Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 5:57 pm | Overcast 62º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: The Value of Experience

Outsider Republican candidates be warned: Politics looks easy until you try it

Some years ago, the late New York Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist William Safire wrote a great column comparing politicians to plumbers. It was during one of those periods when (like now) experience had become a dirty word in politics and incumbency was a veritable curse. There was nothing worse you could say about someone than to call him a “career politician” — just what California Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman called her rival for the office just last week.

Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich

Safire’s point was a simple one: Would you hire a plumber who’d never done any plumbing to fix your pipes?

Why is politics different? If the plumber messes up, your toilet might flood or, worse, your pipes might burst. If the governor gets it wrong ...

Politics looks easy until you try it.

This year brings an unprecedented number of newbies, who are, for all intents and purposes, looking to play their first game as a governor or a senator. They come out of business or out of nowhere. Many of them defeated handpicked favorites in late spurts of sudden success and have never faced the sort of intense scrutiny that a general election campaign brings.

Watch out.

On her first day as the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in California, Carly Fiorina forgot lesson No. 1: Always assume the mike is hot. This shouldn’t be a hard one for a woman who did loads of press as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. But apparently, it was.

If you’re wondering what Fiorina thinks of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., one of those career politicians, just check out the clip. She says what, according to her, “everyone” says: Her hair is “so yesterday.” And Whitman, according to Fiorina, should not be doing Sean Hannity, because he’s a tough interview. Actually, I think Hannity is a sweetheart, but even if you think he’s a tough guy, Fiorina proved that sometimes the toughest interview is the one where no one is even asking you questions.

Every politician makes mistakes. It’s almost inevitable when every word you say is being scrutinized in a never-ending game of gotcha. Even the most disciplined guy in the game, President Barack Obama, makes the occasional gaffe. But this year brings a host of candidates who are just not used to life under a high-powered and often distorted microscope.

Already, Nikki Haley, who still faces a runoff for the Republican nomination for governor of South Carolina, has been forced to deny rumors of an extramarital affair. Sure, it should be no one’s business but her own. But in the wake of the sex scandal involving South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, you can forget about privacy. If it turns out that Haley did have an affair, she’ll be hung out to dry for lying. It’s not the sex, the gotcha crowd will say, but the lying.

But the lessons offered by the plumbing analogy go beyond the business of getting elected. Ultimately, this isn’t a game. Ultimately, what matters is not winning but governing. People’s lives depend on it. The nation’s future depends on it. Politics is difficult; governing is hard. Learning lines, winning debates, scoring points against your rival — that’s tough, but not nearly as tough as getting things done once you’re in office.

Many former business executives who end up in political office are literally shocked by how little power they have. They’re used to giving orders and having people follow them. Politics doesn’t work that way. Having years of experience often helps, at least as much as it does in plumbing. And the consequences of inexperience and mistakes can be much more dangerous.

— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Supporter

Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >