WE HAVE A simple question. What is it exactly, or even inexactly, that those Massachusetts Democrats were so loudly cheering when they gave Rep. Gerry Studds three standing ovations last weekend? What accounts for this extraordinary response to a man just censured for having taken sexual advantage of a youthful congressional page? In fact, there is in this country a long history of such responses. The wrongdoer, especially the political wrongdoer, has barely made his confession (generally only because he was found out and had to) when the public rises up in a surge of silly, romantic sentiment, remarking the fallen one's "bravery," drowning him in a sea of god-blesses and turning him into some kind of hero by the extravagance of its effort to show it holds no grudge.

And we suppose too this is some way of demonstrating that the constituency does not wish to punish Mr. Studds strictly on account of the fact that he is homosexual. But there is something truly grotesque about offering a triumphal welcome to an elected representative just censured in Congress for having preyed upon a youth of 17 whose well-being had been entrusted to the care of Congress.

Both Mr. Studds and Daniel Crane, who was censured for having had sexual relations with a 17-year- old female page, have gone back home to their districts. And Mr. Crane too was received with what struck us as an unfitting enthusiasm. To say as much does not mean that these men should be disqualified from office. Mr. Crane, for his part, did apologize to his colleagues for "the shame I have brought down on this institution"; Mr. Studds did not. He admits his conduct was an "extraordinarily serious" error, but avoids any great show of contrition.

One can understand why some constituents respond amicably to these congressmen. But do they deserve to be greeted as some kind of culture heroes? What they did was despicable. What they are doing now is what comes as naturally to politicians as swimming does to fish: seeking to reestablish and maintain their political standing. They are entitled to try to keep their jobs. But, while there is a certain drama in watching a man who has made a serious mistake face those to whom he is professionally accountable, they are surely not entitled to any special moral credit for what they are doing or, God knows, for what they have done. What's going on?