Walter Mondale will want to sit down with Jesse Jackson promptly, whatever the commotion from the latter's solo Caribbean diplomatic junket. As the Democratic Party's apparent presidential nominee, Mr. Mondale will have to make unmistakably clear a set of standards for his party's approach to America's ethnic and religious divisions.
Presidents are expected to enforce such standards. President Reagan had to accept James Watt's resignation after witnessing a pattern of disparaging ethnic characterizations. Previous presidents acted similarly.
The issue with Mr. Jackson has become less the Rev. Mr. Jackson's own remarks about Jews and Israel as his reluctance to utter the requisite decisive moral repudiation of the remarks of Louis Farrakhan, a black Muslim leader and Jackson associate.
This chain of accountability between public leaders and their reputed supporters cannot be dismissed. The principle involved is simple: As parents have long told their children, ''Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are.''
To refer to Judaism as a ''gutter religion'' and characterize Israel and its supporters as ''a criminal conspiracy,'' as Mr. Farrakhan did in his latest inflammatory outburst, is willfully to probe fissures in American society, between black and Jew, that the civil rights movement had helped to remove.
Leaders of mainstream black and non-Jewish, as well as Jewish, organizations have condemned the Farrakhan remarks. They lament the media attention that Farrakhan gets. Without the Jackson connection for Farrakhan, and the media attention that Jackson gets through his proximity to political power in the party nomination struggle, Farrakhan's remarks would be just those of another unfortunate bigot. That chain of attention by association must be broken.
Mr. Jackson cannot complain of his treatment by Democratic officials so far. His complaints about the nomination process will be duly reviewed by a special commission, the fifth such party undertaking in the past 15 years. It would be a sad reflection on Mr. Mondale if he appeared so unwilling to offend Jackson supporters among blacks that he deferred to Jackson on the issue of Farrakhan and compromised respect for American pluralism. Mondale should recall the embarrassing spectacle of Jimmy Carter chasing Ted Kennedy around the Democratic rostrum in 1980 to seize his arm for the traditional unity salute. Mondale should act with confidence in his own communication with blacks, and not allow himself to appear dependent on surrogate support through Jackson.
It is too bad that Jackson and the Democrats have allowed this to drag on for so long. This was all in the news back in New Hampshire. The specific epithets ey have changed, but not the pattern of vitriol and association.
It detracts from whatever case Jackson might make for his independent diplomacy.
The more pressing issue of the moment, however, is domestic politics and what kind of healing presidential leadership the Democrats can offer.