'The death of Milton Eisenhower continued the depletion of the ranks of the postwar generation of public-spirited statesmen who, sadly, have few successors today. Eisenhower, along with recently deceased ambassadors Ellsworth Bunker and Henry Cabot Lodge, were men of unusual integrity and selflessness who crossed party lines when a president called for their help, particularly in the foreign policy arena. That missing force in our public policy has more to do with the condition of our political system than the absence of men and women of similar high qualities.

The need for these statesmen is much greater than to satisfy a nostalgic yearning for gentlemen diplomats. Abroad, their stature and experience gave them credibility in sensitive negotiations. At home, they helped shape elite and public opinion for bipartisan policies. Presidents and secretaries of state used them as sounding boards, knowing they would not compromise information for political or personal gain.

Bunker, Lodge and Eisenhower did not come to positions of influence through predictable bureaucratic channels. Experience in business (Bunker), politics (Lodge) and as an educator and president's brother (Eisenhower) preceded their roles as diplomatic trouble-shooters and advisers to presidents. It is questionable that they would have fulfilled their service to the country if they had faced some of the obstacles of today's political culture.

For many individuals who consider an ambassadorial, agency or department appointment, the ethics-in-government laws discourage their acceptance. The establishment of blind trusts, extensive public financial disclosure and restrictions on post- government employment are mandated by laws, executive orders and agency regulations.

And as any newcomer to Washington learns, public life includes public scrutiny. A vigorous Washington press corps reports not only the details on your disclosure form, but also past and present personal relationships. Mix this with an inquiring confirmation hearing and a prospective appointee can find parts of his life, irrelevant to his qualifications for government service, publicly exposed.

Milton Eisenhower, sensitive to charges of nepotism and criticism of his own politics, always kept a low profile when advising his brother. Both Eisenhowers may have thought that relationship couldn't stand the glaring attention given to the First Family these days. One wonders whether Ellsworth Bunker, who made his money in the family sugar business, could have accepted his first government job on the Cane Sugar Refiners War Committee. His subsequent ambassadorial appointments in Latin America would surely have raised questions of conflicts of interest because his family was heavily invested in sugar refineries throughout the region. As the scion of a prominent New England family, Henry Cabot Lodge might have had second thoughts about running for the Senate in 1936, knowing that his family's intricate finances would become part of the public record.

But ethics laws and an aggressive press alone have not depleted the ranks of experienced nonpartisan counselors. The breakdown of a civil bipartisan foreign policy is a more likely reason for their lack of participation. Last month's rancorous congressional debate and the ensuing failure to reach a compromise on aid to the Nicaraguan contras reflects the willingness of both parties to use a foreign policy split for partisan advantage.

Significant numbers of Democrats and Republicans believe that public attitudes will vindicate a no-compromise position. Democrats detect public unease over any U.S. intervention in Central America, while Republicans note the public's flip- side fears of communist expansion in the region. This highly charged partisan debate raises doubt about the potential effectiveness of any individual in shaping a bipartisan foreign policy -- even one who could reach across party lines for support.

There is also less than meets the eye in the administration's appointment of several Democrats to foreign policy and national security posts. These appointments reflect a strategy to solidify political support from neoconservatives rather than build a genuine bipartisan foreign policy.

Some of those Democratic hawks, such as Eugene Rostow, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and former Florida senator Richard Stone, a special envoy to Central America, reportedly left the administration after they lost policy disputes with more hard-line colleagues. Others, such as former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, switched parties. Kirkpatrick decided not to fight the isolationist drift she perceived among Democratic lawmakers; the fact that few if any prominent Democrats urged her to remain in their party suggests that her dissent would have had little constructive influence there.

The present discord over our Central American policy presents the perfect opportunity for a nonpartisan statesman to play a constructive role. Sol Linowitz would head any list of potential special envoys. He has success and experience as a negotiator in the region. His past service to Presidents Johnson and Carter gives him credibility with Democrats. His integrity and loyalty are profound.

Henry Stimson, Franklin Roosevelt's Republican Secretary of War, once observed: "There are few roses so sweet as those that grow over the party wall." We should lament the deaths of loyal and patriotic Americans such as Bunker, Lodge and Eisenhower. But of much greater concern should be the current barriers to utilizing men and women of similar high caliber.