Years ago, a Washington journalist wrote an expos,e of a southern senator, saying he was a racist (or, worse, that he was not), corrupt and willing to sell his vote wholesale as well as retail. To all this, the senator in question smiled and thanked the reporter. He said he would use the story when he ran for reelection to prove that he had the right enemies.

In the same vein, we should not be surprised if Mike Deaver, the former presidential-valet- turned-influence-peddler, carries with him a clipping of the Post story saying he skirted the law by lobbying the director of the Office of Management and Budget. The import of the story was to question Deaver's ethics. The effect of the story will be to raise his hourly rate.

The law -- the silly little law -- forbids a senior official who leaves government from lobbying his former department or agency for a year. Deaver's former agency is the White House to which, in everyone's thinking, the Office of Management and Budget is an adjunct. Officially, though, Deaver was just this side of the angels. OMB, according to the White House, is not part of the White House. It merely reports to it. Deaver is nothing if not cute. White House aides, apparently seeking to protect the president from the worst intentions of his best friends, leaked the story about Deaver. Their probable intention is to ensure that Deaver stays away from the White House, where, from time to time, he is invited as a guest of the Reagans. These aides may have sensed that in Deaver they are dealing with something more than just a presidential-assistant-turned-lobbyist, but the very personification of the ideological corruption of the Reagan administration itself: its loss of purpose.

It was Ronald Reagan, after all, who came to Washington the way the Visigoths came to Rome -- to sack it. His intention was to leave it a smaller, weaker city. His foes were the entrenched bureaucrats, his allies the gifted amateurs from the private sector who would be the gentleman farmers of government. In fact, when Robert McFarlane either was pushed or jumped from the position of national security adviser, the president used the occasion to restate his creed that government service, like a hospital stay, should be as brief as possible. Washington, to him, is just a place to visit.

But the Visigoths have not only stayed; they have become corrupted and besotted by the wines of Georgetown. Time magazine recently listed 15 former Reagan administration aides, some of them once quite high up, who are now Washington lobbyists. Deaver, the First Friend of the First Family, is just the best-connected of them. He is exactly the person the president campaigned against, the stereotype of the Washington insider that Reagan hung, like a horse collar, first around the neck of Gerald Ford and then Jimmy Carter. But the bogeyman from the old campaigns is through the gates. The representative of special interests now has special access to the White House.

It is probably for that reason that Deaver's brush with federal conflict-of-interest regulations, alleged or otherwise, is being especially pushed by The Washington Times, the movement conservative newspaper. Ever alert for apostasy, it sees Deaver as a lapsed Reaganite or, worse yet, never a true one. He -- along with James Baker and Richard Darman -- were always under suspicion by the right-wing thought police. They were deemed to be infected with pragmatism -- a Washington disease that comes from eating canap,es.

Whatever the sins of Deaver, they are characteristic of the end-stage of the Reagan administration. The life has gone out of the beast; lobbyists circle overhead. The president, oblivious to it all, continues to attack Washington, not realizing, apparently, that he has been captured from the rear. And so unspecial have special interests become that few notice it took a former oil man, George Bush, to declare that when it comes to oil, the free market leaves something to be desired. Golly, someone ought to raise the price!

In the end, all revolutions get betrayed and the Reagan Revolution is no exception. One by one the former Visigoths have become limousine conservatives. At least in Washington, it's no longer morning again. The clock has moved. It's time for a power lunch. Let's make a deal.