ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Whenever I travel abroad, I'm struck by how much concern people express about the dysfunction and paralysis in Washington.
This concern is emerging again, very clearly, during my current trip to Europe on a promotion tour for my latest book, "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Strangers regularly ask what's gone wrong.
"Why can't you people get your act together?" wondered a retired businessman from Australia who attended one of my book talks. He wasn't angry, just puzzled. He wished America well, but was in a quandary about what's amiss.
A wealthy entrepreneur from the United Kingdom said the stalemate in Washington doesn't surprise him, although it does worry him. He said such things have happened to other "empires" before, as strong nations declined in power and energy over the years.
Americans share the overall concern. A businessman from Florida said President Barack Obama is an ineffective CEO as the nation's chief executive, but the businessman fretted that the remainder of the president's term could be wasted through inaction and drift.
The pastor of a large, racially and politically diverse congregation in Texas said few people in his circle pay much attention to what's happening in official Washington because it seems so disconnected from their lives.
A retired teacher from Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of the capital, said that when she travels, people from other nations and Americans from outside the Washington area often ask her the same question about the leaders of the federal government: "Why can't they get anything done?"
She's not sure how to answer.
My assessment is that since the powers-that-be can't seem to get their act together, it will be up to the people to tell them what to do in what I call a "clarifying election." Voters will have to send clear signals that they are upset with the stalemate, if that's truly the way they feel.
One approach would be to give the Democrats or the Republicans control of both the House and Senate in November's midterm elections. Obama is in office until early 2017, so the executive branch will remain under the Democrats for that time. But giving a majority in Congress to one party would be a sign of where Americans want to go.
Of course, voters may retain the status quo, with the Senate under the control of Democrats and the House under Republicans. Such a result would be a recipe for continued deadlock, but Americans may end up preferring that kind of balance for the time being, rather than giving too much power to one side.
This would mean that, to get things done, the states would have to make changes one by one. This is already happening on legalizing gay marriage and increasing the minimum wage. It could be the wave of the future.