You have to wonder who the 1% is. I’m not referring to the Occupy Movement. I’m talking about the 1% of Americans who think Congress is doing an “excellent” job in the latest public opinion polls. (Could they be polling folks who are in a COMA?!)  

As I spend the holiday season at home in California, I can’t find a soul who is happy with politicians or politics of any variety. I could not find a single “excellent,” or even the 4% who responded “good.” Those who responded “fair” were very few and far between. “Poor” respondents were everywhere, but “poor” would certainly have lost out to “miserable” if that had been an option.

Being home for a few weeks has been a heartwarming experience for me personally. Everywhere I went — shopping, eating out, the movies — the greeting was the same: “Hey Congressman, sorry you are retiring.”  “You remember me? I lived two doors down from your Uncle Larry 25 years ago!”  “You’re doing a great job fighting for us…but what the hell is going on up there on Capitol Hill? Have they all lost their minds?!”  “Don’t they know we aren’t paying them to fight with each other? We pay them to solve problems!” And in reaction to my retirement, “Oh, I don’t blame you. I don’t know how you have put up with it this long. We’re sure going to miss you, but I know your family will be happier….Merry Christmas, Congressman!”  

Had I been out campaigning for reelection, folks would surely have been giving me a piece of their minds like they always did before. This time, however, the mood was vastly different. Everyone knew I had announced my retirement, and most had heard my criticism of the extreme factions of both parties in Congress. The folks back home know that I have nothing to gain politically with my comments and, more than ever before, I sense they agree with me. It’s clear my retirement statement and comments to the media about what’s wrong with Washington have hit a very raw nerve. Here at “ground zero” for the housing crisis, many folks share my frustration with a President who has ignored their pain. There is a growing sense that the “Tea Party” is dangerously irresponsible (I noticed a serious collapse in self identification with the “T” movement in these parts) and a feeling that Republican leaders are “out of touch” or bought by Wall Street bankers. There’s no love for Democratic leaders, either.  A constant theme I’ve heard is, “They haven’t delivered and always seem to want to make our lives more complex or costly.”

A bright and talented young union firefighter who I have known his whole life summed it up with the following: “I’m so frustrated. I have nothing in common with the Republicans or the Democrats. It’s all blah blah blah. I don’t trust any of them. They never come through. What they are arguing about is irrelevant to my daily life. They don’t solve any problems, and it all just keeps getting worse. The Republicans are a bunch of clowns. Did you watch any of those Republican debates?  Just a joke. The only thing good that came out of it is The Daily Show has plenty of new material. The president hasn’t done crap for the economy. My house is so underwater I should turn in the keys and start over. Sure, he got Bin Laden … well he sent our guys in to get him. Why don’t they get what’s going on, Dennis?”

The message I am hearing loud and clear is that folks are so frustrated that they are questioning their political institutions. Obama is no longer inspirational for the next generation of young leaders. Politicians who can’t deliver are useless.  Gridlock, and those who foster it (i.e., “the TEA Party”) are about as welcome as a power outage in July. There is a group attempting to hold an online nonpartisan nominating convention and place the candidates on the presidential ballot in all 50 states as an alternative to the Democratic and Republican nominees. The California State Legislature has had single-digit approval ratings for some time now. People are so fed up with the partisan gridlock, that I have heard of at least one group considering a ballot initiative to ban party identification at the state level, much in the same way that parties are currently banned at the local level. If California were to ban political parties, could a national effort along these lines be far behind? Would it matter?