Paul Greenberg

Here was the candidate's big chance to encourage the lunatic fringe of American politics -- these days it's called energizing the base -- and take up an issue that had lain dormant for four years, and proven a loser even when it was in the headlines.

Doubtless he'll have many other opportunities in this campaign to join the likes of birthers, truthers and all the other conspiracy theorists out there. The kind of kibitzers who are convinced they've got the secret of a successful presidential campaign, or maybe of the universe.

I know the type. Not a week goes by -- well, maybe a fortnight -- that some scrawled missive doesn't arrive explaining how Barack Obama was really born in Kenya or is a willing tool of the Marxist conspiracy. Or touting a sure way for Mr. Obama to win this thing hands down: "Don't run against Mitt Romney, run against Bain Capital!"

By now both campaigns will have attracted the usual flock of sharp political consultants, hangers-on, wanna-be political geniuses and the like, all overflowing with oh-so-brilliant plans the candidate should adopt -- now. Quick, there's no time to waste.

"There is a tide in the affairs of men," as Brutus tells his fellow conspirators, "which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune...." That scheme didn't turn out too well, either. (See the political analysis titled "Julius Caesar" by one Wm. Shakespeare.)

Every presidential campaign is full of Brutuses. Examples abound. There was Charles Colson -- before he saw the light on his way to the penitentiary -- eager to out-Nixon even Richard Nixon, who was not exactly a high-minded type himself. The Lee Atwaters and James Carvilles are always full of advice to the candidate, and all of it boils down to Fight Harder, by which they seem to mean only fight dirtier.

Every presidential campaign is also a morality play, which may be its most interesting aspect to some of us political voyeurs. For a political campaign is not just a contest between candidates, but between each candidate and his better self. Which will win, low ambition or high ideals? Expedience or honor?

Just how much of his simple human dignity is a candidate willing to sacrifice for public office? How much is even the presidency of the United States worth? To put it another, older way: What doth it profit a man to win the White House and lose his soul? Which is why it's encouraging to look back at this past week of Mr. Romney's campaign in which nothing of great import happened. Thank goodness.

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.