On vacation for a spot where American...

WHEN I LEFT

September 17, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

WHEN I LEFT on vacation for a spot where American political news is not abundantly reported, there was one Harry S. Truman running for president.

Imagine my surprise to return and find that two are.

This is the way epidemics start.

What I haven't determined yet is whether the disease is going up by one every two weeks or doubling every two weeks? If it is the former, there will be five Harry S. Trumans by Election Day. If it is the latter there will be 16.

I believe we can handle five or even 16 people walking arounsaying they are Harry Truman. But suppose this disease breaks out of the primary population -- presidential candidates -- and spreads to politicians generally? That would mean the contagion and spread would not stop on Nov. 2.

There is some evidence this already may be happening. Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York, said in an interview promoting a new book the other day that he thought of himself as Harry S. Truman.

So the worst case scenario is that the disease will not be limited to presidential candidates but to all politicians, that it will not stop its spread on Election Day -- and that its rate of growth is a doubling every two weeks.

There would be 256 Harry S. Trumans by New Year's Day, 2,048 by Lincoln's Bithday and 1,048,576 by next July 4.

Some epidemiologists I have consulted on this matter tell me that there is a worse worst scenario: the disease could spread beyond the primary vulnerable group (presidential candidates) and the secondary group (all politicians) to the general public.

I myself doubt this. Ordinary people like you and I, Reader, seldom become dead politicians in our fantasies. We become athletic champions or movie stars or millionaires.

But I could be wrong. If I am, Readers, we could all be Harry S. Truman. The United States could become a nation of Harry S. Trumans within a year.

(I am speaking here only to the male Readers. No women have become Harry S. Truman, nor are likely to, according to medical researchers.) (Nor are many likely to become Bess Truman, who was a homebody, for that matter.) (A great many women have become Anita Hill in the past year, but that is another epidemic.)

When the original Harry S. Truman was alive, people who claimed to be someone they clearly were not were institutionalized. In fact, the cartoon cliche for an insane person was someone with his hand in his vest, Napoleon style.

We have come a long way. Now people who think they are someone else are not locked up but elected president. I say this assuming that either George (Harry S. Truman) Bush or Bill (Harry S. Truman) Clinton will be elected president.

Of course, there is at least a possibility that H. Ross Perot will be elected president. He doesn't think he's Harry S. Truman. He thinks he's Winston Churchill.

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