The United States was not founded by career politicians but by people who took time out from their regular professions to serve during a crucial time in the creation of a new nation — and a new kind of nation in a world ruled by kings and emperors. In the nineteenth century, there was a high rate of turnover in members of Congress. Many people went to Washington to serve one term in Congress, then returned to their home state to resume their lives as private citizens.

The rise of the permanent political class in Washington came with the rise of a vast government apparatus with unprecedented amounts of money and power to control and corrupt individuals, institutions, and the fabric of the whole society. The first giant steps in this direction were taken in the 1930s, when the Great Depression provided the rationale for a radically expanded role of government that Franklin D. Roosevelt and his followers had believed in before there was a Great Depression.

There are now people in Washington whose entire adult lives have been spent in government, in one role or another. Some begin as aides to politicians or as part of the sprawling empires of the federal bureaucracy. From this they progress to high elective or appointed offices in government. Turnover in Congress has been reduced almost to the vanishing point. Political alliances within government and with outside special interests, as well as the gerrymandering of congressional districts, make most incumbents’ reelection virtually a foregone conclusion.