Pardon the heroes of Iranamok? That's the latest brainstorm from the Reagan administration's more fevered partisans. The idea of presidential absolution for Oliver North and John Poindexter has a certain moral symmetry. The scandal itself demonstrated contempt for American democracy. A pardon would demonstrate contempt for the American system of justice. Short of spitting on the flag, that about covers it.

When Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, Sen. Sam Ervin noted that the president's constitutional pardon power is broader than the Almighty's, because God only pardons sinners after they've repented. But at least the Nixon pardon was grounded in a spirit of mercy, not triumphant vindication. Ford noted that Nixon had "resigned under shame and disgrace," and even Nixon coughed up a small regret. Poindexter, by contrast, insists, "I don't have regrets for anything that I did." North would probably bronze the pardon and pin it to his chest.

Whatever other crimes the dynamic duo may have committed (and if shredding crucial documents in one room while law officers are searching files next door isn't a crime, the criminal code needs to be rewritten), at least one has committed perjury as recently as the past couple of weeks. North testified that he sent five different memos to Poindexter discussing the Iran-contra connection. Poindexter says, "I frankly don't think those {memos} existed," except (conveniently) for the one that escaped the shredder.

Do law-and-order types like Sen. Orrin Hatch and former White House communications director Patrick J. Buchanan believe that the law should not apply to the people who administer it? Or do they believe that the American justice system can't provide a fair trial to these patriots? The right believes that North and Poindexter shouldn't even be indicted -- and wouldn't be if it weren't for the excessive independence of independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh. The Reagan administration has endorsed the faddish notion that the "independent prosecutor" law is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers.

The performance of the Meese Justice Department in Iranamok -- its lumpish lack of curiosity, its virtual invitation to destroy the evidence -- is a perfect example of why an administration cannot be trusted to investigate itself. Yet starting from nothing more than the constitutional provision that the president "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed," conservative constitutional alchemists produce the wonderful conclusion that no one but the president's own staff can prosecute the president's own staff for failing to "take care that the laws are faithfully executed." I hope someone will ask Robert Bork if this is his idea of strict constructionism.

The attack on independent prosecutors is part of a larger conservative effort to reinterpret the presidency as an elected dictatorship. The administration's supporters argue that virtually any attempt by Congress to constrain the president's power in foreign policy is unconstitutional. In his Washington Post screed urging a pardon for North and Poindexter, Buchanan cut through the tedious argument about what the Boland Amendment may or may not have meant. Who cares what it meant? Buchanan urges President Reagan to "demand, not request, $500 million for the contras." If Congress says no, send the money anyway and dare them to impeach him. "They haven't got the cojones." That's not Spanish for "constitutional authority."

This kind of talk is revealing, I think. So is conservative pundit Richard Viguerie's widely quoted remark about the hearings that "liberals are listening to the words . . . but the guy in the street hears the music." So is Buchanan's fantasy of "an Avenida Oliver North, leading directly into the Plaza William J. Casey" in a liberated Managua. What it all reveals is that the conservative populism these gentlemen claim to represent bears more similarity to Peron-style Latin fascism than to American-style representative democracy. Buchanan and Company are happy enough to fan and exploit popular passions, to intimidate critics with piles of telegrams. But they don't trust the wishes of the people as expressed by their elected representatives.

In fact, they don't really trust the people. Buchanan wrote Reagan's Nov. 13 now-you-are-going-to-hear-the-facts television speech in which he said: "We did not -- repeat did not -- trade weapons for hostages, nor will we." At the recommendation of Oliver North, the speech also said that all the weapons sold to Iran would "easily fit into a single cargo plane." We now know Reagan had signed a document authorizing the arms sale explicitly labeled "hostage rescue" and that far more than one planeload of arms was involved.

Did Buchanan knowingly help the president lie to the citizenry, or was he duped himself? Either way, he now thinks the man who invented these lies for the president to tell the people should be rewarded with absolution and hero worship. Some populist. These guys will go mano a mano with Abu Nidal, but when it comes to American democracy and American justice, they'd rather duck the fight.