SO MICHAEL DUKAKIS' campaign manager, who has now resigned along with another staffer, was the secret purveyor to the press of the videotape that showed Sen. Joseph Biden cribbing from Neil Kinnock's text. This was the videotape that began the rockslide that had completely buried Sen. Biden's campaign by the end of last week. It is certainly right that the staffers, who lied about what they had done and got their unwitting candidate telling a false story too, should have been removed from the campaign. And we have no doubt that all the political disruption apparently being caused by the revelation is serious and real. But we do think you can draw a line at all the lugubrious comment about negative campaigning and divisiveness and not being constructive and dirty tricks and the rest.

In fact, this whole goody-two-shoes affectation about how the primary campaign should be run is just one more layer of hypocrisy for the voter to penetrate and one more impediment to finding out what needs to be known about the candidates. The six of them are, after all, running against each other. The differences between them should be highlighted, not suppressed; if one thinks that another is stupid or venal or unqualified, he should say so; and if one knows that another has done something he thinks disqualifying, he should say what it is. Be assured the candidates who are coming on as such well-behaved, one-for-all-and-all-for-one comrades, these guys who profess such deep shock that any one of them might have betrayed another, are all dying for the worst to be known about their competitors and doing their best to see to it that somehow, ideally without their direct involvement, it does get around.

What was unattractive about the Dukakis campaigners' involvement was not their getting hold of the damning material and making it known. It was the underhandedness of their operation, their pretense of not doing what they were doing, their refusal to take responsibility for it. That is cowardly, and cowardice is not what you would call a vast improvement on word theft. The saving distinction here is that Gov. Dukakis is said not to have known about what his aides were doing. We hope not. We hope he is someone who 1) has the instinct to take on an opponent who has done something he thinks is wrong and 2) has the guts and decency to do so out loud.