IN THE NAME of political civility, will someone yank Stan Parris and James Moran out of their high chairs and strip off their spoons before they fling anymore strained beets at each other in their so-called campaign for Congress in Northern Virginia? Most people knew from the start that Rep. Parris is not one to hold back when it comes to hurling words at opponents, but Mr. Moran, who wants Mr. Parris's job, is using some words that TV, radio and newspapers have problems relaying.

The latest grimy exchange was a Parris-Moran version of a foreign policy discussion, in which the Republican congressman attacked the Democratic mayor of Alexandria for questioning America's military confrontation with Iraq: "The only three people I know who support Saddam Hussein's postion are Moammar Gadhafi, Yasser Arafat and Jim Moran." This prompted Mr. Moran to characterize Mr. Parris as "a deceitful, fatuous jerk. . . . I want to break his nose." There was more from each, but it didn't get much better.

It's all well and good that this campaign for Congress is including global issues, which in this district means anything beyond the outer gates of Lorton. But if Mayor Moran seriously intends to offer voters relief from undistinguished representation in the U.S. House, he should consider raising the quality of challenge at least to ground level. There's nothing wrong with good old-fashioned rough-and-tumble campaigning, in which each contestant portrays any opponent in something less than flattering terms. But the residents of Alexandria, southern Fairfax County, eastern Prince William County and northern Stafford County deserve something more plausible than the political equivalent of a food fight.