And now, as the song and dance of the three candidates moves into its traditional presto finale, the time draws near for all of us to creep from our storm cellars and to scud off to the voting booths. For whom shall we pull the lever: Jimmy, Ronnie or the good Parson Anderson?

Sooner or later, the dutiful citizen must face up to the Wonderboy's reign.

Under Jimmy Carter the economy has become chronically ill with ruinous inflation, high unemployment, high interest rates and sundry other fevers. Moreover, there is the alarming news from abroad: war in the Persian Gulf, continued chaos in Iran, the unraveling of almost all our postwar alliances and the growing futility of our foreign policy.

Viewing this ominous state of affairs, the sensible citizen is bound to ask himself, "Is there anything America might have done differently in recent years to avoid recession at home and increasing peril abroad?" Carter has made it clear that he does not think so. He accepts American futility in the world as part of the natural order of things. He does not worry that our decline augurs danger and impoverishment for us all. He has been president for over three years and has yet to learn from his experiences. Worse, he denies these experiences. He is the least competent president in this century. That is the deciding factor in this election.

There is another factor that has yet to be brought up in this campaign. Despite his promise "to heal" the nation's wounds, Carter has tried to revive and to exploit the enmities of America's past two decades of social and political upheaval. In objective terms, there is no reason Carter should not have been the healer of our wounds. Vietnam, Watergate and the violent struggles of the protest movements were behind us when he came to office. Yet he chided us for an "inordinate fear of communism." He appointed McGovernite foreign policy advisers and whooped it up for the social tumult of two decades. Rather than allowing American politics to get back to the business of peacefully accommodating competing interests, he manipulated the rhetoric and symbols of social revolutions, exploiting dying enmities, opening old wounds and raising unrealizable expectations. In the end he began spouting invidious canards that shocked even his admirers.

Carter's dreadful performance is the issue. He should not be president for the next four years. I shall vote for Reagan. He is a decent man, a cheerful man and, after listening to Carter's arguments for turning the United States into the Liechtenstein of North America, I am convinced Reagan has more in common with American presidents of the past four decades. Reagan is an ordinary American and when one considers what ordinary Americans have done for the world in terms of material progress and charity for the less fortunate, that is a very reassuring quality.

Reagan may not be the man of heroic lines for which sophmores forever yearn, but he is not squirrelly either. He is a man of good character, who has chosen wise advisers and successfully managed the affairs of a huge state. For months Carter has seen a host of increasingly serious problems beset the land, and he has responded by declaring that there is nothing we can do about them. Reagan thinks there is, and his prescriptions issue from the American experience of accomplishment, not from the no-growth fantasy of well-born progressives.

In domestic policy, Carter has shifted from inflationary economics to recessionary economics. In foreign policy, Carter has shifted from dovishness to hawkishness. Rarely has he shown that he understands the substance or consequences of any of these policies. For him, it is all posturing and bathos. As things have worsened for us, Carter has only grown more frantic. Reagan will be steady, and he will resort to policies that are refreshing and prudent.

Our next president faces four great challenges. He must preserve personal freedom, defend American interests without war, revive prosperity and this prosperity must be extended to the poor of the inner cities -- particularly to black youths who are leaving school today and, in even larger numbers, entering the dreary world of the perpetually unemployed. Of our three candidates, Reagan is the most likely to meet these challenges.