To capture and really engage the attention of American voters, a political issue should ideally include two essential ingredients: sympathetic victims on one side and an identifiable villain on the other. Nearly a quarter century ago, civil rights moved from concern to cause to crusade when white Americans outside the South got a televised look at Birmingham police chief Eugene (''Bull'') Connor turning his attack dogs and high-pressure hoses on nonviolent blacks. Ten years ago, candidate Ronald Reagan repeatedly provided voter-victims with a vivid description of an unnamed villainess: the Cadillac-driving welfare queen in designer jeans.

Now just in time for this year's commencement speakers and next year's Democratic candidates comes a universally unappealing and identifiable villain; Ivan Boesky is his name and the avarice of insider trading is his game. Here is a man who was made for his part. How can theoretical abstractions like ''community'' and ''excellence'' compete with a Wall Street inside trader wearing cufflinks as big as baseballs?

What a difference two semesters and one guilty plea can make. Just a year ago, Ivan Boesky was himself delivering commencement speeches instead of being denounced in them. At Berkeley last year, the man who boasted that he slept only two hours a night reassured the business school graduates: ''I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.''

This year at a home-state commencement, Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn rebuked ''the seeds of greed'' which ''we see in front-page pictures of affluent, well-educated stockbrokers being herded off to jail from their Wall Street offices.'' Earlier this spring at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) called it ''a travesty'' that Boesky is ''the best-known businessman in America,'' and the worst example of ''people who produce nothing, invent nothing, grow nothing, and service nothing.''

As a bipartisan target, it's Ivan the Available. At Michigan's Albion College, Vice President George Bush censured ''illegal insider trading schemes on Wall Street,'' while New Jersey's popular Republican governor, Tom Kean, urged the Syracuse University commencement audience to get involved in curing society's ills and not to be discouraged because ''an epidemic of indictments has struck the privileged and the powerful.'' But the most stirring commencement voice on this subject belongs to Delaware's Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, who implored 1987 University of Minnesota law school graduates not to passively accept a society where '''What's in it for me' . . . {has} become the operative ethic . . . where Ivan Boesky, before his fall, could be applauded for telling the graduating class at a great American university that 'greed is good.' ''

Look for Ivan rhetorically to move from the campus to the campaign trail as the visible symbol of a generation of a self-centered and selfish materialism. Our national life is now suffering an acute shortage of values that Boesky and the Rev. and Mrs. Bakker seem especially to personify.

But to become a 1988 political issue of real consequence, insider trading will need some sympathetic types who have been victimized by our identifiable villain. So far, because of the bull market, the insider-trading offenses have not inflicted public pain on that many ordinary people. Just wait, though: a big drop in the Dow-Jones could leave enough widows and orphans financially ruined to bring a loud and angry call for reform.

Special interests in Washington, insider trading on Wall Street and defrocked clergymen with life styles rivaling those of the Marcoses -- all these things are ultimately about a loss of idealism and a sense that every American deserves to be treated the same and to get a fair shake.

Most Americans are lousy cynics. We know we are about more than leveraged buy-outs and greenmail. The presidential candidate who can ignite that dormant American idealism, with the help of Ivan Boesky and others, stands a good chance to take the oath of office on Jan. 20, 1989.