They used to have more style and substance. It was considered bad form to just weave an attack out of whole cloth, counting on the fact that the mark was so despised by a segment of society that people would be anxious to believe the worst.
It used to be that when you wanted to sling mud at someone whose politics you didn't agree with -- chiefly as a way of making them look bad and yourself look good by comparison -- you'd try to dig up dirt, find a skeleton in a closet or challenge the person's integrity.
These days, you don't have to work that hard. The whole process is do-it-yourself. You just go to Facebook and see what embarrassing family photos can be linked to the person you intend to slime. The target doesn't even have to be in the photo. Just the fact that they posted it, or thought it was humorous, or in any way condoned the act is good enough.
In our narcissistic look-at-me-and-mine culture, social media networks are veritable treasure chests of blunders, blushes and blemishes. Even with our best efforts to use these sites to showcase our best features, there is plenty of embarrassment to go around.
Once you find the photos, you do a little cut and paste. Then you can scribble a few sentences about how shocked -- shocked! -- you are that people could behave in such a manner. Be sure to include a line from the head of some nonprofit that raises funds by advancing the idea that, without a group like theirs, our entire society would be in dire straits.
If you're attacking someone on the left, you might hunt around on social media for a photo where they're not wearing a flag pin and accuse them of being unpatriotic. If you're trying to smear someone on the right, you can fall back on the old standby and accuse them of being uncaring.
How uncaring? Enough to use a dog as a food stool. The offender in question is 6-year-old Trig Palin, who became an instant target of supposedly tolerant liberals when he wound up being born to mother Sarah, one of the most popular political figures for conservatives and a constant thorn in the side of liberals.
This time, what put Trig in the liberal's version of "timeout" is a photo on his mom's Facebook page of him standing barefoot on his new pet dog -- a black labrador oddly named Jill Hadassah -- so he could reach the kitchen sink and wash his dish.
The liberal organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was not amused.
PETA blasted Palin in a statement, calling her "hard-hearted" and "bizarrely callous."
The statement read, "It's odd that anyone -- let alone a mother -- would find it appropriate to post such a thing, with no apparent sympathy for the dog in the photo."
You know who deserves sympathy? The journalists who got that statement and had to whip up a story based on faux outrage.
Palin struck back by zeroing in with the real reason that groups like PETA have lost influence and credibility: the double standard they employ, denouncing certain behavior by the people they oppose while excusing the same behavior by people they support. Where was the organization last year, she asked, when the liberal talk show hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, posted a similar photo
of a girl standing on a dog? Back then, PETA was AWOL.
She is right about the double standard. And I admire her spunk. In a world of politicians and even former politicians who are so careful about what they say and do that they don't say or do anything, Palin unplugged is a refreshing exception.
There is more to the story. According to media reports, the canine is a service dog that was trained to care for Trig, who has Down syndrome.
The little guy doesn't just need special care. It seems that he also needs constant protection -- from liberals who hate his mommy. Trig was first targeted by the left in February 2010, when he was just shy of 2 years old.
That's when Seth MacFarlane, creator of the Fox animated comedy, "Family Guy," thought it would be a hoot to air an episode that demolished all the preaching that liberals have done
over the years about tolerance and the importance of defending those with special needs. In the episode, the character Chris is dating a teenage girl with Down syndrome, and when he asks her what her parents do, she says, "My dad's an accountant, and my mom is the former governor of Alaska."
David Tolleson, head of the Atlanta-based National Down Syndrome Congress, called the gag
"hurtful and stereotypical." And Palin's daughter Bristol
wrote on her mom's Facebook page that the joke was especially cruel given that her brother already faces a life filled with intolerance and prejudice.
On the defensive, MacFarlane claimed at the time that he was "an equal opportunity offender."
Sure. In 2008, the comedian had spoken at an Obama-Biden rally at a university in Ohio, where he took potshots at Republicans and touted the Democratic ticket.
As all this unfolded, we learned -- thanks to Trig -- a valuable lesson about how the tolerant left has a much stronger stomach for intolerance if its aimed at one of its enemies.
Now the little guy is at it again, teaching us that liberals are creative enough to make smears out of thin air.
In a perfect world, I'd prefer that children not mistake their household pets for a step ladder. But whatever else can be said about the world that Trig Palin is likely to face in the years to come, this much we know: It won't be perfect.