IT IS FAIRLY safe bet that over the past decade or so when anti-war and other Democrats grew increasingly passionate about the need for a reassertion of congressional influence on executive-branch affairs, raising this need almost to the status of a spiritual imperative, there were certain things they didn't have in mind. And surely among these would have been the prospect of Jesse Helms' challenging the appointments of a President Ronald Reagan -- from the right, yet. Wow. If anything should teach people to be little careful about the sweepingness of their support of certain principles that suit their views of the moment, that should be it.Not that it will be, or that the sight of Sen. Helms' playing Wayne Morse in the LBJ years to Ronald Reagan is likely to embarrass the one-time devotees of a congressional resurgence. It is one of the self-preserving instincts of this city never to notice or be embarrassed by such things.

We introduce this unhelpful note by way of emphasizing, first, that we ourselves would not dream of challenging the indefatigable Sen. Helms' right -- and conceivably even his duty, if you grant his good-faith conviction that he is saving the republic from disaster -- to exercise his senatorial powers to challenge and perhaps derail Mr. Reagan's State Department nominations. He has the right: Never mind that he is wrong, wrong surely about the character and quality of the nominees he is making such a fuss about. Realizing, as we do, at this perilous point in the nominations of Chester Crocker, John Holdridge, et al., that The Washington Post's endorsement might be enough to sink them finally with Sen. Helms, honesty compels us nevertheless to say that these are Class A, extremely competent professionals who would serve the Reagan administration well.

This president has gone a considerable way to establish good relations on the Hill, and the announcement that he will involve Congress in the ultimate Saudi arms package he formally asks for, working out the details with their advice and consent, suggests as much. Yes, it was a godawful mistake not to have consulted more thoroughly before; and yes, the newly announced consultations serve a very nice purpose of also helping to get the administration off the hook. But the decision reveals as well a willingness to cooperate and listen on the Reagan people's part. Surely his party in the Senate should take some steps to cooperate and listen as well in order to get these nominations through.

It would be going to far, of course, to blame the AWACS mess on the administration's difficulty in getting all of the top State Department nominees confirmed. But it stands to reason that the department cannot possibly work at anything like full efficiency so long as a question mark hangs over the heads of a whole batch of assistant secretaries. It is nearly May. Those jobs need to be filled. Congressional prerogatives must somewhere include the prerogative of a party in control -- i.e., the Republicans in the Senate -- to bring things to a conclusion. Isn't it about time the saga of the unconfirmed State Department nominees got resolved?