AMERICAN POLITICS’ MOST IMPORTANT ‘FALSE EQUIVALENCE’…. At a certain level, the “No Labels” initiative sounds fairly reasonable. We’re talking about a group of well-intentioned folks interested in problem solving, without regard for party or preconceived ideological preferences. The same participants like the idea of lowering the rhetorical temperature a bit, which also strikes me as a sensible thing to do.

So why did I find myself reacting to this week’s “No Labels” gathering with a combination of annoyance and boredom? For the same reasons E.J. Dionne Jr. did.

The basic difficulty arises from a false equivalence they make between our current “left” and our current “right.” The truth is that the American right is much farther from anything that can fairly be described as “the center” than is the left. […]

I am still devoted to moderation but reject a cult of the center that defines as good anything that can be called bipartisan. Some of the same centrists who just a few weeks ago called for bipartisan efforts to slash the deficit now praise Obama’s tax deal with Republicans, even though it increases the very same deficit by around $900 billion. Exactly what principle is at work here other than a belief that any deal blessed by Republicans deserves praise?

For many of the participants at the inaugural No Labels gathering, the problem that needs reconciling is the fealty to labels themselves. But that strikes me as a naive misjudgment — labels, parties, ideologies, and principles aren’t what stand in the way of constructive policymaking. The extremism and abuses of one of the major parties are what stand in the way of constructive policymaking.

A search for an elusive “center,” meanwhile, is a fool’s errand when one side becomes radicalized. If the No Labels folks were focused on addressing this, I’d be delighted, but that doesn’t seem to be the point at all.

As Dionne concluded, “The No Labelers can yet be a constructive force if they remind us of how extreme the right has become and help broker an alliance between the center and the left, the only coalition that can realistically stop an ever more zealous brand of conservatism. But they will have to admit that labels aren’t the real problem. What lies behind them is.”

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.