WASHINGTON — Speaking to a group about politics in the spring of the year 2000 when the primaries had hardly gotten under way, I was challenged to predict who would be the next president. Not having the foggiest idea, I said, deadpan, that the Democratic convention would break up in chaos, unable to nominate anybody, the Republicans would nominate George W. Bush, who would run unopposed - and lose.
It was just a joke, mind you, but it is now happening that Americans, fed up with Republicans and not seeing much better among the Democrats, are more and more inclined to express their disillusionment with the political system by saying, "a plague on both your houses."
In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 24 percent say Republicans represent their priorities, but only 26 percent favor the Democrats. Similarly, in a Washington Post/ABC poll, 35 percent approve of the job Republicans are doing, but the Democrats fare little better with 41 percent.
Why this deep disillusionment with the American political system? The Republicans have to contend with the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war, the halting response to the Katrina disaster, high gas prices, and now a series of bribery and corruption scandals.
It's "a party that has lost its moral compass," says Democratic National Committee spokesperson Karen Finney, "a culture of corruption." But that has not translated into any surge of support for the Democrats.
If the Republican tax program favors the rich, people don't see much better coming from the Democrats. If the Iraq war was wrong, Americans don't remember many Democrats saying so when the issue was being debated.
How this widespread cynicism will reflect itself is hard to predict, except to say that if the two parties fail to find issues that resonate with the public, the turnout on election day next November may be heading toward record lows.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.