We’ve all witnessed the early political positioning of many likely presidential candidates for next year’s election.

Most of the high-profile contenders so far are on the Democratic side, though several Republicans have thrown their hats into the ring. It’s amazing that a day doesn’t go by that we don’t hear something from one of the handful of frontrunners, causing me to wonder how sick of it all we’ll be by the time it’s all over, nearly two years from now.

No wonder we seem to resent politics. It takes way more of our time, energy and money than it deserves. Evidently, however, some people feel like they have no time to lose.

I got one of the most troubling and offensive e-mails this week that I’ve received in a long time about the most formidable male Democrat in the pack, Barack Obama.

Many people are ecstatic about his campaign, which is rare for a freshman senator these days.

Abraham Lincoln came from the same state and had about the same degree of political experience as Obama when he ran for president, but the political machine is a different animal today. Generally there are rites of passage through which one must progress to reach center stage, but Obama has been catapulted into the spotlight following his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address.

There’s no denying that Obama has intense charisma, a strong intellect and a way with words that makes certain of our current leaders pale by comparison. It’s also clear that he’s relatively young at 45 years old, and that he lacks the experience of many of his opponents. Had the e-mail I received focused on these points, or even on his positions on the war, ecology or human rights, I would have respected it, whether I agreed or not. None of this was included, however.

Instead, this missive, which has been forwarded to God knows how many people, sinks to a level of character assassination that was hard for me to believe, especially before the primary races have even geared up completely. His middle name “Hussein” is mentioned three times, and at one point, the e-mail even “misspells” his name as “Osama.” No joke.

It’s also mentioned that his father is Muslim and his mother is atheist. It talks about his parents’ divorce, says his mother married another “radical” Muslim, and that Barack attended a Wahhabi school as a child. According to the anonymous author of this e-mail, this is where all of the terrorists that attack America are trained.

Yeah, the guy’s name is Hussein, which is one of the most common Muslim names in the world. The effort seems to be to associate him with Saddam Hussein, simply because they have the same name. I suppose, by this rationale, we should condemn everyone with the last name of Jones, since Jim Jones ruined that one for everyone.

Also, the claim that Obama went to a Wahhabi school simply is a lie. He attended a madrassa for two years, which is no different than any other religiously affiliated school. Some will suggest differently, but there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.

It appears to me that an intelligent, powerful black man scares the hell out of some people. This sort of polemic has more to do with melanin than it does ideology or family history. The e-mail alone would not be enough to raise my ire, but Fox News actually has carried a report about this. When such ignorant, hate-based slander becomes national news, it’s the sign of a broken system, and unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse.

It’s been said that great minds dwell on ideas, while average minds contemplate events. Meanwhile, feeble minds are content to focus only on other people. Clearly, this e-mail falls into the latter category, but the Internet has given it legs.

While the information superhighway has created a more egalitarian forum for the exchange of information, it also places a greater burden upon each individual to discern the difference between thoughtful ideas and garbage. I hope the majority of the country can tell the difference, and that it matters.

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