America lost a great philosopher this year with the death of Henry Ford II. It was Ford who gave the world the advice, ''Never apologize. Never explain.'' After plowing through the moldy remnants of the columns that appeared under this byline in the past 52 weeks, I understand the wisdom of that view.

I am strongly tempted to take my stand with Oliver North, Gary Hart, Jim Bakker and other heroes of 1987 who have rested their hopes on the public's amnesia. "Forgive and forget" is my motto too. Why rehash the mistakes and misjudgments of the past year when 1988 offers so many chances for a political reporter to goof again?

But knowing the sadistic pleasure some loyal readers get from the annual spectacle of my groveling confession of ignorance and error, I thought it unfair to deny you a few examples of Broder's folly.

Reaching at random into the stack of graying computer printouts, I pulled out this sarcastic line: ''I expect to read any day now that Paul Simon's chances are being underestimated by those pundits who have missed the significance of the bow-tie vote.''

What in the world caused me to write that sneering sentence, I cannot now explain. It appeared on April 15 and maybe wrestling with the simplified income-tax form Congress gave us had weakened my brain. But I sure was wrong.

There is a bow-tie vote, I have learned -- a large constituency of people who gratefully grasp something as obvious as a bow tie as a device for distinguishing Simon from the field of other not-too-exciting Democrats. As I was calling off their names in my last round of voter interviewing outside Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, one person remonstrated, ''You haven't asked me yet about the bow-tie man.'' So much for sarcasm.

That column expressed great bafflement about why Simon and Sen. Albert Gore Jr. had just decided to challenge so formidable a front-runner as Hart. Within a month, Hart had vamoosed to Lonesome Gulch with a posse of photographers and reporters in hot pursuit. Now, as in the Saturday morning cartoon shows, he has reappeared on the screen, chasing the journalistic posse as hard as they once tracked him.

If you conclude that I have failed totally to decipher the plot line of the Democratic nomination drama, you are right. That was the subject of some 20 columns in the past year, and so far as I can judge, no two successive columns expressed the same view of who was winning or losing. Most often, there was not the slightest resemblance.

Except for one thing. I have been insistent that neither the opportunity nor the impulse seemed present for a candidacy by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. At year's end that is still the case. But for how much longer? I wonder.

On the Republican side, the columns have been anything but evenhanded. Vice President George Bush has occupied more space and been given more critical scrutiny than anyone else, but I have no second thoughts about probing deeply for answers from the front-runner. The questions raised about him -- his readiness for the rough-and-tumble of politics, his role in the Iran arms-sales decision, his grasp of the realities of life for most working American families -- still seem to me the right questions. I just wish I could extract better answers.

My biggest misjudgment on the Republican side was in overrating Jack Kemp's potential, and here I see signs of personal bias at work. I like Kemp's expansionist view of what the Republican Party might become. But the failings noted in an April 12 column have proved to be costly. By focusing on ''hot button'' issues for conservative activists -- aid to contras, early deployment of the Strategic Defense Initiative, repeal of the Supreme Court abortion decision, unremitting opposition to higher taxes, a pardon for Lt. Col. North, etc. -- Kemp has blurred the vision of growth, jobs and prosperity for all that could have made him so appealing. When he entered the race, I thought he had ''a better chance of {getting} into the finals of the Republican nomination battle than most Washington oddsmakers now believe,'' but it sure doesn't look that way now.

I'm almost out of space, and I have barely scratched the surface of the year's errors. The most embarrassing goof was misidentifying John McPhee's fine book about Bill Bradley as ''Levels of the Game'' (a tennis tale) rather than ''A Sense of Where You Are.''

The columns that caused the greatest flaps were one criticizing the lobbying advertising campaign against Judge Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court and another suggesting that Ed Meese might serve his president, his party and his country best by resigning as attorney general. On sober second thought, I still think we could dispense with the services of both the Hollywood Hit Squad that made the anti-Bork ads and the attorney general who is perpetually amending his financial disclosure forms and staying one step ahead of the grand jury.

On that crabby note, let me wish you a Happy New Year. Who knows what new follies await us in 1988?