by Tim Kiska

If you’re wondering why Washington D.C. has turned into an unfriendly, ugly, take-no-prisoners place, former Congressman Bart Stupak has a theory about how it got that way.

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“Money is a corrupting influence,” Stupak said, after a speech at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn.

Stupak’s example:  Republican South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson’s infamous “You Lie” outburst during President Barack Obama’s speech before Congress in 2009.

“No doubt in my mind—that was all designed to go on the Internet and raise money,” he said. “He raised money because he was disrespectful…Even before he apologized, he had his fundraising apparatus already set up.” (The cash register did, indeed, ring for Joe Wilson. He raised $4.7 million during the last election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission.)

Stupak, who served for 18 years in Congress representing the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan before retiring, makes a point of talking about the value of being a gentleman.

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He said the best way to do business is to always let the other side have its dignity. Stupak may be a Democrat, but he lists former
Republican Governor William Milliken as one of his heroes.

But Stupak’s final days in Congress were an up-close-and-personal brush with the true ugliness of contemporary politics. One man threatened to “paint the Mackinac Bridge” with Stupak’s blood. The threat attracted the attention of federal authorities, and the man now faces jail time.

Bill Milliken. Respect for the other side. It seems like a quaint notion these days.

Meanwhile, Stupak said it appears that the noisiest on the Hill attract the most attention—and the most money. This, while the cost of running for the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives continues to rise. It almost forces would-be candidates into bare knuckle political behavior.

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“That’s what we’ve sunk to,” said Stupak, more in sorrow than outrage.