In his Oct. 6 column {" 'When Judges Are Lynched to Appease the Public,' " op-ed}, David S. Broder warns that the vigorous public debate over the Bork nomination "does terrible damage to the underlying values of democracy and the safeguards of freedom."

As one who is proud to have played a bit part in this drama, and whose role Broder specifically attacks, I beg to differ. Far from being a threat to our system, the debate was a celebration of American democracy, an example of how the system works best when the people participate. Rather than doing "terrible damage," the debate was an exercise of "the underlying values of democracy and the safeguards of freedom" -- particularly appropriate for the bicentennial of the Constitution.

Every four years, the pundits and editorialists bemoan the fact that too few citizens exercise their right and responsibility to vote, declining to participate in the process. Why, then, when two elected branches of government, the president and the Senate, discuss issues as important as Supreme Court nominations, and citizens in 50 states on both sides of the issue are encouraged to express their passion and conviction, do some commentators feel the need to castigate them as everything short of un-American?

This country has witnessed high-pitched, high-stakes debates over Supreme Court nominations -- Abe Fortas, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, to name just a few -- but what has distinguished and decided the battle over Bork was not the hyperbole of competing factions; it was the extraordinary drama of the hearings themselves, where Judge Bork alone was the star.

So rather than condemn the public interest groups, who in the pursuit of their convictions and rights as citizens only served to illuminate the record, I see reason for pride and hope in renewed citizen action. Who can remember a public debate that raised so many challenging issues, from the proper roles of the court in our society to whether there is a constitutional right to privacy; whether free speech extends beyond political expression; and whether Supreme Court justices must respect precedent?

As more than one commentator has observed, the hearings -- and, I would add, the public debate itself -- have been a constitutional seminar for all Americans. And that would include the press and Congress.

Norman Lear

The writer is the founder of People for the American Way.