It is not always the gaudy show under the klieg lights that directs the destiny of a nation. Thucydides, Tacitus, Henry Steele Commager -- all the greats of the historical sciences will tell you that events, seen in their time as matters of small moment, often change the lives of nations and civilizations. It is my view that the snickered-upon withdrawal from the presidential race of the Hon. Larry 1pressler -- 1962 recipient of the National 4-H Citizenship Award, Rhodes Scholar, U.S. senator, author of press releases and prophet of gasohol -- could prove to be such an event.

The sages of the press corps laughed when Pressler declared his candidacy and laughed again when he made his dignified retreat. Let them laugh; in some far-off time, in some quiet, booklined atelier, a forlorn Gibbon will weep.

Let me assure you that the Iranians did not think Pressler's candidacy very funny. "A gasohol still in every yard and farm," the prophet from Humboldt declaimed with his customary yelp, and the tumescent and pulsating Middle East shriveled to a more modest significance. Nor did the senior citizens in the Kremlin laugh when this unscotchable kid stepped forward.

For that matter, Mrs. Antone Pressler was not laughing either. Mrs Pressler is the senator's mother; and, if The New York Times is to be believed, Mrs. Pressler's role in past campaigns has been to write contributors "a painstakingly written long-hand thank-you note." A successful presidential bid by her unusual son could have killed her.

How I would like to have seen Pressler make it to the White House. Not that I harbor any ill will for his mother, but the presidential presence of this gigantic reductio ad adsurdum of the modoern pol would quite possibly have had a more salutary influence on American polity than a coup d'etat led by the ghosts of Lincoln, Madison and Grover Cleveland.

Look around Washington. Cock your ear to the baby talk emanating fromm every source of eminence and power. We live under a tyranny of Homo sapiens who are ... well, who are incomplete as specimens of mankind go. The sleazy majority of pols practicing their black arts in the Great Republic have risen to prominence by saying things that are palpably untrue.

Now as time rushes along and the American condition worsens, it is becoming increasingly apparent that most of these effortless honey-fogelers simply have no idea that there exists such a thing as truth. Does reckless abandon in economic management military preparedness, diplomacy, social welfare and all the other realms of governance ever eventuate in Weimar and ruin? The pols apparently do not think so. Inflation, lawlessness, rising chaos -- all such phenomena are, for our pols, the Mysteries of modern times. They respond to them with oratory and policy gestures that amount to little more than ceremony.

So irresponsible and extravagant has been the dance of American policy in recent years that today the Great Republic is viewed with amazement and alarm by its friends. Its enemies merely play with it, and its enemies are not thought of as playful fellows. The Rt. Rev. Khomeini and his galoots exploit our weird hysteria over race, creed and sex, treating women and black hostages as fellow Third World heroes, while treating men hostages as criminals. One wonders: had there been homosexual activist working in the American Embassy, would the holy man's agents have freed them too?

Papa Brezhnev puckishly declares that the world seed the United States "as an absolutely unreliable partner in interstate ties, as a state whose leadership, prompted by some whim, caprice, or emotional outburst ... is capable at any moment of cancelling treaties and agreements signed by it." There is a neo-conservative salvo against later-day Mcgovernism for you. But that it came from Papa Brezhnev, in pursuit of whose favor so many of those obligations and treaties were violated, is a cruel twist.

Washington's sages now tell us that the Wonder Boy from Plains will be invincible in 1980. He has botched so many things that the American people in their great generosity will reelect him out of sympathy for his suffering. The analysis is unusual, but I am in no position to doubt.

Yet if Americans are about to elect a man president because he is pathetic, I say the time is ripe for Sen. Pressler to throw his hat back into the ring. And just to ensure that his campaign is more pathetic than that of our president, I suggest he choose the Hon. Howard Baker as running mate.