Just when you think you’ve gotten the journalistic habit of “false equivalency” on the run, it pops up again in unlikely places: the usually excellent Beth Reinhard of National Journal has a piece today on Democratic governors “steering their party to the left” just as Republican governors and state legislators have moved their own party to the right.

I dunno, maybe it’s just me, and I have trouble with the basic idea of people like my old DLC buddy Martin O’Malley or the relentlessly triangulating Andrew Cuomo or the highly pragmatic John Hickenlooper being characterized this way:

While Republican governors elected during the party’s historic wave in 2010 have drawn criticism for their unabashedly conservative agendas to restrict abortion, rein in labor unions, and slash state spending, a number of Democratic governors are just as aggressively pushing liberal policies such as gay marriage and gun control. Emboldened by President Obama’s reelection, a younger and more diverse electorate, and an increasing number of state governments under one-party control, these Democratic governors are crusading on issues the party steered clear of until recently. It’s happening not just in solidly Democratic states like New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Connecticut but also in more competitive battlegrounds such as Colorado, where new gun laws are fueling two recall elections and threats of secession from some rural counties.

Obviously Democrats, like Americans generally, have “moved left” on gay marriage, if accepting equality is considered a bold ideological step.

Beyond that, what are the wild-eyed lefty proposals Democratic governors are proposing that make them just as radical as Paul LePage or Rick Perry or Scott Walker?

OMG, they’re for closing off the gun-show loophole for background checks, which may be provoking right-wing activists in a handful of rural Colorado counties to want to secede (taking, of course, their oil and gas rights, threatened by the godless hippies of the rest of the state, with them), but also commands overwhelming popular support nationally and in every region, even among self-identified Republicans. This, BTW, became the primary secular-socialist policy goal on gun regulation partly because it was acceptable to those well-known Marxists in the Senate, Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, and partly because going back to the assault weapon ban of the 1990s was deemed politically impracticable.

Reinhard also cites Democratic support for immigration reform and higher taxes as a sign of lefty extremism. On immigration reform, of course, Democrats need do little more than quote from the speeches of the Republican nominees for president in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2008. And the mega-fight over taxes that’s been going on since 2001 has essentially revolved around Democratic efforts to bring back the tax rates of the 1990s, hardly a period where capitalism was on the run. On abortion policy, another issue mentioned by Reinhard, today’s Democrats are not saying or doing a thing that Bill Clinton did not say or do when he vetoed the so-called “partial-birth abortion” legislation back in

All in all, the idea that the poor compromise-seeking centrist American is being equally let down by extremists in both parties is a testament to the accuracy of the argument made best by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their 2006 book Off Center: if “the center” is eternally defined as some half-way point between the positions held at any given moment by the two major political parties, with no recognition of history or contest, then the party that is most unreasonable and aggressive in advancing its agenda can move “the center” at will. The specter of Martin O’Malley, Red Threat, shows how “off center” this sort of relativistic and gullible political analysis actually is.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.