Last week, the Democrats cut an ad accusing Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz of murdering puppies. I know it can be hard to tell these days but just to make clear: that isn't satire. They actually accused him of murdering puppies.

If you're just joining us here at the borderland between reality and surreality, the website Jezebel reported that Oz had presided over a study at Columbia University where animal abuse took place. Oz has denied any knowledge of the abuse; the citation filed about the incident doesn't mention him. Yet that didn't stop the...

Last week, the Democrats cut an ad accusing Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz of murdering puppies. I know it can be hard to tell these days but just to make clear: that isn’t satire. They actually accused him of murdering puppies.

If you’re just joining us here at the borderland between reality and surreality, the website Jezebel reported that Oz had presided over a study at Columbia University where animal abuse took place. Oz has denied any knowledge of the abuse; the citation filed about the incident doesn’t mention him. Yet that didn’t stop the Democrats from broaching the issue with their usual delicacy: “PUPPY KILLER MEHMET OZ SHOULD BE UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR ANIMAL ABUSE!” screamed a PAC spokesman into a paper bag. You’d think Oz had been standing there in a lab coat personally hooking up cables to a car battery.

The puppy killer’s opponent, meanwhile, is the Carhartt hipster John Fetterman, who is so obviously trying to hide severe health issues that — well, he should run for president. Shall we check in on the other midterms now? Down in Georgia, family values conservative Herschel Walker has at least four children by multiple women, and allegedly encouraged one of them to get an abortion. His opponent, Raphael Warnock, is the Democrats’ idea of a man of God, which is to say he refuses to define a man and thinks abortionists should get to play God.

In Arizona, Democrat Katie Hobbs hates her opponent Kari Lake so much that she refuses to debate her. “We will not engage in a circus that insults and embarrasses Arizonans,” said a Hobbs spokesman, by which he meant a US Senate race. In Ohio, Senate candidates J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan did agree to debate, only to spend two meetings insulting each other as weaklings and (worse) Californians. This, by the way, was actually an improvement over the prior Ohio GOP primary debate, in which two candidates almost came to blows after one called the other a “pussy” (to his credit, Vance remained above that fray).

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling full from all this politics of substance. Candidates always brag that their campaigns are “all about the issues,” yet the 2022 crop seems less to be running on issues than to have them. And bear in mind: these are just the Senate contenders. These are the ones seeking seats in the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” as the laugh track cue goes. Wannabe senators are supposed to set an example, yet it’s the House candidates who at the moment come off as far more reasonable, if only because they aren’t regularly on TV.

Don’t get me wrong: political candidates should always seek to entertain us. Given how much power Congress has ceded to the executive, it’s not like they have anything better to do these days. Birthday clowns, strip mall lounge singers, professional zip-line athletes, the dudes with the chainsaws who jump out at haunted houses — all make more consequential decisions on a daily basis than your average member of Congress. In fact, it’s easier to imagine several clowns sitting around a table deliberating over whether to withdraw military force authorization in Yemen than it is senators. If these people are going to inflict themselves on us every two years, then we may as well get some amusement out of it.

The problem is that the spectacle of American politics has lately become like one of those over-the-top ’80s spoof comedies. The order of the day is camp, with either Mel Brooks or David Zucker sitting in the director’s chair. This in itself isn’t surprising. Americans have always had an attachment to the campy. The writer Matthew Walther in an essay a couple years ago noted that love of camp was one of the reasons behind the rise of Donald Trump. And while camp can be difficult to define — one recalls the old Potter Stewart line on obscenity: “I know it when I see it” — Walther pointed to Susan Sontag as having perhaps the best definition: “The essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.”

Isn’t that just how to sum up our politics this year? John Fetterman isn’t just a gentle parody of Democratic attempts to woo the working class; he’s a ludicrous, larger-than-life caricature. A single love-child would be enough to parody the occasional hypocrisy of Christian conservatives; instead Herschel Walker has enough of them to make a Monopoly game interesting. We Americans are the people who, when asked “are you not entertained?!” reply “actually, could you throw in like a robot fight or an orgy?” We like our entertainment big, brash, over-the-top — and with so much of life increasingly mediated through television, our politics is now trending in the same direction.

Thankfully, even camp can be intelligent and have a point. Herschel Walker proved this last Friday when he exceeded expectations in Georgia’s Senate debate, landing some real blows on Raphael Warnock. J.D. Vance has said some strange things, but he’s also one of the few candidates who’s spoken at length about the opioid epidemic, as the media chooses to focus on more pressing issues like plant-based microaggressions at the 92Y.

And yet. AND YET. Does it not feel like we deserve better? Mencken famously said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” If that’s true, then we are bent over a barrel at one hell of a sharp angle. Camp is supposed to be about exaggeration, yet this joke has crossed the line. Think of it this way: how many of us have ever accused our neighbors of slaughtering dogs? How many of us would bring that up even if we were suspicious?

It might be cheaply populist to say that the American people are better than their politicians, but right now it seems true — if only because it’s impossible to limbo under that bar. And the best (and maybe only) hope may be that eventually the two can be brought back into democratic sync.