Two Party System to Blame for Our Non-Representative, Dysfunctional Government
"Sometimes you have to take one for the team"
Rick Santorum on voting for federalizing schools
Our political system has turned into an ugly mudfest where Red/Blue Operatives barely even try to sell their own candidates anymore. They just try to terrify voters into voting against the other person. At the same time, legislators no longer represent their "constituents", rather they represent the interests of their party. When the chips are down, and the president or governor is of their own party, today's legislators vote the way the Boss wants them to vote, no matter what they told the folks back home when they were running.
People are giving up on our political system because they recognize it is dysfunctional and no longer represents true self-government. These problems, while immense, have a simple source and therefore solving them is also simple (but not easy). These problems stem from our two-party system and first-past-the-post method of electing our government officials. If you fix the party problem, you fix the political system problem. Conversely, if you continue to support the two party system (and the first-past-the-post voting method which artificially props it up) then you are part of the problem - a problem which will effectively end in the destruction of the United States as a Constitutional Republic.
Let's first take the issue of mud-slinging and fear mongering. It is well known that people are sick of negative ads, but they are used for a simple reason- they work. And the reason they work, is that people have no way of punishing candidates whose operatives simply throw dirt at one another. They vote defensively. They may not like it that candidate A threw mud, but they don't want to vote for candidate B just in case some of those attacks might be true. In this system, there are no "clean" winners. Whoever has the least mud on them wins by default. There is simply no incentive to not throw mud.
Contrast that with what we saw in the GOP Presidential primary, and indeed any crowded election field. Michelle Bachman was very effective at pounding on her rivals with negative attacks- but because people had other candidates to go to, those attacks did not help her, they merely hurt the person she was attacking. Other candidates benefited. Mud slinging and negative attacks only pay off when people have no place else to go with their vote. It only works when people are artificially restricted to two choices and have nowhere else to go even if they are disgusted by content-free negativity and hysterical fear-mongering.
The second problem, that legislative branch officials represent their party more than their constituents, is a little harder to solve. Many legislators have "safe" seats where even a 2nd party has no chance of winning. In those districts, once you have the protection of your party you pretty much have it made. If voters in their district would not even think of voting for the other party, then the legislator need only concern himself with keeping the party's favor. This explains why even some of the most conservative districts often have wishy-washy representation that the people can't count on for tough votes. It's no longer about how the district feels, but about how the party feels on an issue.
In Arkansas, Mike Huckabee turned out to be a big-spending Republican. Most of the Republican legislators went along with it, not because the people back home wanted them to, but because Huckabee was the head of their party. They were "taking one for the team", as Santorum put it. And of course Santorum did the same when Bush was pushing through his big-spending ideas. Take one for "the team?" Well, my opinion is that the people of your district should be your "team." This party loyalty over constituent loyalty is ruining our representative form of government.
Another thing it is doing is ruining the vital concept of "separation of powers". The legislature is basically fading away because legislators no longer represent the folks back home so much as they do the party. And the party is funding by moneyed interests who want to "get things done." The Rule of Law gets in the way of their Big Plans for our country. There in no way that independent legislators would keep voting to give the executive branch more power, but legislators that are of the same party as the head of the executive branch would.
If it was up to me, I'd vote for independents for all legislative branch offices. I see it as the only possible way your legislator will ever represent you. And the legislature was meant to be the most powerful branch of government, both because it was the most divided by number and because it was the branch closest to the people. The rise of the two-party system has greatly reduced the authority of the legislature, and therefore the ability of the average citizen to contribute to self-government.
If you care about a political party, continue to support one Washington based faction or the other. If you care about the country, demand run-off elections for all public offices, most especially for legislative offices. Combine it with a grass-roots movement to elect independents who answer only to the voters of their district to the legislature, and what you have is a real solution. Everything else at this point is mostly noise.