Many people have expressed at least mild embarrassment over the administration's television spectacular ''Let Poland Be Poland.'' Not because they oppose a strong statement of moral indignation at the suppression of freedom in Poland. But because a government-sponsored program, replete with Hollywood stars, risks criticism as a propagandistic and undignified vehicle for such a statement. The fact that the Poles cannot see it, that the West Europeans have shunned it, and that many American TV stations also are reluctant to show it suggests that the program serves domestic politics more than the needs of international diplomacy.
What is significant, however, is that the administration has not closed the door on a diplomatic demarche to Poland. Almost in the same breath, as ''Let Poland Be Poland'' was going out over the airwaves, the administration decided to repay some $70 million owed by Poland to American banks, without requiring that they declare Poland in default. This may strike the public as slightly inconsistent, but the inconsistency is understandable and points to the dilemma confronting US diplomats. For reasons of Mr. Reagan's political constituents, they cannot be seen to be ''soft'' on Poland; yet they must seek a way of encouraging a political accommodation in Poland that will make it possible to put Poland back on the road to economic solvency.
The fact is, the Western bankers have an enormous stake in stabilization and reform of the Polish economy. Default by Poland of its $27 billion debt would have substantial impact on the West's financial institutions. Therefore General Jaruzelski's actions - raising food prices and inducing farmers to deliver their produce to the state - are doubtless looked on more understandingly by Western financiers than by the Polish people. It has long been recognized, by economists in and out of Poland, that bringing prices in line with production costs is crucial to good management.
Much more is needed, however. General Jaruzelski's first priority seems to be to stabilize the economic situation. He cannot expect official endorsement from abroad for the unpleasant actions required to bring this about. But the question is what comes afterward. Washington, by not letting the American banks declare Poland in default, indicates it is not tossing in the towel on Poland. What is not clear is what terms will be exacted for some form of dialogue and reconciliation.
So far the terms set are high: an end to martial law, the release of all detainees, a restoration of press freedom, and talks between the Polish government, the church, and the Solidarity free trade union. It is relevant to ask, however, whether these are terms which General Jaruzelski can accept and whether the demands can be refined in a way to give all sides room for maneuver in a constructive direction. Does the US require, for instance, that Solidarity be returned to its pre-Dec. 13 status of a political opposition - an objective that would most certainly be unrealistic. Or would it be satisfied if it were permitted to be a free trade union again? Does the three-way discourse have to show results, or could it just be seriously begun before some Western help were forthcoming ?
It is clear that the Western nations can no longer underwrite Poland's discredited economic system. It is also clear that they have an interest in trying to ensure that the reform movement is not entirely lost, that a liberalization process resumes even if does not go as far as some would like, and that Poland not be forced into total dependence on the Soviet Union. The means is the leverage which the US and its partners hold in terms of rescheduling the Polish debts and offering further, perhaps government-backed loans and other aid. Talking about such incentives publicly may be politically foolhardy and diplomatically premature.But it is to be hoped that plans are being worked out behind the scenes in Washington and other Western capitals regarding the specific conditions under which Poland could expect help - and perhaps being quietly communicated to Warsaw.
The US decision to repay a portion of Poland's debt to American banks does, at any rate, keep open the door to negotiation.And that, we suspect, is more important in the long run - even to Polish-Americans - than ''Let Poland Be Poland.''