Politics can be pretty silly sometimes.
I worked for a year after college reading resumes for a recruiting firm. The very first thing that they taught us was that the most important thing that an employer looked for in a resume was their employment history, particularly their most recent job. The ideal candidate was someone who had worked for a well-known company for the previous three or more years, working hands-on with a well-known product. Education, job training, previous careers in unrelated fields… sure, sometimes we could work with those things. But those weren’t the people I was paid to find. The guy I was paid to find was the guy who was just quitting his job at Microsoft after working on a next generation Windows product–because there were plenty of other companies who would fall over themselves to talk to that guy.
In politics, however, doing the job you are interviewing for is often seen as a detriment. Experience is a bad word. It has gotten so completely absurd that there are incumbents around the country trying to run as outsiders. If we think that elections should be about choosing the best candidates, the ones who are most likely to do the best job, then experience in Washington would be a positive. Instead it’s a negative.
Because elections aren’t actually about choosing the candidate most likely to do a good job in Washington. Elections are about convincing voters to vote for you. The voters don’t actually know what a Congressmen, Senator, or President does in a typical day or what particular skills might be required to excel at that job. And voters certainly don’t have the information to make informed decisions about whether or not an incumbent has actually been doing their job effectively.
What voters do know is whether or not they like a person. And generally speaking, we all like people who are like us–and dislike people who are not like us. And so candidates spend their time trying to convince voters that they are just like other, typical people from their district. And guess what: typical voters in most districts have never spent more than a few days in their entire lives in Washington DC.
Sure, sometimes politicians try to play the “I’m more competent and experienced than my opponent” card. But it doesn’t work that often. In particular, in the last forty years only once (1988) have we elected a president who had spent more time working in Washington than his opponent. Obama is trying to buck that trend this year, but I have never once heard him try to play up Romney’s lack of Washington experience.
Experience may make you a better at your job, and I’d imagine that applies to politics as well as law, medicine, or software design. But experience won’t help you win elections.