This past Wednesday, Gary Wills put up a particularly caustic post on NYRBlog entitle "Back Door Secession." By taking a historical point of view, he could compare current TEA Party activities, which I have previously called "politics by terrorism," to those of the secessionists in Congress prior to secession itself and the Civil War that followed. His point was that, in both cases, an extremist minority could hold the more moderate majority in check. He further claimed that the minority had such power because of the cowardice of the majority.
I think he has a good point, but it is not a particularly novel one. Politics is not about governance. It is about acquiring and keeping power, and that is not achieved through courageous acts. That is that made John Kennedy's Profiles in Courage book so interesting (and, at the time, so inspiring). We cannot expect any elected official, regardless of position, to be anything other than an abject coward. After all, if "get elected" is the most important rule of politics, the second most important rule is "stay elected." When that is all that matter, the office-holder will yield meekly to all sorts of threatening situations.