IT IS HARD to hold back the tears of nostalgia when we read that The Nation has obtained and published the secret minutes of Cabinet meetings fromMarch 14, 1977, to March 13, 1978. That's a long period of time, room for a lot of meetings. In another White House, in another time, the publication of an equally long account of secret conversations - say, tapes - would have sent a stampede to every newsstand in the county. But what have we here? Secretary Harris reports that she spent a day cmapaigning for Democrats in New York and New Jersey; Secretary Califano goes "on record" in praise of Attorney General Bell; Ambassador Young characterizes a week at the United Nations as exciting.

We've certainly come a long way from the following (remember, friends?)

P: We have to prick the boil and take the heat. Now, that's what we are doing here. We're going to prick this boil and take the heat. I - am I overstating?

E: No, I think that's right. The idea is, this will prick the boil. It may not. The history of this thing has to be, though, that you did not tuck this under the rug yesterday or today, and hope it would go away.

P: NOw, In the scenario. I sort of go out and tell people that I have done this.

E: I don't know. It depends on how it all turns out. If he does not go to the U.S. attorney, if Magruder decides to stay clammed up . . .

Just thinking of those Ps and Es and Hs and Ds is enough to make a grown newspaper weep. All we have now is a P who brings Ambassador B to a Cabinet meeting to talk about the Panama Canal treaties. And Secretary V discuss the dreary old Soviet U.

Of course, there's always the possibility that the minutes merely appear innocuous, and in fact the backslapping and dull reports disguise lurid scandals and treacherous schemes. On the surface, Secretary Adams's announcement that he attended a town meeting in Wichita on rural transportation seems just that. But who is to know what "rural transportation" or even "Wichita" may mean in code? Do you think A was winking?

Alas, we fear not. Despite the fun of trying to read between the lines, all anyone can see is a string of Zzzzzzs. Disappointing as that may be, we suppose things could be worse. In fact, they once were.