Josh Barro wrote, about a year ago, that we should focus our political attention on what can actually be accomplished, solving issues we care about, and whether they follow through on those concrete promises. This is, as far as I can tell, too clever by a half. If anything, we need more personal invective and destructive inferences about politicians – just of a slightly different sort.
If you want to purchase policies with your vote, you get a maximally stupid government in which everyone horse-trades either inane whims or modest graft provided they get the big headline. If there's only one thing voters wanted, I doubt they'll accept the excuse you didn't want to appropriate ten million dollars to the History of Bees museum. This, while not being startlingly different from modern reality, might actually be worse. Right now, very little happens at all – if Josh Barro got his way, maybe one additional thing would happen every election cycle (because a two party system means an essentially binary choice, so you can only really approve one policy at a time), but this time, it's a 7,000-page omnibus with weird trap door language no one understands but we all regret as politicians with a clear mandate trip over themselves to pander and any other person with an agenda in Washington attaches their hopes to the one thing with legs.
Actually, it's possible Josh Barro wants the same dysfunctional process but different outcome legislation. Because that sounds pretty much like how American politics works now. Is it possible he just doesn't like news coverage of politics, but the political status quo itself, he's comfortable with?
His suggestion would make government more complex, and that complexity is its own undoing – in 2006, what if people were elected to repeal the Patriot Act? Or in 2016, for stopping the surveillance state? What percentage of vocally supported public policies are just undoing bits of previous failures? Is that system sustainable? Wouldn't the complexity – and therefore the need for specific policy mandates from the voters – only increase over time? And yet there are only elections once every two years – plenty of time to attach their own horrible mistakes to that voter-mandated omnibus, at the very least.
It's much better to at least attempt to elect someone who shares your values and you can trust to make the thousands of tiny choices in a way you're basically on board with. This means (as much as this may make you queasy), learning whose character you can trust and when, and understanding who has the guts to stand up to a large system that makes decisions for strange reasons. Understanding who wants a post office named after them, who wants a weaker government to make their job less terrifying, and who wants to help people in your community. There's hard work involved, and political parties don't help.
And then, crucially, because you did not demand any one specific policy, be forgiving of weird principled stances against otherwise favourable legislation. Let someone you trust vote against things you like and then send them back to Congress to do it again. Specific policy mandates remove their bargaining pressure to represent your values in the meantime.
I would say I'm too idealistic, but my recommendation seems like an almost microscopic change from the status quo compared to Josh Barro's. As always, your vote is your own.