Do you believe that americans fall almost entirely into one of two categories, where they feel completely comfortable? Do you believe that americans agree whole-heartedly with an entire (detailed) campaign platform?
I certainly don't. From looking at the people living in my county, I think I'm right, too. It's a mostly-republican-voting county. We've got a fair share of tree-huggers too (no offense meant, but it's a fun name) but it's mainly republicans. As my girlfriend puts it, those are some of the most liberal and democrat-ish republicans she's ever seen. (Coming from Oklahoma, believe me, she knows something about republicans.) They don't much care for Bush, they agree with most social services, they disagree with our current foreign policies, they're in favor of environmental protection beyond what our president seems to want, they're fairly religious (Christian) but are against violating the separation of church and state, or even coming close to doing so ... In general, you'd think they'd be democrats. They're not. Don't ask me why, it's something I haven't figured out yet. Maybe it's a general concept they agree with? Something having to do with people being responsible for themselves, something about the way the economy should work ... I don't know.
What I do know is that they'll elect representatives running on a campaign platform they disagree with, and I'm sure the democrats (and greens, and everyone else) will do the same.
Worse, our candidates run on very specific platforms (yes to abortion, no to pollution, etc.) and are terribly adamant about it. When you vote for a candidate, you vote for the "whole package." Even if you agree only with half of the opinions in the platform, you're endorsing the future decision-making by an individual who will promote all sorts of issues, whether you agree with them or not.
Our congress-critters (another fun thing to say) will tell us to write to them, to let them know what we think. That's true at most levels. What I have trouble believing is that it has any effect: if you write your republican congressman, being one of his constituents, asking him to vote in a way that he doesn't agree with (and didn't at the time of his election,) do you have any hope that your voice will make a difference? What if most of you write, with the same opinion? Will it matter? Or will he continue to push the platform on which he was elected? After all, people agreed with it, didn't they? That's what he was elected to do, wasn't it?
Do we elect representatives based on the platform they already have? Do we elect them based on some hope that they will do whatever we ask them to do later? Do we elect them because they're good people we expect to make equally good decisions when a tough question comes up? After all, most of us don't have the time (don't make the time, don't want to have the time) to look at all the issues presented to our representatives. (Then again, from what I hear, they often don't either. Plenty of them simply don't show up for votes, barely skim the stuff they're sent, and have their underlings read it and decide for them. I just hope that's not true.)
I think we'd vote differently based on each of those possibilities. And I think it's unfair that we can't be sure, today, what we're voting for. I think I want to vote for a good man who will listen to what his people want, but whose platform gives me an idea of what he might do when in a tight spot. Is that likely? Is it even really what I want?
If a representative cannot agree with what his constituents are asking him to do, should he feel obligated to side with them or be "strong" and stand up for what's right regardless? Should he be obligated (held accountable) by some outside force? If a representative campaigned on a platform promoting abortions, should he feel bound to that if he changes his own mind, or if his constituents tell him they don't agree with abortion?
Besides all of this, there's the issue of the bottle-neck: how can one person have any chance of accurately representing thousands or millions of individual voices?
We are a nation of the people, for the people, and by ... well, we don't really know.