When one plays for high stakes, the palms get sweaty, the mouth goes dry, the heart pumps faster. The brain may become foggy or focused but the risk of choking, making a wrong move, grows as the tension mounts. But of course that depends on one's recognizing that it's a high-stake game.
In ordinary circumstances, a legislative showdown like last weekend's House vote on changes in the nation's health care system would have set many a legislator's nerves tingling in anticipation and dread. No matter how strongly one believed that the path chosen was the right one, it would be hard to escape the knowledge that there might be a price to be paid for supporting - or opposing - such a monumental restructuring. In John F. Kennedy's classic, "Profiles in Courage," senators were deemed courageous precisely because they acted in accordance with their own values or judgments, fully cognizant of the fact that in doing so they placed at risk their own careers.
Ironically, both those who voted for the legislation Nancy Pelosi took to the House floor and those who vigorously opposed it not only believed themselves correct in their positions (that is usually the case, since few legislators actually vote against their own beliefs regardless of political science "re-election" theory), they also seemed certain that they were doing precisely what the populace wanted them to do.