WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Where else but in an American presidential campaign can a candidate declare with solemnity that "labels don't matter" or, for that matter, with persuasiveness.
When Sen. Jean-Francois Kerry denies the significance of the "label" being applied to him, is he trying to pull a fast one on the poor credulous voter? Are he and his surrogates convincing when they insist that "labels" are nothing but pieces of trickery deployed by the hellish Republicans? Well, if labels do not matter, pay no attention to the label on that bottle over there, Senator, the label marked "poison," or "dangerous to nursing mothers," or "do not take when windsurfing."
Of course, the label that the Massachusetts Braggart is objecting to is the label "liberal." For some reason, he considers it unfair when his opponent calls him a liberal, though the nonpartisan magazine, National Journal, catalogues him as a liberal, in fact the most liberal senator in Washington. Presumably the National Journal had merely savored the Boastful One's 20 years in the Senate where he has been on the self-congratulatory liberal side of every issue.
Moreover, does anyone doubt that when this long drink of water ambles onto a university campus or into a media newsroom -- say, the CBS newsroom -- he boldly declares with timpani rumbling offstage: "Yes, I am a liberal. And proud of it, come hell or high Perrier"? Why is it that in presidential campaigns liberals, upon accepting the Democratic nomination, scurry from the label liberal? Actually, it is very disingenuous for them to object to "labels"?
Labels are one of the liberals' favorite remedies. They demand labels on tobacco, ardent spirits, children's toys -- anything that offends their constituents and might assist in their election. I would not be surprised to hear that they had fashioned labels for basketballs ("Bounce With Care") or condoms ("Do Not Use With Alcoholic Beverages" or "May Cause Drowsiness"). Labels are the consumerists' best friend, at least when prohibition is impossible.
Yet now out there on the campaign trail the Democrats' cosmopolitan presidential candidate is objecting to "labels." He and his surrogates insist that labels are meaningless. It is another admission by them that the words they use and the positions they take at election time are unserious. They, who pride themselves in their high intellectual commitment, actually seem to believe that they can persuade voters that the philosophical and political positions they have taken over the years should not matter to us when we vote. Well, what does matter? The senator's windsurfing skills? George W. Bush's cowboy boots?