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BILL BRADLEY FOR PRESIDENT?

Reaction to the announcement Thursday by Bill Bradley, D-N.J., that he will not seek a fourth term in the U.S. Senate is generally misplaced.

That's because it focuses almost exclusively on how his impending departure next year virtually dashes Democrats' chances of regaining control of the Senate in 1996.Overlooked in most of the commentary, such as the column on this page by New York Times writer R. W. Apple Jr., is the potential impact of Bradley's hint that he may seek election to the White House as an independent candidate.

With a recent poll showing nearly 60 per cent of voting-age Americans favor creation of a new political party, Bradley would seem to be tapping a broad vein of public sentiment.

But if there is anything this country does not need, it is any more Ross Perots - not even one without the Texans' egotism and eccentricities - or any more Bill Clintons of either major party.

Though Perot staged the best showing by an independent in 80 years with 19 per cent of the vote in 1992, the unavoidable fact remains that third parties do more harm than good.

Yes, splinter parties provide an outlet for voters dissatisfied with both the Democratic and Republican parties. But minority parties also tend to leave the country with presidents without a majority of the popular vote and lacking a clear mandate. Such chief executives tend to become lame ducks from the moment they enter the Oval Office, continuing the trend toward one-term presidents with only half the usual time to accomplish all they promised. Moreover, long experience elsewhere shows that a multiparty system tends to result in highly unstable government.

Despite its many faults, the two-party system is still best. Do the country a favor, Sen. Bradley, and either seek the Democratic nomination or retire to private life without repeating Perot's blunder of trying to tinker with the present partisan alignment or seeking to become a kingmaker.