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I received a lot of angry letters yesterday over my "Proud and Ignorant" post. This was followed by a request in comments on the "Proud Of Being Wise" thread for me to admit that I was unfair in lumping all conservatives under the rubric of "Proud of Being Ignorant." Here's an e-mail from a conservative for whom I have a lot of respect:

Respectfully, you are painting with too broad a brush. I have voted for GOP candidates the last ten years or so, I have a deep and long standing interest in the Civil War, and completely agree with you why the notion of a "Confederate History Month" is ridiculous, if not downright offensive. But birthers, creationists and segregationists are no more representative of the GOP than the truthers and those who believe Palin lied about the birth of her kid, are representative of the Democrats. Each side has it's fringe. People who support the idea of a "Confederate History Month," in my view, lack a fundamental understanding of American history, but again, it's wrong to conflate those people with the entire republican party.

Along the same lines here's a post from a frequent commenter:

I am a member of the conservative movement, which includes a fair portion of fools. I am a member because I'm a conservative, not because I approve of foolishness. What about you? I assume you're a part of the liberal movement because you agree with its overall goals, not because you:
- Believe that the United States planned and executed 9/11
- Believe that anyone who disagrees with President Obama should be assumed to be pushed by racism
- Believe that world civilization will have collapsed because of overpopulation and depletion of resources before the year 2000 [probably not too many believe this today, but I was taught it all my youth, including in a college course at a prestigious institution.]
- Believe that no fetus has rights of any kind until it is actually born
- Believe that there are no fundamental differences between men's and women's minds
- Believe that eating a chicken is morally equivalent to murdering a human being
- Believe that any scientist who is doubtful of any critical piece of the current AGW consensus is surely not a real scientist and/or is in the pay of Big Oil [this is the flip side of believing that AGW is a "hoax"]
- Believe that there is no important moral difference between the United States Army and the army of Pol Pot (World War II is for some reason allowed as an exception)

I'm not including very many other issues which are substantive core disagreements between liberals and conservatives, like the role of the government and the best way to run an economy. Just things that are either known to be totally wrong, or generally recognized as being lunatic (at least the way I presented them). And every one of these is or was represented by an important chunk of Democrats.

I'm not including very many other issues which are substantive core disagreements between liberals and conservatives, like the role of the government and the best way to run an economy. Just things that are either known to be totally wrong, or generally recognized as being lunatic (at least the way I presented them). And every one of these is or was represented by an important chunk of Democrats.

I'm not listing these things to be contrary. I'm listing them because from my point of view, your average liberal lives in a world of near-total unreality. He also has contempt for conservatives because he thinks they do.

Leaving aside a critique of this list, let's cut to the core argument--that there is a liberal and conservative fringe, and that it's as wrong to lump fair-minded conservatives in with crackpots who flirt secession, as it is to lump fair-minded liberals in with truthers. The "Both Sides" critique is standard operating procedure in Washington journalism, and usually leads to laughable comparisons, like this one.

In this specific case, the trouble is that the right's quackery is not merely peddled by it's fringe, but by some of its most prominent members. During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush didn't dispatch a couple of junior functionaries to Bob Jones University, where interracial dating was literally banned at the time, he dispatched himself. In 2002, it was not a small time junior congressmen who asserted that things would have been better under segregation, it was the highest ranking Republican in the Senate. 

In 2005, it was not merely a fringe group of party activists who called for interference in the Terri Schiavo case, it was the Republican president of United States. It was---yet again--the highest ranking Republican in the Senate dispensing a neurological diagnosis on a woman in Florida, from his office in Washington.
In 2007, when Trent Lott announced his resignation from the Senate, it was not merely state party officials claiming the good senator had been railroaded, it was his Republican fellow Senators. During the 2008 race, it was Mike Huckabee, runner-up for the presidential nomination of his party, who claimed to not believe in evolution. 

It was Huckabee, again, who followed up this feat by travelling to South Carolina and embracing the battle-flag of treason and white supremacy. In 2009, it was the governor of Texas who flirted with secession. It's Republican senator James Inhofe who called global warming, "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." 

This is to say nothing of conservative media, where seemingly reputable outlets claim that Bill Ayers is actually Barack Obama's ghostwriter, that the president "has a deep-seated hatred of white people." It's to say nothing of the leading conservative media figure who asserts that in Obama's America, "white kids get beat up, with black kids cheering." This not the work of a "fringe element," it is a pattern of proud ignorance, of utter quackery  perpetrated by the leaders of the conservative movement.

I can't think of a leader in the national Democratic Party who thinks that "eating a chicken is the moral equivalent of murdering a human being." I can't think of a Democrat with any real power who believes that "there is no important moral difference between the United States Army and the army of Pol Pot." I don't know of any Democratic leaders who are truthers.

This is a blog authored by a liberal. I believe in my side, but I don't believe in my side because I hate the word "conservative," or because I like the color blue. I believe in my side because, with some exceptions, its leadership doesn't believe in garnering votes by playing on racism, homophobia and superstition. 

When I wrote yesterday that Bob McDonnell had been wise and showed political courage, I didn't do it to even the scales or argue for a phony bipartisanship. I did it because I thought it was fair, and it was what I believed. But I very much believe the post I wrote before it. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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