In the more innocent past, politicians could get away with promising to ease our burdens by offering the Simple Solution. What America needs, one of them said, to national acclaim, is a good 5-cent cigar.

Obviously, that's not good enough today. With war and peace issues before us, with inflation and unemployment rising simultaneously, with government out of control and in danger of collapse, with scandals and cynicism pervading the political process, with all America hungering for leadership, citizens deserve much better than they're being offered.

What America needs today is a good candidate.

Until last week, the prospects of seeing a true leader emerge from the pack were dismal at best. Now, a potential hero arises.

Watching the others in action so far, I can testify that each has certain admirable qualities but none the overall special "Something."

Jimmy Carter has the prayerful demeanor millions find attractive. And now he's got the good sense to bring along the Marine Band when he speaks; he's learned, painfully, one of the lessons of presidential leadership; make a good show.

Ted Kennedy has the Irish charm that captivates audiences. In a day when the art of oratory stands in danger of extinction, he shows us what it's like when a real pol takes the stump with a real flair, part bombast, part bravado.

George Bush has the sincere style that wins applause. As Eugene McCarthy says. Bush seems like a character out of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He should be wearing gray flannels, a cardigan letter sweater, and white bucks -- and campaigning with a megaphone.

Ronald Reagan has the polish of the professional performer, even if his timing remains a shade off these days. No one knows better how to play the crowd, or displays a sharper instinct for how to utilize the bright lights.

John Connally has the strength everyone wants. He exudes machismo; there's no doubt he could stand up to the Russians and the Ayatollah, even if some people are unkind enough to suggest seeing him always reminds them of two other presidents -- Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.

Howard Baker has the savvy. In this political year, that's the one trait everyone agrees is needed in the next president. Never again the outsiders.

John Anderson has everything. He's everybody's candidate, the man who has intelligence, integrity, experience, courage. But, of course, everybody says he can't win.

Here are some of the qualities the perfect presidential candidate for 1980 should have:

He should be a Republican; it's their year. He should be a conservative with a record of speaking out against the bureaucracy and Big Government; it's still a sure issue. He should be from the Sun Belt; there lies the American future. He should be active in church, preferably a Protestant. He should have government experience, particularly in Congress; it's an insider's era. He should be a lawyer; ability to understand the intracies of legislation is essential. He should be a veteran, best of all a Marine; proven toughness and military background are the order of the day.

Difficult as it is to find all these qualities in one man, the ideal candidate needs even more. Since morality continues to be one of the great issues, judicial experience would be especially useful. To have further background as a prosecutor, says as a U.S. attorney trained in ferreting out corruption, might be asking for too much -- but how necessary in view of the latest government scandal sweeping Washington.

Such a man exists fellow citizens. He's from Florida, an elder in the Presbyterian Church, a lawyer, a former city attorney, U.S. attorney and then a judge who served four years with the Second Marine Division in the Central Pacific during World War II. At 55, he's the prime age for a president. And for the past six years he's been a Republican member of Congress.

His name hasn't been exactly a household word. But now he's boldly seized public attention.

He's Richard Kelly, the congressman who admits he stuffed his pockets with $25,000 offered by FBI undercover agents as bribe money while the entire transaction was being filmed and taped. Kelly called a press conference to explain he'd taken the money to conduct his own investigation of corruption. "I wanted to know what these cats were up to," he says.

In this period of lackluster politics, a public figure with such a record capable of such daring deserves greater attention. And Congressman Kelly has accomplished something else beyond the ability of all our leading public figures. He's given this weary, worried, stale city of Washington something to laugh about for the first time in years.

Note: In an article about Ronald Reagan last Tuesday, I reported Reagan incorrectly has been saying to audiences that President Carter stepped off a plane in Poland to tell the "startled satrap who rules that country on behalf of the Soviet Union, 'Our concept of human rights is preserved in Poland'" Several people have complained Carter did indeed say that, I was present that night in Poland and Carter said no such thing. The following day, in the midst of a discussion of human rights during a press conference, Judy Woodruff of NBC asked Carter:

"Mr. President, then how satisfied are you that your concept of the preservation of human rights is currently being honored here in Poland?"

Carter replied: "I think that our concept of human rights is preserved in Poland, as I've said, much better than some other European nations with which I'm familiar. There is a substantial degree of freedom of the press exhibited by this press conference this afternoon; a substantial degree of freedom of religion, demonstrated by the fact that approximately 90 percent of the Polish people profess faith in Christ; and an open relationship between Poland and our country and Western European countries in trade, technology, cultural exchange, student exchange, tourism. So, I don't think there's any doubt that the will of the Polish people for complete preservation and enhancement of human rights is the same as our own."

Reagan's misstatement of fact about Carter's airport arival words to the Polish president, Edward Gierek, and his use of Carter's press conference response the next day out of context remain, in my view, a distortion.