GWEN'S TAKE -- December 16, 2011 at 12:14 PM EDT
Hate Washington? Join The Club
Welcome to my hometown. There are few places in the world that people hate so much, yet expend such extraordinary effort trying to get to.
Myself, I find much to love about Washington. The monuments are pretty. The green spaces are well-manicured. The museums are astounding (and mostly free). And it is just Southern enough to produce good food and good people.
But if there is one thing that never seems to change, it is that the rest of the country has come to hate the caricature the city has become.
One need look no further for the latest evidence of this than the latest raft of national polls. The president's approval rating bobs around in the mid-40s, and Congress can barely crack double digits.
The latest report from the Pew Research Center shows that disaffection is only growing deeper.
Paint by the numbers:
- Two-thirds of voters want most members of Congress tossed out.
- Most still like their own representatives, but fully one-third want them out of there as well. That matches a record set in 2010, when 58 incumbents lost.
- And it's not necessarily partisan. Among independents, 73 percent are in a toss-the-bums-out mood. That's bad news for Democrats like President Obama, who are hoping for less partisan voters to ride to the rescue next November.
Who gets the blame? By a measure of 40 to 23 percent, voters blame Republicans leaders more than Democratic leaders. But 32 percent blame both parties.
This type of toxicity bodes ill for incumbents of all stripes. It's not the political system that's broken most of these voters say, it's the politicians.
So it should come as no surprise that the men and woman running for president are sprinting as far as they can get from any ties they have to Washington.
But one look at the Republican field reveals a problem. The leading candidates are a former governor who has already run for president once (Mitt Romney); a former Speaker of the House who has earned a healthy living advising Washington clients (Newt Gingrich); two current members of Congress (Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul), a former senator (Rick Santorum), and a former Presidentially-appointed ambassador (Jon Huntsman).
Only Texas Gov. Rick Perry can really claim an authentically arms' length relationship with the capital and the people who run it. And boy does he know it.
In his latest campaign ad, Perry brands Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney "political insiders" who are part of the problem.
The ad splashes red ink across the screen before a still photo of Gingrich and Romney, standing next to each other at a debate, which appears in black and white.
The rest unfolds in living color with upbeat music. As an announcer says, "Rick Perry's plans to create jobs and overhaul Washington with a part-time Congress make him the outsider political insiders fear most."
Gingrich and Romney are saying they're outsiders too. Perhaps that will take.
But Washington is not helping. Lawmakers are struggling -- once again -- to come up with a budget agreement as a holiday deadline looms.
The Democratic President suggested repeatedly this week that Congress will be to blame if a payroll tax holiday is not extended.
"There's no reason the government should shut down over this," he said Thursday. "And I expect all of us to do what's necessary in order to do the people's business and make sure that it's done before the end of the year."
(Editor's Note: On Thursday evening, lawmakers reached a deal to avoid a government shutdown.)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, responded by accusing the president of fear mongering, while also acknowledging that gridlock is baked into the cake.
"Welcome to divided government," he told reporters at the Capitol. "You know, the American people provided a Republican House, a Democrat Senate and a Democrat in the White House. And as a result, we've got to work overtime at trying to find common ground to do what the American people sent us here to do. It's not -- it's not easy. It's not pretty. But it's the process our Founders gave us, and my job is to help make it work."
Oh, and that sword hanging over everyone's head? The White House threat that they will not be able to go home for the holidays. The only problem with that is that the president has threatened the exact same thing for each of the last two Decembers.
Skepticism can only increase if politicians keep singing the same old song, while saying they are not who they are.
In honor of the holidays, may I suggest they try a different tune? I'll let you know when I come up with the melody.
Gwen's Take is cross-posted with the website of Washington Week, which airs Friday night on many PBS stations. Check your local listings.