Paul Greenberg

"I know of no American who starts from a higher level of aspiration than the journalist. He plans to be both an artist and a moralist - a master of lovely words and merchant of sound ideas. He ends, commonly, as the most depressing jackass of his community - that is, if his career goes on to what is called a success." -H.L. Mencken

There was once a Broadway play - it was really a less than subtle campaign ad for Adlai Stevenson - called "The Best Man." The plot? To sum it up, Our Hero decides to do the right thing and so loses the presidential nomination to an unscrupulous Richard Nixon type. The message? It's better to be able to live with yourself than win a political race. How quaint.

Columnists and editorial writers and other assorted navel-gazing types are always calling for a presidential candidate who'd do the right thing, who'd stay positive, who'd refuse to be dragged down the muddy road by his hot-shot advisers even while an opponent is plastering him with dung. So finally the press gets such a candidate.

And what do we do? We laugh at him.

It happened on the road not to Damascus but to Des Moines. A presidential candidate named Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher from Arkansas whom the sophisticates in the trade long ago tagged as some kind of hick, was about to unleash a negative ad against a sleek opponent from the Northeast.

And so the former pudgy governor, and current Next Man from Hope, stepped out in front of a pack of salivating campaign correspondents to describe his pain over the last few weeks. His record, he said, had been distorted. Mitt Romney was behind it. And he planned to hit back.

Ho boy. The papers here in Arkansas that morning were reporting that Mike Huckabee was doing some serious praying in preparation for what he planned to do to his opponent. As if he were seeking divine dispensation for the heckuva hatchet job he was about to do on a fellow Republican. It was like asking for forgiveness in advance. Not very pretty.

But when Mike Huckabee finally took the pulpit - I mean rostrum - dawgone if he didn't say his conscience had just kicked in, and he'd told his surprised staff a few minutes before that, no, he wouldn't go negative even if that's what the conventional wisdom called for. Mike Huckabee announced that he'd just ordered the hard-hitting commercial pulled.

That's when he made his big mistake. Just to prove he really had a negative ad in the can and wasn't trying to pull a fast one, he announced that Š he'd go ahead and show the clip anyway. Right then and there. The press just about laughed him out of the room.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.