Q: . . . Aren't there any examples of things you did that weren't absolutely right?

A: . . . There are a lot of those in my life. Not speaking out for the cessation of the war in Vietnam. The fact that I didn't crusade at a very early stage for civil rights in the South, for the one-man, one-vote ruling. It might be that now I should drop my campaign for President and start a crusade for back-majority rule in South Africa or Rhodesia . . .

WE COMMEND the above exchange, taken from Jimmy Carter's Playboy interview last fall, to those puzzling over one of the most absorbing and - to many - most vexing conundrums of the Carter administration: Why doesn't the President discipline or fire Andrew Young, the erratic and often self-indulgent U.S. ambassador to the United Nations? We will not burden you with the full record of Mr. Young's diplomatic indiscretions and idiosyncracies. It is perhaps enough to note that (not for the first time) he has just called some of this country's oldest friends "racists" and dismissed out of hand the administration's official objections to the latest Communist power play in Africa. Any other presidential appointee would have been out quicker than you can say "John K. Singlaub."

Is it because of personal friendship that Mr. Young survives? Is it political obligation, reinforced by a sense of the cost a President might incur for forcing out - or even hushing up - the most conspicuous black in his administration? Is it because of an offensive and patronizing double standard that allows unique liberties to blacks in high office?

Perhaps. But a larger part of the answer, we suspect, is suggested by the passage, quoted above, from the Playboy interview. To take the President at his word, he was slow to rally to the cause of racial justice in the American South; and this failure filled him with a sense of guilt sufficiently deep to suggest to him the possibility of an alternate career: "I should . . . start a crusade for black majority rule in South Africa . . ." If this is so, then his attitude toward Andrew Young becomes a good deal clearer. He feels a disciple's respect and humility before an apostle. He keeps him on not out of indulgence but because he agrees with him profoundly on what they both regard as central to this country's approach to Africa.To look for daylight between them is absurd, as is made clear by Mr. Carter's latest vote of confidence in Mr. Young's performance, reprinted For the Record on this page today.

No more than any person can a President be denied his motives. What he is accountable for, however, are his policies. It is here that he can be faulted. The improvisations and insults and affectations of morla superiority and personal importance that mark the style of Andrew Young too often mock responsible diplomacy. And the substance of teh Carter policy for Africa, proceeding as it does from a vision of white racism born in the American South, seems both superficial and unnecessarily risky. It is grossly interventioanist. It does not acknowledge the special hsitorical and political circumstances of the African South. It encourages blacks to demand power and whites to yield it without suggesting how this is to be done - and how soon - and without offering safeguards and guarantees to blacks in the short run or to whites in the long run.

So we do not think Mr. Young is the problem. Those who question the administration's Africa policy should look first to President Carter and to his own evident motivation. Guilt can be a powerful and legitimate human impulse. Whether it translates into wise policy is something else again.