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Pumping Irony, or, Why Senators Ran from the Gym

The Senate has let go of its dreams of a $700,000 gym with the clank of a weight-lifter dropping barbells. The vote of the muscular repenters was 98 to 0.

As every member of the YMCA must know by now, the senators already had two gyms when they voted themselves an extra swimming hole. Sen. William Proxmire (D) of Wisconsin, a noted jogger as well as a famous ombudsman against the boondoggle (or the ''Golden Fleece,'' as he calls it), asked his colleagues the embarrassing question: How can we give ourselves this gym-dandy luxury at the very moment we're cutting back on social benefits to our constituents?

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As usual, Senator Proxmire mused loudly enough about the new gilded health spa to be eavesdropped upon by every commentator in the land. Why, you couldn't hear a bellyflop in the other two Senate pools for the hubbub of moralizing that followed.

Make that one Senate pool. The Senate's chastised fitness-folk decided they could struggle along with just one gym, closing down, it was rumored, Senator Proxmire's hangout, though Sen. Robert Packwood (R) of Oregon dubbed it only ''marginal'' as gyms go. A simple matter of ''four or five shower stalls, some lockers . . . a mat on the floor'' - and (sob) a great bunch of guys.

Well, with one gym canceled, one gym shut down, and all the moralizers as out of breath as joggers in their first week, the subject must be considered closed. Or is it?

At the risk of beating a gymnast's side-horse, we would like to remind the senators that politics is the art of the irresistible symbol. The $700,000 gym could prove to be too much of a fun-sport for the electorate to drop, just like that. Further expiation may be required. Beyond trimming down to one gym, we might recommend to senatorial jocks the following conspicuous economies:

Give up ''name'' sneakers, especially Japanese imports.

Eschew velvet jogging suits.

Never be caught in the one remaining pool in designer swim trunks, at least when hometown photographers are about.

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Go easy on the rubdowns. Most voters can't even get a decent back-scratch from a member of the family.

Perception is all.

The average senator sees himself as a poor stiff with two houses to keep up - and one gym - trying to scrape by on half the salary he could make in private life.

The taxpayer, on the other hand, sees the senator as the privileged member of an exclusive club, catered to by French chefs, liveried attendants, and those masseurs - all paid for by the taxpayer. When, unaccountably, this senator runs low on pocket money, he goes out of Washington and delivers to the public for a fee of $10,000 the same speech he's been delivering free to other senators for six years.

The taxpayer's perception may be as unfair as a perception can be. But the taxpayer also votes.

If the senators truly want to divest themselves of the image of the gold-plated gym, we commend the example of Mark Lee. Lee is (or was) a relief pitcher for the Portland Beavers, abruptly ''designated for reassignment'' - i.e., fired. In his final game he was sent to the mound in the ninth inning. After retiring one batter on a fly ball and striking out another, he summoned his manager. Following what was evidently an ''I'm-not-fired-I-quit'' speech, Lee strode toward the right field exit. First he threw the ball back to the infield. Then he flung his cap in the general direction. Finally he took off the shirt of his uniform and tossed it high in the air.

That's what we call divestiture. That's what we call coming clean.

Any of those jogging senators who want to throw their ''I'm running for the Senate'' T-shirts in our direction can count on our vote in that great little locker room known as the polling booth.

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