IT'S refreshing to hear a voice coming from the liberal side of the political spectrum taking the position that children must say ``no'' to personal misbehavior simply because it is wrong. The Rev. Jesse Jackson says it's high time that children be taught that the taking of drugs and alcohol and ``babies making babies'' are immoral acts. Here, he says, is where real deterrence must start. It's a theme he has been emphasizing in recent years. In talking to schoolchildren about drugs, including alcohol, Mr. Jackson says he has been appalled to find little or no awareness of the wrongdoing that is involved. ``I begin to argue with them,'' he says, ``that taking drugs is immoral. But so many of them have been so neutralized on TV about drugs that they are not totally convinced that taking drugs is immoral -- that at worst it is illegal, and bad if you get caught.''
Jackson believes the Democratic Party has been particularly remiss in not stressing ``family values.'' ``We should not let the notion go out,'' he says, ``that somehow there is conflict between liberal and progressive thought and saying `no' to drugs and liquor and babies making babies and violence.''
Jackson says that the tendency of the Democratic Party is ``to focus on programs and direction and underestimate the question of values.'' In his continuing talks to families all across the United States, Jackson says he finds that the ``plight of the children'' is far and away the ``gut'' concern, ``much more than the big newspaper issues like busing.''
Thus it is that Jackson, who made his presence very much known in the 1984 run for the nomination, seems about ready to throw his hat in the ring once again, this time as the candidate who stresses ``old fashioned'' family values as the route to curing what many feel to be a growing sickness in our society.
Jackson may be particularly potent in 1988. A regional Southern primary is emerging in which as many as 28 percent of the delegates to the Democratic nominating convention may be chosen.
If Jackson could talk the party into allocating the delegates on a proportional-representation basis, the big black vote in the region would give him a sizable leg up toward the nomination, or at least a broker's role at the convention.
Among contending Democrats for the presidential nomination in 1988, Jackson may well find his ``family values'' issue unique and, perhaps, very appealing. Beyond that, he has a position that will separate him from the others: his Mideast policy, which, he says, ``flows from putting America's interests first -- and that means reconciling several forces in the Middle East.''
Jackson is soft-pedaling his Mideast policy a bit at this point, except for saying the other day that the US bombing of Libya has made ``terrorism and counterterrorism more unlikely.'' Insiders say the issue once again will assume a larger role in the future for him. His views can be summed up this way:
``I support Israel's right to exist within recognized international boundaries. But supporting the right to exist does not mean supporting the right to occupy. Secondly, we have a human rights interest in Palestinian self-determination. We could not in good conscience allow Palestinians to remain nomads forever and living under occupation.
``I would like to think that when we speak of our interests in the Mideast, we must reserve the right as American leaders to engage in as much debate and dialogue as is necessary without being called anti-Semitic.''
Jackson did feel heat on this issue in 1984, particularly because of the slowness with which he separated himself from the anti-Semitic remarks of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader. Thus, he is inclined to dwell more on issues other than the Mideast as he puts his plans for 1984 together.
In the past, Rev. Jesse Jackson has been critical of President Ronald Reagan for, as he puts it, ``tilting'' toward Israel. But he is quick to give the President credit for being first to recognize the wide appeal of the ``family values'' issue.
Jackson thinks Reagan and the Republican Party should no longer enjoy the political edge of holding a monopoly on an issue with such broad appeal. ``The Democratic leadership,'' he says, ``would do well not to underestimate the basic tendency of the American people to see Democratic politics two or three steps removed from the values of family living.''
Whether or not the Democratic Party takes his advice, Jackson is making it clear that he will make personal morality and family values a central ingredient of his campaign.
Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.
-Because of an editing error, a sentence in last Tuesday's column on Jesse Jackson was incorrect. The sentence should have read: ``Jackson is soft-pedaling his Mideast policy a bit at this point, except for saying the other day that the US bombing of Libya has made `terrorism and counterterrorism more likely.' ''-