Given the toxic nature of Washington -- and especially after the crushing defeat of Republicans by the congressional Democrat majority -- why would anyone want to be part of this, especially one who has been there before?
It is the first question I put to Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana, who is running for his old Senate seat. Coats served four terms in the House and almost two in the Senate (he took Dan Quayle's seat in 1989 when Quayle became vice president) before voluntarily retiring to a comfortable private life.
``I deliberately avoided stopping at a psychiatrist's office on the way to making this decision,'' he tells me over breakfast at an Arlington, Va., diner. Coats, who must first defeat four opponents in the Republican primary on May 4, says he is motivated to run after ``watching for a year with increasing frustration and anger what is happening to our country and saying, `Do I want to go quietly into the night and enjoy the fruits of my labors or do I want to throw myself back in and see if I can do something about it?' ''
Coats thinks America is ``sliding into mediocrity,'' and we are losing the values that inspired ``The Greatest Generation.'' He describes the familiar conservative litany: ``Limited government, lower taxes, a balanced budget, strong defense.''
I asked him if that were practical, and he answered No, though he thinks reasserting those principles is necessary if America is to survive as a free and strong nation.
What does he think recommends him to Indiana voters, and what would he do differently this time, if elected?
``I think the greatest thing going for me is age and experience, because at a certain point in life you stop thinking about your career and start thinking about what can you leave for the next generation and my country. It's not about positioning yourself with a vote. It's about going (to Washington) and doing what you know is the right thing to do.''
Didn't Coats and his fellow Republicans have the opportunity to do the right thing when they were in power in the recent past, but in the minds of many conservatives, blew it? He acknowledges as much and believes that conservative Republicans have learned their lesson.
What does that mean? Would he, for example, work to repeal the healthcare law?
``Absolutely. I would do everything I could to turn around this liberal-socialist agenda that Pelosi and Reid are imposing on the American people. If nominated and elected, I will have the backing of the people of Indiana to go to Washington and turn things around structurally and reform entitlement programs. The only way we're going to get at our deficit is to reform entitlement programs. They will all go bankrupt if we don't do something to put them on a better fiscal standing.''
Coats thinks the choices faced by the country are stark and menacing: ``We can either watch our country slide into mediocrity and a socialist European-style nation that cheers when they get 1 percent GDP growth, or we can put our country back to the principles that made us different from every other country in the world.''
Coats wants to counter the stories told by liberal Democrats of gloom and despair with uplifting stories of people who have overcome challenges that he thinks will inspire others. In an age when feeling good is preferred to thinking right, that's a tall order, but there's no reason not to take him at his word. Why else would someone who has been there and done that do it again, unless he's of unsound mind?
Maybe it's better to avoid that visit to the psychiatrist for now.