THE JUSTICE Department's blistering surprise attack on independent counsels should perhaps be looked at in the same light as Tammy Faye Bakker's tearful outburst against Jerry Falwell, who, she said, should better have "killed Jim and me" than to expel them from their earthly paradise at Tega Cay, S.C.

Both are cries from the heart, really. Attorney General Edwin Meese -- through Assistant Attorney General John R. Bolton -- was saying the same thing as Tammy Faye: Why can't things be the way they were?

These are sad times and bad times for the PTL evangelists. Their PTL-appointed monitor, Falwell, is evicting them from their luxurious parsonage. They have said their last goodbyes to the gold faucets, the power boat, the air-conditioned doghouse.

Ronald Reagan is seeing the shredding of his presidency, and Meese, who reads his mind, is lashing out at the president's tormentors regardless of the consequences to both of them. The White House, amazingly, approved the destructive strike.

It doesn't help their cases to say that Falwell is as good as a murderer or that independent counsels are spending too much money or taking too much time. About all Tammy Faye's sobs proved is that her mascara is miraculously waterproof. Meese merely called attention to the fact that he couldn't lead the charge himself because he is under investigation by two independent counsels.

Other independent counsels had to be included in the Justice Department charges. Singling out Lawrence Walsh, who is running the Iran-contra probe, would have been a shade too crass, even by Meese's standards. So the rest had to be lumped in, which in turn spotlighted the fact that a record number of independent counsels, seven in all, have had to be appointed.

In the past, Meese has found the institution he now claims is unconstititonal to be a useful political tool. So has the president. Last December, Reagan welcomed the appointment of one who could tell him what went on in the Iran-contra scandal.

Walsh will proceed inexorably, just as the sheriff seems certain to come for Tammy Faye and Jim. Some things set in motion cannot be reversed.

For Reagan, nothing works any more. At the Venice summit, American reporters who should have been chronicling statecraft were watching Fawn Hall testify in Washington -- and writing about the president's fading power on the world scene.

His incoherent homecoming speech was heard against a rising chorus of congressional protest of his grand plan to put the Stars and Stripes on Kuwaiti oil tankers and give them the names of U.S. cities. Even Jesse Helms, that old reliable fan of Ramboesque approaches, was skeptical.

What was being demonstrated in Venice and on Capitol Hill was that Ronald Reagan can't get any respect any more. The rudest blow came from an unlikely adversary. On national television last Sunday, the viper word "impeachment" suddenly leapt from the screen. It was uttered by that pillar of responsibility, House Select Committee Chairman Lee Hamilton of Indiana.

He is a man of storied caution and restraint. During the hearings he has been quiet except to make majestic summaries of the testimony.

Impeachment is never mentioned at the hearings, because, all say, it will never happen. The reasons are well known: Reagan is not Nixon; people still love him; the country cannot stand the trauma of another failed presidency; he knew nothing of the diversion of the Iranian arms-sale profits to the contras, despite the existence of a famous topless memo from Adm. Pointdexter informing him of the fact.

On the David Brinkley show, when asked a question about the memo, which Reagan claims never to have seen, Hamilton said matter-of factly: "If that occurred {meaning proof that the president had seen the memo} -- and let me emphasize the "if" -- that if it occurred, you would have a demand for impeachment proceedings."

The White House shuddered. Something like panic began to set in.

Presidential ire boiled over in an angry review of the hearings, an outburst that occurred under circumstances that displayed further the ebbing of respect for him . It was at a White House session with out-of-town economics reporters, who in the old days could be expected to mind their own business. But one of them impertinently inquired if Reagan was pushing budget topics to "get the spotlight off the Iran-contra hearings here in Washington."

The hearings were losing their audience, the president replied gruffly, and people were going back to their soaps. (He wishes.) He had "never heard so much hearsay in all my life." (The hearings are awash in documents and corroborating statements.)

But in these twin crises of church and state, it is strike-back time. People who cry out in protest when they hear the footsteps on the stair cannot be expected to make sense.

Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.