THE QUALITATIVE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE FRINGES…. Following up on that last item, about Charles Johnson officially giving up on the right, I was especially interested in seeing what James Joyner had to say about this.

James is conservative, but I tend to find him reasonable, or at least thoughtful, and he’s generally shown little interest in some of the sillier nonsense the right comes up with. Any chance he’ll follow Johnson’s lead and reject what’s become of the contemporary political right?

Alas, no. James has an item today, going through Johnson’s list of grievances, point by point. He seemed largely unconvinced by Johnson’s case, but there were two points of particular interest.

Johnson, for example, expressed contempt for the right’s “support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.).” Joyner replied that the left has its wacky fringe, too:

See Code Pink, 9/11 Truthers, etc.

Johnson added that the right supports “conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.).” Joyner added:

See Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, 9/11 Truthers, etc.

I continue to think this is a mistaken approach to the ideological landscape. It plays into the conventional wisdom — “both sides” have their share of nutjobs — but it doesn’t account for the qualitative differences or the reach/influence of both contingents.

It’s easy, I suppose, to just assume that the left has some nutjobs, and the right has some nutjobs, but that all of this is unrelated to political mainstream of both major political parties. Wacky liberals said ridiculous things under Bush; wacky conservatives are saying ridiculous things now. Move along; nothing to see here.

But this surface-level look is, at best, incomplete. Code Pink and Truthers don’t have, and never have had, any meaningful role in progressive politics or the Democratic Party. Love these groups or hate them, we’re talking about a fairly small group, with limited-to-non-existent influence. Indeed, Democratic Party leaders and officials take pains to keep the groups at arm’s length. It’s not as if leading Dem candidates, seeking high-profile offices, go out of their way to seek Cindy Sheehan’s endorsement.

On the other hand, leading Republicans at every level can’t do enough to express their support for the Tea Party crowd, and love nothing more than talking to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. We have GOP members of Congress, even some of the party’s leadership, endorsing all manner of unhinged nonsense, ranging from Birther questions to state nullification.

The point is, there’s a clear and impermeable line between the progressive mainstream and the left fringe. The line between the Republican Party/conservative movement and the far-right fringe barely exists.

Whereas Dems kept the fringe at arm’s length, Republicans embrace the fringe with both arms. Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.

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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.