If you didn't know that Geraldine Ferraro had been a candidate for vice president of the United States, you might well assume from the current round of interviews with her on TV, in connection with publication of her book, that she was a newly returned hostage from some horrendous act of banditry overseas. The "hardship" Geraldine Ferraro endured (as it was put by an interviewer yesterday morning) seems to be the recurrent theme of these exchanges -- the assaults, the pain, the unfairness, the crushing pressures and stress, the abuse, the ordeal that had to be borne by innocent family members . . . etc. "Recovered from her grinding three-months' captivity on the Achille Mondale" -- the headline seems to say -- "Geraldine Ferraro tells what it was really like." Subhead: "It was awful."

Now, wait a minute. Nobody with a modicum of fairness will deny that Geraldine Ferraro had a very rough time of it with her opponents and the press. But this goes with the territory. Presence on the national party ticket guarantees fanatic, excessive, blunt-instrument attention to every corner of one's personal and private life. Some candidates, it is true, get less of this than others. And it is also true that candidate Ferraro got a very large dose. She reacted, we thought, very well at the time: she remained cool, she explained, she defended, she fought back. Not all of her explanations of the conduct that came into question struck us as persuasive, but we thought she acquitted herself awfully well under the onslaught and that this was, in itself, a reassuring attribute in one running for national office. Why, then, the post-election descent into so different a mode?

By permitting this concentration on herself as "victim" and by seeming to make the touchstone of everything that happened in he campaign the effect it had on her, the first woman ever to have run on a major national party ticket does herself, her party and her cause no good at all. She does not seem to understand that she is being set up by all the solicitous "concern" for her tribulations. If Walter Mondale were to have given the same series of interviews she has in recent days, the critics would be all over him with accusations of trivializing the election and taking a bubble bath in self-pity. The Geraldine Ferraro we remember who was running for vice president knew what was interesting and important about her role and about the election and the issues on which it turned. She seemed prepared to take the heat and pay the costs involved in a national candidacy that she clearly thought was in a worthy cause. She was tough as nails and a fighter. Where is she now? Bring her back.