THE GANG that (evidently) couldn't shoot straight is back in the news. G. Gordon Liddy has been telling a waiting world about how he once baked a rat (about 20 minutes to the pound, we would figure, in an oven set at 375) and ate this rat by way of demonstrating to himself -- and to ratdom all over the world -- who had better be scared of whom from now on. This theory of acquiring mystical power over a whole class of creatures by ingesting one of them still enjoys a certain vogue, as we understand it, in some of the less accessible parts of New Guinea. But it has come as quite a shock to Washington -- silly old effete place that we are. And so have many of Mr. Liddy's other observations and assertions, especially concerning the people the Nixon bunch wouldn't authorize him to kill; and so have Sprio T. Agnew's speculations about whether Mr. Nixon didn't actually intend to have Him killed; and so have Mr. Nixon's own recent declarations on . . . . But wait. We get ahead of ourselves. The thing has made us giddy.

Mr. Liddy was of a mind to exterminate the columist Jack Anderson and also his co-conspirator E. Howard (The Rug) Hunt, and the darn of it, in his view, seems to have been that he never got to. Such were life's little disappointments in the Nixon years, but for prospective victims -- or at least for those who so imagined themselves -- it had a bright side. For instance, Mr. Agnew, who says he supposed the president might well have him murdered if he didn't resign, did resign and didn't get murdered. So, you see: the system works. Or is that the right conclusion? We apologize again for being slightly addled by all this, but we are, frankly, just a little rusty in the techniques of thinking about this group.

For guidance at such a time, it is of course always useful to turn to the Leader himself from whom all Strategy flows, and providentially Mr. Nixon has also chosen at this moment to come out with a book, some parts of which this paper is printing. So the guidance is there. As usual, the former president speaks most compellingly about what he knows best. "Only in very recent years," Mr. Nixon writes, "has the notion taken hold that life is meant to be easy," adding that too many people have been "coddled, pampered and truckled to." Who better to write about this than a pardoned and pensioned-off ex-president (unless it would be a plea-bargained-out ex-vice president) who has enjoyed the comfiest of life styles in the trying period when so many of his close associates and subordinates had to go to jail? p

Mostly what Mr. Nixon writes about, however, is what Mr. Liddy also writes about: Will -- and the unfortunate, even positively alarming absence of it from our coddled higher reaches these days: People, he points out, keep going around saying dumb things like "'War' is 'bad'" and "'peace' is 'good,'" and not facing up to World War III. Damned shame too.

World War III has long been a favorite subject of Mr. Nixon's. Let the lower-downs in the organization worry about simple -- how should we say? -- one-on-one extinctions. The big geopolitical version is what's on his mind. In one of his most memorable asides, the former president once complimented Guy Lombardo by saying he was sure Mr. Lombardo's band would be playing after World War III, just as it had on VJ Day after World War II. Unfortuantely, Mr. Lombardo died (presumably of natural causes) before we could win World War III, but that has not diminished Mr. Nixon's resolve to win it. But to do that, he informs us, will require -- one can't say it too often -- "Will."

Hating as we do to be skunks at the garden party, we are still bound to say that after this great burst of hymns to Will is over, the hymnists of the Nixon administration could do worse than to turn their attention to another abstraction. It is called Responsibility. It is what all these gents seem so assiduously to be ducking -- whether by blaming it all on someone else or implying it was fear for their life as distinct from their own wrongdoing that forced them out or repeating the old business about merely following orders. Responsibility. They ought to give it a whirl. Like peace, if you'll forgive our saying so, it is good.