Lord Bryce, in his classic American Commonwealth (1888), had a famous chapter entitled Why the Best Men do not Go into Politics. Some of the details of his analysis are outdated, but the general reasoning is still sound. I cannot do justice to it, so go read it, but a very rough sketch goes as follows. The fact is that being in Congress is not a very good career. It was not then and it is not now. It is precarious, and Americans are rarely so wealthy that they can withstand having their career obliterated without suffering a great personal loss. Service in Congress removes the member from his own district where his future business contacts would have to be. It incapacitates the member for other work during and after his term of service. And there is the mundane and dreary nature of the day-to-day work of congresssmen. There is little opportunity for politicians to engage in very exciting activity, thankfully, very often, which would call for heroic or even truly creative effort. What we would call opportunity costs – the far superior chances for great material success, at lower risk, in the private economy lead to the same outcome in 2006 as they did in 1888.
Politics is about compromise and compromise is seldom an edifying spectacle. It's something to think about on the eve of this election when people who have voted Republican in the past are considering switching because they want to teach the Republicans a lesson. That's up to each individual, of course, but sometimes voters have to compromise, too.
Take Michael Steele, Republican candidate for the Senate in Maryland. I was kind of queasy about Steele after this early election debacle. I really hate this kind of weaselly backtracking. But I still want the GOP to retain its hold on Congress because I don't trust the Dems on the war. So a vote for Steele's opponent isn't going to cut it.
We each choose the issue that's most important to us. That's part of the compromise. Some have said that they won't vote Republican in November because they slipped a prohibition on online gambling into the Port Security Bill. I oppose that measure, but I'm not passionate enough about it to ditch the Republicans for it. The Republicans may be the worst party--except for all the others. And I can't see how a person who subscribes to basically Republican ideals will benefit from having his party out of power.