One candidate was described as a godless, lecherous extremist bent on wanting to burn the homes of the citizenry and turning the nation's wives and children into prostitutes.
His opponent was painted as an unhinged, warmongering, hypocritical, repulsive dope, who quite likely was also a hermaphrodite.
Let us a pause here for a few choruses of America the Beautiful.
Those were some of the nicer things said about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams during the 1800 presidential campaign. It makes you wonder if that iconic portrait of the Founding Fathers at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia included Jefferson planting a whoopee cushion under Adams' chair.
In recent days some people have accused Joe Biden of being impolite to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan during their debate last week simply because the vice president offered up a few snickers and suggested his opponent was full of "malarkey" — more or less.
Truth should be a defense, but suddenly the body politic and members of the chin-rubbing classes have become Miss Manners, decrying the lack of civility and rudeness creeping into the political discourse.
Creeping? Boorish behavior has had a homestead exemption on the hustings for more than 200 years.
Over the course of American history no one would ever confuse presidential campaigns with Downton Abbey.
The country has a long history of vicious campaigns loaded with more lies than reasoned rhetoric, more vilification than mutual respect.
Gracious, in 1828, John Quincy Adams accused Andrew Jackson of being a half-wit whose wife was a "dirty black wench" and an adulteress, to boot. Meanwhile Jackson hinted that Adams had sold off his wife's maid to the czar of Russia. Try to imagine this line: "I'm Andrew Jackson, and I approve this ad calling my opponent a pimp."
So it seemed a bit odd in the run-up to his second debate tonight with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that President Barack Obama was said to be spending less attention on policy and more on how to be aggressive but not rude.
While it is true Obama has the awkward burden of measuring his disdain for Romney to avoid coming off as an angry black man channeling a Chris Rock standup routine, the president should not refrain from criticizing his opponent.
After all, every day Americans are exposed to a mass media culture riven with rudeness — from the axis of boorishness Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on the right to the hand-wringing Chris Matthews and Ed Schultzes of the left.
Besides, these aren't really debates to determine the leader of the free world. They are merely episodes of "America's Got a President" meets "So You Think You Can Kill Bin Laden."
Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites have become little more than forums to launch insults, gossip and character assassination campaigns. We live in an era of inquisition by keyboard.
Meanwhile the airwaves are filled with commercials that have about as much in common with the truth or good taste as does the Tampa Bay Bucs' Aqib Talib.
And yet some folks find themselves in a dither simply because an incredulous Joe Biden hinted his political opponent might be reality-challenged?
There's been the perception Obama did so poorly in his first meeting with Romney because he appeared to be disengaged, even dismissive of a process he views as silly and unproductive. Obama was viewed as the loser in the first debate because he came off as too civil, unwilling to go on the attack against his rival regardless of what balderdash Romney uttered.
Is it any wonder in a nation seemingly addicted to programing putting people together to sing, or dance, or otherwise submit themselves to groveling humiliation, that the process by which we judge a potential president is grounded in how well they verbally joust with one another, or say something incredibly stupid?
If the discourse is going to descend to Comedy Central levels, at least Romney and Obama have an obligation to be inventive.
Many years ago a candidate described his diminutive rival as "about five feet of nothing in height and about the same in diameter the other way."
That was Abraham Lincoln attacking Stephen Douglas.
Top that Mr. Romney and President Obama — if you dare.