Here’s a brief editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today.

If, as so often is the case, it’s the “conservative” House, or “conservative Republicans” in the House, then why is it so often the “centrist” or “moderate” Republicans in the State Senate — and not with equal frequency (or ever) the “liberal” Republicans? Since when was insisting on tax hikes in a surplus hour ever merely “moderate” and not resolutely left-wing?

It’s fair to ask why one side is tarred with a definition toward the end of a spectrum. “Conservative” is not the middle but not the far extreme of “reactionary,” while “liberal” is not the far extreme of “radical,” although the term “radical right” has been used.

At the end of the day, the labels mean little. I watched part of a discussion (if that’s what you can call the shout-fests that are cable news shows) on the “Scarborough Country” last night. In addition to the host, there were Joe Klein, the Newsweek columnist and author of an excellent book I’m reading, “Politics Lost,” and Tucker Carlson. Highlights are mine.

CARLSON: To see Mrs. Clinton triangulating this early out, you know, and is actually being more right wing on the war than I am, you think, “Well, what do you stand for, exactly?”

KLEIN: Well, I disagreed with her on the war. I was against it. But, you know, why can‘t we just believe that she believes what she believes?

I mean, I believe that the future and the most progressive force in the country isn‘t on the left or the right, but it‘s in the middle, and that‘s how you govern in this country. She learned it the hard way in health care.

I remember Daniel Patrick Moynihan said to me, in 1994, you pass a piece of legislation like health care, or immigration reform right now, with 75 or 80 votes in the Senate or it doesn‘t pass. You have to govern from the middle to govern successfully in this country.

George Bush has certainly failed governing from the right, and Bill Clinton failed in his first two years governing from the left.

CARLSON: I must say I don‘t buy—with all due respect, I don‘t buy that at all. I don‘t think this current president has been governing from the right, and I think that‘s his problem. I think you look at Bush and you sort of wonder, in the end, what are his principles? In contrast to Reagan. I think the most successful presidents are those who aren‘t extremists, but do have an ideological cast to the way they govern. They stand for these principles.

KLEIN: You want to know what his principles are? His principles are:

Rich people shouldn‘t have to pay taxes on their wealth.

CARLSON: Oh, come on, that‘s a talking point. There‘s a talking point.

KLEIN: And his other principle is that we should be able to go off and do anything we want in the world without planning.

CARLSON: I‘m not sure that‘s a serious point at all.

KLEIN: You don‘t think? Well, look at Iraq. Look at what happened…


SCARBOROUGH: I‘ll tell you what, we‘re going to debate—I‘ll you what, guys. We‘re going to debate George W. Bush on another night. But Joe Klein and Tucker Carlson, I appreciate you being with us.

I do want to say this, though. I believe Hillary Clinton is going to win the Democratic nomination and could be the next president of the United States for the exact point that Joe was making, that she has—as a senator, she‘s played to the center.

She hasn‘t played to the left. That‘s why the left is angry with her. She‘s more conservative than Tucker Carlson and Pat Buchanan when it comes to the war in Iraq. She‘s more conservative than the president from time to time on issues like immigration.

Give credit to Klein for saying can’t Hillary truly believe what she says? But that’s beside my point: Both Scarborough and Carlson describe support for the war as “conservative.” Getting entangled in foreign wars is not a “conservative” stance, whether Hillary Clinton or George Bush holds it. True conservatives would be very cautious before becoming involved as we have in Iraq. But Klein wasn’t wiling to make that point.

Just like the labels the RTD wants to plaster on Commonwealth lawmakers, at the national level, we throw around labels that define our opponents because no one says, “Hold on, that label doesn’t stick.”

There’s a lot of mileage to be gained by questioning labels. A good politician can position himself as a moderate, a reasonable person, not by claiming to be such, but simply by counterattacking those who insist on labeling us.