The faint hearts in the Democratic Party are telling Gary Hart not to reenter the presidential race. I hope he doesn't listen to them. When he appears with Ted Koppel on ABC-TV's ''Nightline'' Tuesday, I yearn to hear him say he will ignore the naysayers and jump back into the battle.
After all, what's a little scandal among friends? Where is it written that statesmen can't take time out for a little Monkey Business? So what if his campaign workers have taken their Rolodexes to other headquarters? They can be replaced.
Hart could set a wonderful example by returning to the campaign he quit so abruptly last spring after his dating habits were exposed. He could create the precedent that would brighten the election year's entertainment prospects. A grateful public might even decide to reward the Democrats in the voting booth.
Consider the situation on the eve of this 1988 campaign. Ronald Reagan, the Man of All Our Golden Yesterdays, is retiring from the White House he has adorned so well. Anxious Americans ask each other, ''Where shall we find another such Memory Meister, who can make us forget our troubles by recalling those Magic Moments from the time when he and we were young?''
Reagan's retirement opens a Nostalgia Gap, which the Republicans are doing nothing to fill. Reagan invoked the magic of the silver screen and the golden moments of radio, the charm of small-town life, the romance of the Old West and the glamour of Hollywood. What do the 1988 GOP candidates offer by way of memories? Crop-dusting with Bob Dole. Drawing Laffer curves on napkins with Jack Kemp. Swapping watchbands with George Bush. That really doesn't cut it.
The present field of Democratic contenders is also conspicuously weak, nostalgia-wise. You cannot share memories with people whose names you've only just heard. But, oh, what wonderful, stirring scenes could be recalled by the Democratic stars of yesteryear!
Yes, Gary Hart, jump back in. But not alone. Call your old friends and tell them, for all of us: everyone into the candidate pool! Let's celebrate 1988 by bringing back the great Democratic stars of the past 20 years. All of them, while they are still around.
Let's ask Clean Gene McCarthy to run again. Have him bring out the teeny-bopper brigades of adolescent precinct workers and the string quartet that played for him in the Indiana primary. Let's unleash his unrivaled sarcasm on this year's crop of presidential pretenders and see who has the wit to survive. Reserve a block of rooms in the old Conrad Hilton Hotel for all the delegates McCarthy wins, and let's let them fight the Chicago cops again.
Let's beckon Ed Muskie and George McGovern and George Wallace out of retirement to relive that wonderful 1972 campaign. This time, when Muskie goes to the Union Leader office in Manchester, let's have bright sunshine, not snow, and see how New Hampshire votes without his snuffles.
And let's bring back all 17 or 27 of the people who ran for vice president against Tom Eagleton on the wild last night of the 1972 convention. I especially want to hear Mike Gravel of Alaska, who delivered a speech nominating himself for the No. 2 spot and then, almost unhinged by his own oratory, tearfully withdrew his name from consideration. Every Political Trivia fan would love to see that again.
And how about 1976? Wouldn't you enjoy hearing Mo Udall's stories one more time, or savor Fred Harris' explanation of his early exit from the race: ''I aimed my campaign at the little people, and they couldn't reach the levers.'' And who could resist a second glimpse of Sargent Shriver earnestly seeking the in-law vote? I tell you, there were giants in those days.
On to 1980. Enter, once again, Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy. And let's see if those two remember the intricate footwork they used when Carter, fresh from his acceptance speech praising ''Hubert Horatio Hornblower,'' stalked the reluctant Kennedy back and forth across the Madison Square Garden stage, determined to win the handclasp Kennedy was equally determined not to give. This time, with opportunity to study the films, Carter might corner Kennedy in less than the 8 minutes, 20 seconds it took him then.
And, yes, let's rerun the 1984 tape. Bring Fritz Mondale and all his endorsements out of mothballs, and restore John Glenn with a fresh coat of The Right Stuff. Invite Fritz Hollings back to New Hampshire, but this time hire a translator for that incomprehensible Charleston drawl. And in the new Atlanta debate, Gary, when Mondale asks, ''Where's the beef?'', don't hand him your book. Crown him with it. While he's out like a light, you can wrap up the nomination. And then take off for Bimini.
Yes, Gary, you should reenter the race. But not alone. Bring all your friends and playmates with you. The Democrats haven't won many elections recently, and the way things are going, they won't win this one. Unless, that is, they remind the country of the unmatched entertainment they have provided for the past 20 years.
The strategy can't miss. The Republicans won't have a chance. What are they going to do? Bring back Nixon