Join GOP's inner circle and buy into a fantasy


Jerome Styrt, a Baltimore physician, is trying to remember the last time he voted Republican.

"Mathias," he said. "Or McKeldin. Whichever came last."

Let's see: The last time you could vote for U.S. Sen. Charles Mathias was a dozen years ago and the last time you could vote for Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin was something like 30 years ago.

How about president? I asked. You ever vote for a Republican president?

"No, never," Styrt said.

Why not?

"Don't get me started," he said. "I am a man of very gentle feelings: all violent."

Oooooo-kay. So Styrt is, with certain local exceptions, a lifelong Democrat.

But then why does Dan Quayle want to honor him? And why is Dan Quayle sending him mash notes?

The letter arrived a few weeks ago. It was on nice creamy paper, had the vice president's name printed in fancy script, a gold seal and everything.

It said: "Dear Mr. Styrt: I am delighted to inform you that at the last meeting of the Executive Committee of the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle, Senator Phil Gramm placed your name in nomination for membership and you were accepted unanimously. . . . On behalf of President Bush, I look forward to working with you in the future."

Wow! Imagine the honor! Phil Gramm, senator from Texas! Accepted unanimously! President Bush!

And you know what kind of people fall for this baloney? The

same kind who get excited when they get a letter from Ed McMahon saying they have just won $10 million.

Styrt is not one of these people.

"I started laughing," he said. "I was going to throw it in the garbage."

Why didn't you?

"Because my wife, Mary, said, 'No, instead of the garbage send it to Roger Simon.' "

Which is how I get most of my mail.

A few weeks after the letter from Dan Quayle, a thicker letter arrived at the Styrt household from Bob Dole, minority leader of the Senate.

Dole told Styrt that it gave him "great pleasure" to invite him not only into the Inner Circle but also to the Republican convention in Houston later this month.

He said that if Styrt accepted, there would be "tickets to the premier social event of the Republican National Convention -- The Red, White & Boots Gala; and participation in the Inner Circle closed-door discussions and briefings" with party bigwigs.

And, in return, all Styrt had to do was cough up $1,000 a year.

Which, to date, Styrt has failed to do.

You're going to miss the convention! I said. The big gala! Houston!

"I am not tempted," Styrt said. "I lived in Texas for two years."

And, apparently, is not eager to return.

It was not hard to check up on the background of the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle.

It does exist. And Republican office-holders do drop by now and again to press the flesh with members.

But chiefly, of course, it is a fund-raising gimmick. And letters oinvitation go out by the tens of thousands based on ZIP codes, magazine subscription lists, buying patterns, anything that might indicate you are a Republican with a thousand bucks you don't need.

Unfortunately, the Republicans sometimes get this wrong.

In 1990, John Kenneth Galbraith, Harvard economist and longtime Democratic adviser, was invited to join the Inner Circle.

In 1991, Eric "Eazy-E" Wright, a rap singer whose anti-law enforcement lyrics had been criticized by an FBI official, got a letter of invitation.

And this February, Dan Quayle sent an invitation to CharleKeating, former Lincoln Savings and Loan owner, who was so busy awaiting sentencing on 17 counts of fraud that he probably didn't have time to reply.

One of the most famous botches came, however, when Quaylsent an invitation to Leonard Bernstein, famed composer and conductor.

This was silly for a number of reasons:

* Bernstein had already turned down a National Medal of Arts award from President Bush as a protest.

* Bernstein was famous for his liberal-to-radical politics.

* Bernstein had been dead for more than a year.

So don't look for him at the Red, White & Boots Gala, either.

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