Television's most impressive electronic archive joins forces with one of Washington's most impressive human archives to produce a revealing session of personal footnotes to America's recent political history.
In A Walk Through the 20th Century With Bill Moyers: Presidents and Politics With Richard Strout (Wednesday, May 30, 8-9 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) the film and videotape library of the Corporation for Entertainment and Learning is used to good advantage as a backdrop for the fascinating reminiscences of Richard Strout, since 1923 a Washington correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor and for 40 years a columnist with The New Republic.
Mr. Strout, who still writes from Washington for the Monitor, comes across as a charming and knowledgeable gentleman who began his reportorial career covering President Warren G. Harding, whom he remembers well as ''the handsomest President since George Washington.''
Mr. Strout, who specializes in pinpointing the human side of the news, has some vivid and colorful recollections of past presidents. For example:
* Calvin Coolidge was ''a sharp, unimaginative Yankee who took lots of naps.''
* Herbert Hoover was ''slain by the monster of economic cycles.''
* Franklin D. Roosevelt was ''best at handling the press.''
His happiest political recollection: traveling with ''gallant Harry'' Truman on his 1948 whistle-stop campaign. According to Mr. Strout, President Truman was ''beyond-belief corny.''
''Strout's Law,'' formulated by Strout himself, decrees that there is a great scandal every 50 years in American political history. He points to the Teapot Dome scandal of the Wilson administration, followed about 50 years later by Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal.
If Strout has a message for viewers and readers, it is this: Despite all the complex machinery of elections, the American spirit always somehow manages to break through. Likewise, the intrepid spirit of Strout himself always manages to break through, too.
''Presidents and Politics'' is still another ramble down the avenues of the American dream with Bill Moyers - a series that, in its own unruffled way, is proving to be one of PBS's most quietly significant public-affairs series ever.