FEARLESSNESS is something you don't often see in presidential candidates. But Richard Gephardt knows no fear. He is unafraid to speak out against "the Establishment." He lays into Wall Street and -- it's hard to believe he could be so foolhardy -- editorial writers. We presume that Mr. Gephardt, like any candidate who has spent 117 days in Iowa these past two years, is just echoing what he hears around cups of coffee in courthouse town cafe's or over manure spreaders in farmers' barnyards, where the farmers, workers and seniors he talks about in his TV spots are complaining about being ground under the heel of the Establishment.

Mr. Gephardt is not the only candidate who has been fiercely attacking persons of straw. Jesse Jackson is quick to blame much of America's economic miseries on evil multinational corporations busy exporting jobs to Taiwan. Paul Simon's constant refrain that "I'm not a neo-anything, I'm a Democrat" is a thinly veiled attack on the neoliberal Democratic Leadership Council, a group of which three of his opponents (Bruce Babbitt, Richard Gephardt and Albert Gore) were founding members: obviously he is responding to the seething hatred so many millions of voters feel for the DLC.

Not all targets are made of straw. Bruce Babbitt steamed into Manchester, Iowa, and attacked IBP, Inc., a meatpacking firm that has agreed to build a big plant there. Mr. Babbitt's argument that IBP is a "corporate outlaw" sounds a bit courageous when you realize that the company employs 5,000 Iowans. And whatever you may think of George Bush's exchange with Dan Rather on CBS Monday night, neither target was made of straw. Pat Robertson sometimes seems to be taking on secular humanists, and Alexander Haig likes to attack the doom-and-gloomers of the 1970s. But for the most part the Republicans, as the party of the incumbent president, seem to have less use for straw persons than do the Democrats. Give them time, though. The party whose president came to office decrying the welfare lady in her Cadillac has been known to hurl some javelins at straw targets.