Paul Greenberg

Dear Polemicist,

Thank you for your comprehensive e-mail attacking Barack Obama's politics, religion and ancestry. What, not his choice in neckties?

It wasn't the scope of your dissatisfaction with the junior senator from Illinois that disappointed - it was certainly wide enough - but the insipid language in which you expressed it. It makes one wonder what ever happened to the art of insult in this country.

We still have the insults but not the art. Where has it gone - the wit, the brevity, the intellect, the finely honed viciousness, the perfect touch?

Every four years, we hear about how this presidential campaign is the most vitriolic ever, but a little historical perspective would reveal that contemporary political races are mild affairs indeed compared to, say, the showdown between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1800. If you believed both sides in that contest, the country had a choice that year between a royalist tyrant and a libertine atheist.

The passage of time, and the human propensity toward ancestor worship, now has crowned both Adams and Jefferson with halos in the popular imagination. But contrary to legend, the Founding Fathers were not a collection of plaster saints. Their driving ambition, their zeal for their country's honor and their own, their unbridled competition for the public's favor - it would all make the current Clinton-Obama match-up look like a ladies' tea. Without the sophistication.

What are we to make of your attempt at diatribe? It starts off with the less than original observation that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, and goes on to note that "in Obama's case, it is reported, and not denied, that his mother was an atheist and her two chosen husbands were Muslims." Which leads you to this rousing peroration, which turns out to be more of an anti-climax: "In my opinion, if this man is elected president, our country will enter a period of total eclipse in regard to good political and economic decisions."

Sir, we live in meager times for rhetoric when that kind of plodding prose can pass for vilification. You sound as if you're responding to an offer in a mail-order catalogue. "In regard to," indeed.

Just compare your long-winded aspersions on Sen. Obama's lineage to John Adams' concise summation of his fellow founding father, Alexander Hamilton, whom he dismissed as the "bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar."

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.