Academically, I don't believe parties to be necessary whatsoever. But I realize that it's easier; it's lazy and it's ultimately become the American way to rely not on the specific positions of a candidate or your own views as a voter, but on the party you support. Politics has increasingly morphed into less about ideas and more about ideological warfare. Politicians and voters alike with the frequency of drawing breath, will undermine and intellectually circumvent their own solid position on an issue, merely to prevent the other party from reaping a reward. We see the damage done across the spectrum in the media and the punditocracy; whatever the issue, one resorts to using a political or ideological label as a pejorative and/or invective.
The two major parties spend more time, money and effort on gaining or maintaining power in Washington [or their respective state capitols] than they exert moving the nation forward.They uniformly exert that effort on entities other than the American citizen in pursuit of that political power. In short, political parties are far more damaging to the sense of the Republic than they are beneficial. I understand how they emerged and why they are the overwhelming force in politics......people are by and large lazy and intellectually un-evolved. The draw of group think/herd mentality, the desire to belong to something larger than oneself and the need to have a 'them' intrudes on all facets of life where there is conflict. It's too difficult and time consuming for most Americans to research a pool of candidates and decide which is the best to represent their views. It's far easier to look at the label. Of course, the way the system has been organized, most voters realistically have only the choice between candidate R and candidate D, so they become even further intellectually bankrupt.
Is there a solution? Perhaps. At the very least, reform the electoral system and the media landscape to allow participation of more political parties. This may appear to be contradictory to some, but the infusion of idea's beyond what Party R and Party D espouse will at the minimum expose choices to the voter and dilution of the party hegemony. Parties won't go away, they've become part of human nature, but the damaging effect can be mitigated somewhat.