IN A TOWN where there seem sometimes to be only issues and forces ("Kennedy forces," "Carter forces") and communities (the "arts community," the "defense community") and an artificial, floating idea known variously as "the public" or "the people," we believe we have just heard that rarest of sounds: a human voice. It belongs to Juanita Kreps, who is going back to North Carolina now, having resigned from her job as secretary of commerce. Mrs. Kreps gave an interview to Post staff writer Hobart Rowen that appeared in the paper Saturday, and it was extraordinary -- precisely because it was so "ordinary," so unassuming and plain. In explaining why we found these remarks to be distinctive and arresting, we have an awful feeling that the word we are looking for is "honest."

Mrs. Kreps, under the prevailing system of virtues and values, could have been forgiven for being many things -- bitter, cynical, angry or malicious, lobbing just one good old parting grenade over her shoulder on the way back to Durham, N.C. After all, she was cuffed around pretty thoroughly by colleagues in the administration; she had a claim and a duty to be in on; she tried to get in (it was never any secret Washington that she objected to her exclusion from the economic inner circle) and she was still left out; there was a diabolical coincidence of tragedies and disappointments in her personal and political lives -- her husband's illness, her disillusion with life in the capital, her growing dissatisfaction with the economic theories she had spent a lifetime teaching.

"You do lose faith in the catechism after a while," she told Mr. Rowen -- this by way of acknowledging, without defensiveness or self-justification, that she, along with others, had been wrong. And again: "All of us concentrated on [things like] this week's CPI number, rather than the fundamental problems of, say, productivity declines." Mrs. Kreps was as straightforward in her assessement of her own failure to get more power and say-so. She offered it as her opinion that she could perhaps have been a little more noisy and aggressive ("without jeopardizing my basically mousy nature"), that she was "plagued" by "constant reference" to her "soft-spoken and gentle" ways and that her style was not the kind that has much of a Washingon payoff.

Nothing vindictive there, and also, interestingly, nothing embarrassed or suggestive of some subtle, unstated secondary motive; just the gently unflattering (to everyone) truth as Mrs. Kreps sees it. At one place in the interview, Mrs Kreps declares that "there is a terrifying quality to coming to Washington for a major job." That is no doubt true. But just as truly one of the terrors must be that personality and character of the jobholder will disintegrate or become corrupted under the pressure, the heat. And on that score, Mrs. Kreps need have no fears. Self-evidently she leaves Washington with the same great personal dignity she brought here. Not everyone, to put it mildly, can say as much.