To Paul Krugman's complaint that right-wing triumphs get characterized by the mass media as "conservatives on the march," while liberal triumphs produce headlines about a return to the "center," Matt writes:
But here's the thing, I've heard conservatives complain about this too. When conservatives secure political power, it's all "holy shit: conservatives!" but when liberals secure political power, it's all "don't worry, they're centrists." There's truth to both perspectives here, but I think the right fundamentally has the better of this argument. It wouldn't have been helpful to liberals or to liberalism for Time to greet the 2006 elections with a photo of Nancy Pelosi flanked by Charlie Rangel, Henry Waxman, David Obey, and John Conyers under the headline "THE LIBERAL TAKEOVER."
To which Ezra rejoins:
That said, it does pound in some narratives that matter. To go back to my Heath Shuler article, it was the Right who sought to argue that he was a conservative. They did that because it was good for the press to report the election as a triumph for "conservatism," that reigning ideology that had been failed by perfidious Republicans. So rather than the collapse of years of unified conservative rule being seen as the failure of the ideology, which would in turn lead the press to paint future adherents as politically radioactive, it actually enhanced the superficial appeal of "pure conservatism."
I think both Matt and Ezra are right, because they're talking about different terminology. To the extent that the term "conservative Democrat" creeps into the narrative where Democrats like Shuler and Jim Webb are concerned, it's a (minor) victory for conservative talking points. To the extent that winning Democrats are described as centrists, though, it's a sign that liberal media bias - in which a moderate liberalism is the center, and everything else is right-wing kookery - is defining the terms of the discussion.