I have recently been the recipient of one of those fantastical e-mail chain letters being broadly circulated these days titled Who Is Barack Obama? Full of untruths, it anonymously warns us about Obama’s secret allegiance to radical Muslims’ beliefs, and while attacking Barack’s Christian faith and deep patriotism, the e-mail assures us that its assertions are all supposedly verified by the rumor site snopes.com. This is untrue: a check on that Web site refutes the e-mail. John McCain, a Viet Nam prisoner of war who served heroically is being labeled, in anonymous phone calls and e-mails, a traitor, collaborator and someone who is against free speech.

We have a description for this kind of behavior that was coined when another courageous Vietnam veteran, John Kerry, suffered a similar kind of orchestrated personal attack during his run for President. It’s called swiftboating.

Dirty politics are not a new phenomenon. Been around forever. But for the past 25 or so years, it has been, in some circles, the thing to do. (Karl Rove has been a master of orchestrating dirty tricks.) The belief is if you sling enough lies at an opponent, no matter how far-fetched, they begin to stick, and any denial just makes the recipient look guilty. And the Internet makes the dirty trickster’s job a breeze.

When this kind of behavior becomes so common that it is dismissed as just politics, when winning is more important than integrity and the manipulations that ensue continue unchecked, it swiftly wears away at the fabric of our democracy. The dirty tricks don’t stop at name-calling, they become bolder and more menacing. When eager beavers are properly motivated and are secure in their secrecy, it’s okay to get your guy in by denying certain folks voter access, by creating misleading ballots, by jamming phone lines and by manipulating the vote tally. Now that we have all those fancy Diebold machines all over the place that have no paper trail, it has become a relatively easy job to fix an election. These voting machines have been tested by experts and have been shown to be easily and untraceably vulnerable to attack. There’s a lot riding on a national election, and a lot of pressure to get results. Now that manipulating our vote can be done on a national scale, how difficult will it be to quietly fix the results? And fix them big, so that we won’t have to revisit the 2000 election when the Supreme Court decided a presidential outcome. Really, how will we trust that our vote will be counted?

That is why I took the time to reply to that e-mail, and to all its listed previous senders, with evidence refuting its crazy assertions. For those of you who have also received the Obama diatribe, check out snopes.com. It seems that those orchestrating this smear campaign expect that many folks are lazy or so eager to believe the slime that they won’t bother to check. That’s why it is important to thoroughly check out information before you pass it on. That’s why it is imperative to write your representatives and urge everyone else to write and speak out to demand that all machines have a proper paper ballot back-up.

Democracy flies out the window when we do nothing. And nothing less than our freedom is at stake.

Michelle Lazerow lives in Oak Bluffs.