"YOU HAVE GIVEN me a great responsibility," Jimmy Carter said in his inaugural address, " to stay close to you, to be worthy of you, and to exemplify what you are . . . Your strength can compensate for my weakness, and your wisdom can help minimize my mistakes."

Go back and capitalize all those You's. The words become a prayer. Jimmy Carter addresses his countrymen in the same idiom and spirit that others reserve for God. We don't mean to suggest that he doesn't make a distinction between the two - only that he believes in the mystical properties of both and draws sustenance of a special kind from both. Others, to be sure, have quadrennially nodded and bowed in the same directions. But President Carter, self-evidently, means it. The spiritual element is authentic, and it is central to his thinking. In this inaugural remarks, we noted, this element found gentle, benign and broadly acceptable expression.

This gentleness of tone and lack of zealotry characterized not only the speech's religious passages, but also its political burden. In more ways than one the new President seemed to signal that this would be a time to recognize limits and learn to live with the vaguely alien concepts of imperfection and partial success in our national life. "We can neither answer all question nor solve all problems," he said. "We cannot afford to do everything . . ." These explicit warnings were reinforced by the quality of the speech as a whole. It was notably lacking in the kind of idealistic fervor and selfcertainty one associates with the 1960s and early 1970s. The ravages of history and time have understandably reduced those more sweeping inaugural ambitions to this: "We must simply do our best."

A lot of people would probably say that Jimmy Carter once agains Waffled and hid his true purpose. Yes, he spoke of "limits," but did he not also speak of "boldness" and "absolute" commitments and "an undiminished, ever-expanding American dream"? Were there not, simultaneously, reassurances for those who want a heavy investment in defense and for those who wish to move "toward our ultimate goal - the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this earth"? Did not the new President in fact espouse nearly every noble goal on the American political wish-list, never mind that some of them have traditionally been thought to conflict with others?

The answer is yes - Jimmy Carter did not delineate the normal world of choices in his speech. He apparently does not believe you have to choose between certain public goals and interests because he does not think they are contradictory. This has been the spirit of his campaign from the start, and in many respects he is right to reject the commonplace notion of which set of ideas goes nicely with which. The political philosophy that refuses to see something inconsistent in a concern for patriotism and peaceableness or for the rights of black people and white people is way out ahead of the tired thinking that holds such concerns incompatible.

Philosophically - you could even say, spiritually - then, Mr. Carter is right. The difficulty is going to come on more practical terrain. For given a limit on resources - money to spend, schoolrooms to sit in, jobs to hold and the rest - choices are going to have to be made, and Mr. Carter is going to have to make them.We think in his broad philosophy as spelled out in his speech, the new President ably and attractively defined himself. His government will be defined by acts and choices vet to come.