My weekly newspaper column: 

This week’s political cartoon (which you see to the right of this column) could not be more appropriate, with Tennessee’s gun hunt for whitetail deer beginning this weekend and the presidential campaign in full swing.

I don’t want to take too much away from the current crop of candidates vying for the GOP and Democratic presidential nominations. I have one selected who I will vote for, and no doubt you do, too. And some of them actually have good ideas . . . sometimes.

But every time I see the candidates debating on TV, I find myself wondering: In a nation of more than 300 million people, this is the best we’ve got to offer? 

It seems that no candidate is truly interested in setting aside politics to focus on what America’s real problems are. Instead, they all want to appeal to the masses, each trying to say something a little more outrageous than the other to fire up whichever segment of the population he or she believes is his or her voting base.

Republicans pander to the conservative right. (And, if I may say so, it is simultaneously humorous, awkward and cringe-inducing to watch establishment Republicans attempt to woo tea party types.) Democrats pander to women and immigrants. And the message becomes something along the lines of “they’re after your reproductive rights, your voting rights and your work visas” form the left, and “they’re after your guns, your bibles and your freedom” from the right.

I get that pandering is a central part of campaigning. But just once I would like to hear a candidate from either side address a national debt that continues to spiral out of control, a Social Security program that will be bankrupt long before I can benefit from all the money I’ve paid into it, or any of a number of other issues that are real and not based strictly on emotional appeal.

There may be no candidate better at this approach than Donald Trump. Trump has lived his life as a moderate — at best — until he decided to seek the GOP nomination for president. Since then, he’s been feeding one-liners to conservatives to fire up the right-wing base. For instance, Trump said Monday that if he wins the election, all Syrian immigrants should be on notice that they’ll be going back home. Really? Unchecked immigration from Syria — ground zero of the ISIS turmoil — is concerning, but if Trump wins, his title will be “president,” not “king.” Congress will be his checkmate, not his jesters, and he won’t be able to act unilaterally to round up tens of thousands of immigrants and send them packing.

Not that Hillary Clinton is much better. She most recently announced that she is against the same Trans-Pacific Partnership that she pushed for as secretary of state, which came after she flipped her stance on the Keystone XL oil pipeline and the so-called Cadillac tax under Obamacare, all in an effort to pander to the anti-trade types, environmentalists and union bosses.

To their credit, it works. Trump and Clinton play the pandering game better than anyone, so it should probably be no surprise that they’re the overwhelming leaders in the polls within their respective parties. Unless something changes, they’ll be squaring off in the general election next summer.

Meanwhile, as the candidates are attempting to out-shout one another, in the corner of the world where voting Americans care about real issues with real consequences, the loudest sound is chirping crickets.