Paul Greenberg
Not a presidential election goes by without producing another prize specimen for my extensive collection of Famous Smears I Have Known, and this year's campaign is no different. It's a red-white-and-blue, dadgum all-American tradition, telling whoppers about the opposition. It goes back at least to 1800 and the Adams-Jefferson match.

Yes, somewhere among the faux presidential scandals of the past, there are real scandals like Teapot Dome and Watergate. Or, in more recent years, L'Affaire Lewinsky. But for the most part, accusing a presidential candidate of something he never did has become just an empty ritual for the quadrennial madness known as an American presidential campaign.

Near the top of the long list of scandals that weren't is Dan Rather's "fake but accurate" exposé of George W. Bush in 2004 as some kind of draft dodger. That charge mainly exposed Dan Rather as the fake, and would soon enough lead to his becoming an ex-anchorman of a national news show.

But there are some close runners-up on this dishonor roll, like the recurrent charge that the current president of the United States isn't native-born but actually hails from Kenya, or maybe Indonesia, or your choice of a foreign land or foreign conspiracy. Which would render his presidency unconstitutional. No matter how many times such a claim has been disproved, or how many certified copies of his birth certificate he's produced, that tale continues to attract true believers.

Also true hucksters like the inimitable (thank goodness) Donald John Trump, financier, impresario, blowhard and maybe the greatest all-around, all-American showman since P.T. Barnum.

Some smears even add new verbs to the always changing American language -- like swiftboating for tarring an opponent, a term that owes its origins to the 2004 campaign to discredit John Kerry's war record. Great year for smears, 2004.

It doesn't even have to be an election year for conspiracy theories to take wing. Dwight Eisenhower, if you'll recall, was a "dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy," to quote that most peccable of sources, Robert Welch of the John Birch Society, which may still be around in some suburban storefront. Hey, what a country.

This year's prize whopper has already appeared, though the presidential campaign is still young. It's become an article of faith for the Obama camp. It has to depend on faith since there's no real evidence for it. But by now it's been supported by the president himself, who's made himself a kind of accessory after the (absence of) fact.

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.