06/04/2012 04:17 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2012

Bill Clinton, Deval Patrick and Cory Booker Were Right

Treason. Betrayal. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Hearing those words from other Democrats, you would think Bill Clinton, Deval Patrick and Cory Booker had all endorsed Mitt Romney. When what really happened was Clinton simply called Romney "a gentleman and a sterling businessman," Patrick said Bain Capital was "a fine company," and Cory Booker said that commercials that attacked the candidates personally were "nauseating." All of them, it should be noted, also said that Romney's experience at Bain did not make him more qualified than President Obama to handle the economy or lead the country, and all three strongly endorsed the president for reelection.

Instead of criticizing those who simply show respect to a candidate, Democrats must claim the moral high ground and not engage in personal attacks on Mitt Romney and his family, and to also refrain from characterizing an entire profession, private equity, as some evil enterprise.

Some of my fellow progressives want to embrace a narrative that Romney is a greedy robber baron and his wife is an out-of-touch elitist. Nothing could be further from the truth, and clinging to this fiction could be damaging to the effort to re-elect the president. This is the point Clinton, Patrick and Booker were trying to make. That Romney is a nice guy, a successful businessman, but that his business experience at Bain Capital in no way gives him any magical expertise or edge in understanding how our economy works. If someone wants to know how our economy works, they just have to read an economics book.

The New York Times reported recently that Romney's admirable way of referring to Obama as "a nice guy" is angering some of his supporters. And conservative commentator Michelle Malkin wrote that referring to the president as a nice guy is "this disastrous, bend-over bipartisanship," and told Sean Hannity on Fox News that Romney has "got to get this talking point out of his mouth -- Barack Obama is not a nice guy."

While Malkin has always had a flair for unbelievable statements, her latest make me feel that political discourse in America has sunk to a third-grade level. What will she say next? That the president has cooties?

For four years, Republicans have played the politics of personal destruction with the president, by taking every opportunity to try to delegitimize him, whether through the birther insanity, or the more coy but insidious "he doesn't share our values." And if I had characterized President Bush as having a "gangsta administration," as Michele Bachmann said of President Obama, I would be in Guantanamo right now.

Cory Booker was right. All of this is nauseating. It is not treasonous for Democrats to call Mitt Romney a nice guy. It is the right thing to say, and the respectable term to use. And Mitt Romney should continue to refer to President Obama as a nice guy, despite the protests from mean-spirited supporters and some conservative pundits.

That certainly doesn't mean that Republicans and Democrats should pull their punches when it comes to the issues. An aggressive, spirited and factual debate on what is best for our country is the hallmark of a democracy. And it is fair and civil to passionately oppose cruel Republican policies that make the most vulnerable in our society carry the burden of budget cuts.

But refusing to acknowledge that both President Obama and Mitt Romney are nice guys makes America finish last.