In politics, this has been the summer of discontent, of revolt against Washington and established politics and, most of all, experienced politicians. How else to explain what is happening in both parties? Among Democrats, Independent Bernie Sanders is giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. And among Republicans, none of the top three candidates according to the latest polls — Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina — have ever held elected office.
This is hardly the first time we've seen such a revolt play out in politics. Jimmy Carter played the outsider card to beat Gerald Ford; Barack Obama played it in his fight against Hillary Clinton. Politics at its best is a messy business, long compared to the making of sausage. And politics has not been at its best in recent years, not even close.
The only problem with playing all this out in the primary process is that it's mostly a lose-lose proposition. Either the insurgency fails, in which case you leave a lot of people feeling even more alienated by "the system," which is not how you want to go into the general election, or it succeeds in producing a president who, from Day One, gets criticized for not understanding how things work in Washington. In other words, this is how you elect Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.
As the late columnist William Safire archly pointed out, this is not how any of us would choose a plumber.
You come home from work and your drain is all backed up. Your new floors/carpeting could be ruined. You need a plumber and fast.
Now here's the key point. Which would you rather have: a plumber who's never unclogged a drain before, is on his first call ever, or an "experienced" plumber who has done similar jobs literally thousands of times. Easy, right? Just like the advice you get if you're looking for a surgeon: find the doctor who frequently does the procedure you need, because if practice doesn't make you perfect, it at least makes you better.
So why isn't the same true of politicians?
In fact, history suggests that, ultimately, experience is a plus in politics. Lyndon Johnson was able to get John Kennedy's civil rights agenda enacted into law in part because of his long experience as a dealmaker on Capitol Hill. And Jimmy Carter's presidency was held in such disdain by Democrats that we used to have a stream of people coming to the office in 1979 urging my boss, Sen. Ted Kennedy, to run against the incumbent, which he did. I won't say that's how Reagan got elected, because the one debate was a triumph for Reagan that caused the floor on Carter's numbers to collapse, but it certainly divided the Democratic Party.
Even more important, summer revolts mostly fizzle out before voters get to the polls. Consider Howard Dean, now known mostly for his "scream," who was leading in the Iowa polls in 2003 going right into 2004. Dean ran as the non-politician liberal in the race (he is a doctor, in addition to being the former governor of Vermont), and he had a great summer and even a great fall, but it all fell apart as the caucuses got close. The press likes nothing better than to inflate a balloon of support, and then burst it. The more 'serious' an outsider gets — the better they are doing in the polls — the more withering the scrutiny they will ultimately receive. It's one thing to vote for Bernie Sanders if he has no chance of winning; then you're sending a message to Clinton not to move too quickly or completely to the middle. It's quite another to do so in a close race.
Of the three Republican poll leaders, the one with the best chance of landing on the ticket is probably Fiorina, if for no other reason than Republicans will be looking for a woman to fill the No. 2 slot if Clinton wins. And the biggest potential challenge facing Hillary right now is not Bernie Sanders but the possibility that Joe Biden will also enter the race. This much you can be sure of: the vice president, with more than 40 years of experience in politics, will not be running as an outsider.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.