11/05/2012 07:22 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Thank You, Mr. President: You Held Back the Worst

It's worth pausing for a moment to show gratitude to Barack Obama for his decent moral character. Under the most trying conditions he has held the tide against disheartening reactionary opposition. It took character to do that without descending to the level of right-wing ideologues, for whom no tactic is too low.

When the Republicans became the party of "no" in the weeks after Obama's inauguration -- placing their hatred of him above doing good for the country -- and later when they caved in to Tea Party fanatics during the debt-ceiling crisis, they lost the right to be a governing party. That was the opinion of David Brooks in The New York Times. Apparently they've regained that right. When Mitt Romney stated in the debates that as Massachusetts governor he worked with both parties to get things done, he lost the right to be a credible presidential candidate. Fareed Zakaria pointed out last Sunday on his CNN program that Romney in fact vetoed 800 bills passed by the Democratic state legislature and left office with a 34-percent approval rating.

The notion is afoot that "extremists" control both political parties. That, too, is a lie unless believing in global warming, developing alternative energy and being a steward of the environment is extremism. For three decades the right has cobbled together a coalition of fringe splinter groups, each unsavory on its own. Together, they took us through the looking glass, turning moral values on their head. To vilify moderates is now a sign that you are a good person. To destroy Iraq indicates your patriotism. To pander to intolerant religious groups and pass racist voter ID laws indicates how politically intelligent you are.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to the president for holding all of it back.

The most toxic influence in America has been 30 years of reactionary indoctrination. The right wing summoned up the worst aspects of social resentment and bigotry when Nixon's "silent majority" was code for a pro-war, racist backlash in 1968. Ronald Reagan made it acceptable to ignore victims of AIDS. The first George Bush loosed Willie Horton into the political debate, made "card-carrying liberal" an epithet and welcomed John Birchers and religious fundamentalists into a party that was doomed if it clung to its all-white, suburban base.

Because of the rise of Hispanics in the voting population, we are told by demographers that the Republican Party will lose its parity with the Democrats over the next generation. That's not why they should decline. A party that prides itself on encouraging the worst in human nature will remain a toxic force in the future. My hope is that the reelection of President Obama will provide four more years of resistance to that kind of toxicity. No one can wipe it out completely. But there was a time when gridlock wasn't based on reactionary irrationality. With luck, we might be able to bring back enough decency and sense that they will prevail in Washington, D.C.

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