The Democratic candidates for president need to take a month off and do some thinking, to make some leisurely judgments about the principal issues facing our nation. On the domestic agenda, race relations still heads the list. While they probably won't do this, there is certainly some thinking that might be done for them by a group of wise people of their choosing. Specifically, each candidate should assemble a diverse group of blacks and whites to come up with today's solution to racial progress.

A few months ago in separate conversations with Vice President Walter Mondale, Sen. John Glenn and Sen. Gary Hart, I suggested a plan for them to address the issues of race that still divide our nation. I suggested that individually they bring together black and white people they respected and trusted to develop contemporary solutions toward providing real equal opportunity for black Americans. The people they bring together should be broad-gauged, from a variety of backgrounds, from various geographic sectors of our nation and mindful of the interests and positions of the leading pressure groups. The candidate should ask these people to exchange thoughts and devote significant time over the next few months to coming up with viable answers to the challenges facing many black Americans.

Once convened the group might address issues such as:

* How useful are present programs?

* What is the role of a president in fostering racial harmony?

* What can employers do to further improve opportunities for minorities?

* What are the forces that create the perceptions whites have of blacks and blacks have of whites? How do these perceptions fairly or unfairly affect our behavior toward one another?

* Is their a substantial dialogue between the races?

* How can institutions and individuals of influence be encouraged to use their energies to find solutions to racial issues?

They should present their findings to the candidate, and the candidate should engage in no-holds-barred discussions of the recommenations. The candidate would then devote several public forums to the dissemination of his views on race relations--including how he as president would chart a course of action. This would properly lead to a continuing examination of the candidate's suggestions. New ideas would emerge and old ones become refined. The public dialogue would be immensely enriched and our nation would be the beneficiary.

The Democratic candidates, when they address the needs of their fellow black Americans, tend to string-site a number of welfare, training and education programs. Some of these programs are worthy; others are not. What is needed is more thought--by the best white and black minds. After this, an action plan would be developed. A plan that, yes, addresses executive and legislative branch action but does much more. The candidates are willing to put their best advisers to work on defense issues, on environmental issues, on everything else of consequence. Why not apply the same incisiveness, creativity and thoughtfulness to solving our No. 1 domestic issue?

The people who are interested in racial fairness and progress are entitled to hear specifics before they cast their votes. If they hear the same thing they did 20 years ago, they have a right to be disappointed. For the candidate who is most thoughtful and submits his programs to the public, the dividends will be handsome indeed. People do tend to vote their interests. Those interested in racial progress--and they number in the millions--will sit up and take notice if they are offered new solutions. If they like what they see and hear, their votes will follow.

If you are a candidate for president, what else could you hope for?