Edwin Yoder's op-ed column {"The Framers and the Keating 5," Jan. 18} was the last straw for me regarding the Keating Five. Here is a columnist whom I respect very much still not able to understand the clear moral, if not legal, line that separates honorable members of Congress from dishonorable.

Having worked on Capitol Hill for the legendary Rep. Brooks Hays (D-Ark.) and for Sen. Clair Engle (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Muskie (D-Maine), I can guarantee that none of them would have engaged in such activity as the Keating Five. I remember constituents of Brooks Hays making such requests and being stonewalled, whereupon they would assure him that they would seek help elsewhere. I would be surprised if any senior staff members on Capitol Hill would have any trouble distinguishing between the shady members of Congress and the "straight arrows," of which there are many.

To admit there is a considerable gray area in between is not to deny that Hill staffers know a crook when they see one. When Mr. Yoder does not accept this fact, he besmirches the reputation of hundreds of honorable members of Congress.

WARREN I. CIKINS Senior Staff Member, The Brookings Institution Washington

Edwin Yoder wrote:

"The goo-goo view is that the Senate should consist of Platonic guardians, prayerfully deliberating in a financial vacuum and legislating for the good of our souls. It is a noble vision, but it bears little relation to what senators actually do. . . . And there is a substantial question whether it has anything to do with what the Framers . . . intended them to do."

Those whom Mr. Yoder calls the "Philadelphia 55" allegedly intended senators "to protect the major economic interests of their states." If in fact the Framers had such a low and vulgar view of politics and ethics as Mr. Yoder asserts, it is highly doubtful that the Constitution could have commanded the loyalty of American citizens for 200 years. One only has to read James Madison's Federalist Ten to see that a profound concern for the public interest animated the mind of at least our most brilliant Framer.

As a political theorist who thinks Plato had something relevant to say, I reject with contempt Mr. Yoder's own contemptuous characterization of the "goo-goo view" of politics. There was a great British parliamentarian who supported the cause of the American colonists -- Edmund Burke, often called the founder of conservatism (although a "conservatism" very different from that of Jesse Helms, William Bennett, John Silber and other current apostles of demagogic populism). It is a pity that in all the hours of public testimony by and about the Keating Five, no one has referred to Burke's great speech about the office of a representative (Nov. 3, 1774, to the voters of Bristol), in which he said:

"Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole -- where not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole."

The five senators who in different degrees allowed themselves to become water carriers for that monument of monied arrogance, Charles Keating, obviously all agreed with Mr. Yoder's very anti-Burkean notion that our representatives should bow and scrape toward any constituent with a good public-relations and campaign-contribution machine. Everyone -- even members of the Senate Ethics Committee -- at the Keating Five hearings salivated at the phrase "constituent services." Well, Edmund Burke would have seen what actually was being discussed and advocated, and he would have called it by its proper name: "constituent slavery."

Fortunately, our Founders read and contributed to political theory. It is a corruption of the Constitution to treat theory with contempt, as Mr. Yoder has done.