For example, Sen. Barack Obama is accused of being a closet Muslim perhaps intent on turning the nation into an Islamic state. Of course, he is a member of the United Church of Christ in Chicago.
Or on the Republican side, the rumors circulate about former Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormonism. Perhaps he plans to move the capital to Salt Lake City, some of his foes whisper.
All the candidates carry some blemishes on their records or personalities. But some cowards among us prefer to go underground to spread rumors.
We seem to go through this ugly process every election cycle. The politicians and pundits condemn the practice, but it continues.
Some of this garbage is circulated by plain gossip over the phone. Another method is to circulate a paper with no person or organization taking responsibility for it.
A more sophisticated practice is the push poll. Voters are reached by phone to help one candidate by defaming another by cutting him or her down with some charge. It is a phony poll.
In the modern era, it's forwarding bogus E-mails, which tripped up a Hillary Clinton volunteer coordinator in Iowa, who passed along the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumor.
Politicians themselves and commentators condemn these practices. But they are still with us in every presidential race or high-profile statewide campaign.
Back in 2000, Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, were accused of having a black child. In South Carolina, where race can still be used against an office seeker, it helped George W. Bush. In fact, the child was a Bangladeshi orphan, and the McCains should have been honored for their adoption. McCain lost the primary--and decisively.
Perhaps a simple answer is that we all want to believe the worst in our politicians. After all, negative ads work despite the clamor of upset over them.
At the least, every voter should be aware of these anonymous attacks. It is the slimy work of cowards.
By John W. Mashek