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Who ruined Washington? Vote here

September 22, 2009 |  7:29 am

House Ways and Means Chairman Wilbur Mills and Washington stripper Fanne Foxe, known as the Argentina Stripper

When South Carolina's Joe Wilson pointed his finger at President Obama and shouted out on the House floor, "You lie!" it arguably marked a new low in American politics. It also exposed the essential quality of politics these days -- in which the two major parties are dominated by the extreme wings and the middle is left without a voice.

How did Washington get so coarse?

Perhaps it was Brian Lamb, with his C-SPAN cameras, who lifted a veil on the town's secrets, unleashing a new generation of media trainers and posturing politicians. Or maybe it was Fanne Foxe, the Argentine stripper who jumped into the Tidal Basin when her date, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Wilbur Mills, was arrested for drunk driving. Their escapades helped end an era of media protection for politicians' private behavior. Private behavior had made it to the police blotter, and ever since scandal has bred cynicism about Washington.

I have another theory about who's responsible. In an opinion piece in this morning's Times, I suggested that it was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In his savvy understanding that running against Washington would be more advantageous for his brew of vulnerable freshmen, Gingrich changed the congressional calendar, sending them home every weekend. So Washington was no longer a place of comity, no longer a town where folks fought all day on the political battlefield and then broke bread together in the evenings.

Read the piece here and let us know who you think stripped politics of its civility.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Wilbur Mills with Fanne Foxe, a stripper known as the "Argentine Firecracker," outside the Pilgrim Theater in Washington, D.C. in 1974. Credit: Associated Press

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