It’s easy to lose sight of the real issues when political campaigns disintegrate into mud-slinging, and fist-slinging, spectacles. After all, how can one expect intelligent debate about, say, economic policy, from a campaign whose supporters wrestle a female protester to the ground and press her head to the pavement – several times, according to news reports.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul’s campaign subsequently expressed relief that the woman was not seriously injured. But if she survived intact, the health of the U.S. political system has taken another body blow in a year of troubling, outrageous, and frankly demeaning campaigns.

This is not a conceptual problem but rather a matter of immediate and concrete concern. It does matter who wins – not only to the candidates but to the multiple constituencies they represent. For example, the organized Jewish community is eyeing warily those who would make drastic cuts in social service funding, and they are carefully evaluating candidates’ positions on Israel and foreign aid, among other things. Not to mention that Jews, like all other citizens, are hurting in this recession and need legislators who can offer substantive help on the employment front.

Still, with so many reasons to care about who gets elected, we encounter the rare campaign that is putting meat on the bones of superficial policy pronouncements. At least New York’s gubernatorial election has a candidate who knows where he stands on housing (even if he seems unable to say anything beyond, “The rent is too damn high”).

Some campaigns should trouble us immensely. For example, the much-publicized photograph of Ohio Republican Rich Iott in Nazi regalia does not, in itself, signify the candidate’s political philosophy. But it should certainly raise a red flag, demonstrating – at the very least – his poor grasp of history and appalling lack of sensitivity.

And while there’s almost too much to say about the low-level campaign of Delaware candidate Christine O’Donnell, it should be pointed out that while most Jewish groups have identified as pro-choice, she and her mentor, Sarah Palin, do not share that belief.

So where are the voices we need to hear? Sadly, they are not apparent in either major party. If Jewish political pundits are unsure as to how this election will play out, they must be even less sure of what the candidates will do if elected.

Truly, in the words of England’s Queen Elizabeth, an “annus horribilis” in American politics.