiles are deployed in Europe, Moscow will deploy antiballistic missiles (some necessary radars are already deployed, in violation of SALT I) and will say it is not violating the ABM ban because these ABMs are for use against theater, not strategic, weapons. The Journal asks: "What will we do then?" Well, what are we doing about violations of other agreements? Consider.

The Soviet Union has in excess of 4 million persons (uncounted thousands of Vietnamese) in 2,000 forced labor camps. In at least 40 extermination camps, the work inevitably causes leukemia or other fatal effects as a result of such things as exposure to radioactivity in uranium mining, or cleaning exhaust tubes of nuclear submarines, or polishing glass without ventilation.

According to Mikhail Makarenko, who spent eight years in Soviet camps, the diet for "heavy labor" prisoners is 2,000 calories a day. For "strict regime" prisoners, 1,300. In Auschwitz it was 2,050.

The Soviet Union has subscribed to and is violating the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Anti-Slavery Convention of 1926 and the Forced Labor Convention of 1930. Furthermore, U.S. law forbids the importing of goods "manufactured wholly or in part by convict labor or/ and forced labor." The law has never been enforced. The Customs Service has no enforcement mechanism. Armstrong has a list of the goods that would be barred. Reagan should read it. Armstrong has a corrective bill. Reagan should demand it.

Here is an option Armstrong has overlooked: revising U.S. relations with the United Nations.

After wasting her valuable energies wheedling and cajoling, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, U.S. representative to the U.N., rounded up just enough votes to get the Security Council to "deplore" (it refusing to condemn) the airline massacre. There are 157 "nations" (counting, of course, Ukrania and Byelorussia) in the United Nations. We pay approximately one-quarter of the U.N.'s bills. If we paid one-eighth, we would pay more than the Soviet Union, which, unlike the United States, benefits from the U.N.'s existence. We should radically reduce our payments. The savings should be invested in substantially more--and more technologically sophisticated--broadcasting into the "evil empire" (a k a "world's most lucrative grain market").

The airline atrocity is not the reason for such measures. Rather, it is an occasion that, properly handled by a leader, would make clear why such measures are reasonable, and overdue. If Reagan continues to say that he has done all that he can do, short of going to war, he will vindicate those who say that American conservatives care more about containing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration than containing the Soviet Union.