FRIEDMAN’S ADMONITION…. The New York Times‘ Tom Friedman is one of many noticing some unhealthy signs in our political discourse.

…I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the [Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin] assassination. […]

Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist” to calling him a “liar” in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.

Again, hack away at the man’s policies and even his character all you want. I know politics is a tough business. But if we destroy the legitimacy of another president to lead or to pull the country together for what most Americans want most right now — nation-building at home — we are in serious trouble. We can’t go 24 years without a legitimate president — not without being swamped by the problems that we will end up postponing because we can’t address them rationally.

Asked to comment on Friedman’s concerns, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told CNN this morning that Friedman is a “nut job” and the column’s arguments are “just crazy.” Steele said Friedman and people like him are “saying, because you disagree with the president on policy, that all of the sudden we’re going to make this leap into, you know, assassinations and all this other stuff.”

Steele, in keeping with his general approach to politics, seemed to be blasting a column he had not read. Friedman did not criticize those who disagree with the president on policy; Friedman said the opposite. Twice.

This is not to say I agreed with all of Friedman’s column. Bob Somerby, for example, raised some compelling points about the columnist’s — and his employer’s — record on some of these issues.

That said, I found Friedman’s broader point to be an entirely convincing — the right is playing with fire and doesn’t care. The result is understandable fear that our political system cannot “seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest.”

Steele thinks these fears make Friedman a “nut job.” The response only helps prove the point.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.