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But this year the game comes at a turning point in Congress’ history. An angry electorate is threatening to again put out of office rank-and-file Members with decades of experience in favor of fresh faces who, along with 2010’s record-sized freshman class, have little connection to Washington’s old ways.
Decorum has also increasingly become frayed in Washington. Whether it be Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) infamous “You lie!” outburst during President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress or the Daily Caller’s Neil Munro interrupting Obama during a Rose Garden address, the old notions of civility are in danger.
Even the small traditions that have often acted as the glue for the Congressional community in contentious eras are being abandoned.
Earlier this month, the Senate abandoned “Seersucker Thursday.” The tradition — while exceedingly goofy — has typically been one that lawmakers from all political stripes (so to speak) have observed with good humor, posing together in bipartisan packs in the halls outside the Senate chamber with the Southern wear on display.
And while the tradition held on for more than a decade — despite years in which two wars raged, the economy collapsed, and other major issues faced the nation — this year leadership called it off in order to focus on “serious” issues.
“You can’t get serious things done because you don’t have events where you can enjoy each other’s company,” former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) told the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank this week.
Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), who is coaching the GOP baseball team, acknowledged the collapse of traditional ways in which lawmakers developed bipartisan relationships.
“Before jet airplanes, if you got elected you had to pretty much move your family here,” said Barton, who noted that when he was first elected in 1984, he received two round-trip train tickets each year as part of his Congressional stipend.
“We’re not around each other in D.C. as much as previous Congresses. And that’s good and bad,” Barton said, noting that while lawmakers can spend more time in their communities, “it does make it more difficult to develop the interpersonal relationships” that have normally helped grease the wheels of legislating.
But at least for one night, Republicans and Democrats appear ready to come together as a community.
“We’ve had impeachment votes and such, so it’s not a new thing,” Doyle said.
And there’s even some hope for seersucker, as Milbank noted. Some Senators, such as freshman Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a partisan-as-they-come tea party favorite, ignored the directive last week that Seersucker Thursday was canceled, and donned Lott’s favorite summertime suit fabric.
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.