Many in the media continue to exhibit a curious combination of righteous indignation and befuddlement at the president's continued popularity in the polls -- in spite of his fall from grace after the Iran-contra affair.

As the polls show, most people just don't care that much about Iran-contra and the president's dissembling. It's not important to them.

What people do care about is having a government (a president and a Congress) that makes the attempt to address the truly serious problems facing the nation. They see a president who is trying to do that and a Congress that isn't. Congress is perceived as having dithered away precious time on the Iran-contra sideshow while failing, once again, to pass a budget. Two bills it did pass only made things worse: a pork-laden highway bill and a clean-water act that the country probably can't afford.

The president, meanwhile, has vowed not to increase taxes, has called for more cuts in domestic spending and has admitted -- through his acceptance of the Packard commission reforms -- that defense spending could stand better management.

The president is popular because he is perceived as trying to do what people expect their leaders to do -- lead.

CHRISTOPHER H. HANKS

Reston