Robert J. Samuelson's assessment of Dwight Eisenhower the president {"There's Good Reason to Like Ike," op-ed, Oct. 17} describes a man for that season, when citizens yearned for quiet anchorage. Rough passages navigated by bolder presidents had, after two decades, inclined the people to seek respite. They were pleased to call in the hero who mediated rather than governed.

Some who voted for Adlai Stevenson still dream it might have been better, but others wonder, in retrospect, how Mr. Stevenson could have coped with the 800-pound jingoist gorilla the Republican Party had loosed on America and the world, in political desperation, after the second defeat of Thomas Dewey. President Eisenhower was better equipped to handle that problem. Nobody dared call him a traitor.

It is the season to honor Ike. Most of us will attend the party. Let's not exaggerate his wisdom, however. President Eisenhower knew how to exercise authority well, yet lacked the perception of where the trail leads that marks statesmen. He was no intellectual match for key members of his cabinet, whose selection he had delegated to others. President Eisenhower presided, resisting adventure, but was seven years in office before it occurred to him the United States needed national goals. A committee was assigned to discover them.

On one matter, Mr. Samuelson is wrong. Whatever may have been President Eisenhower's judgment of the need to deal with the injustice of segregation, it cannot be compared to the records of his successors, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Demonstrations that helped to force their hands were, in part, attributable to President Eisenhower's inaction. Personal intention on the issue is obscure, but who can doubt that President Johnson, as a Southerner, was deeply gratified to achieve advances in civil rights? Ike had the chance and the authority to tackle the problem, but he did not act. JOHN R. MAPOTHER Potomac