“A little boy said to his mother, ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’ His mother replied, ‘ Don’t even go there, Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!’ ”

That racist joke about President Obama, his mother and bestiality wasn’t told by some backwoods white supremacist sporting Ku Klux Klan regalia. The Great Falls Tribune reports that “joke” was contained in an e-mail forwarded to six friends, called “old buddies,” by Richard Cebull, the chief U.S. district judge of Montana. The e-mail was sent, from all places, from Cebull’s judicial chambers.

Confronted by what he had done, the judge, an 11-year member of the federal bench, told the Tribune, “I didn’t send it as racist, although that’s what it is. I sent it out because it’s anti-Obama.” Judge Cebull admits to having exercised poor judgment but professes he’s no racist. But who cares about his self-assessment.

In a column last week, I wrote about the extraordinary venom directed at Obama by his political opponents. It drew some expected responses from readers who contend that Obama is drawing fire because of his policies, not his race. What’s the alibi this time?

This was the act of a federal judge.

The real action, in this case, lies in the reaction. He was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. What does Bush think now? How about the U.S. Senate that confirmed Cebull? Or Republican presidential candidates who seek to replace Obama? What say the judge’s peers, the Judicial Conference, the chief justice?

What say the people of Montana? What say Americans?

Just kidding?