Paul Krugman gives us a specific example of what I'm talking about:
Let's start with the case of the bogus $600 billion.
In his Jan. 15 radio address, President Bush made a startling claim: "According to the Social Security trustees, waiting just one year adds $600 billion to the cost of fixing Social Security." The $600 billion cost of each year's delay has become a standard administration talking point, repeated by countless conservative pundits - who have apparently not looked at what the trustees actually said.
In fact, the trustees never said that waiting a year to "fix" Social Security costs $600 billion. Mr. Bush was grossly misrepresenting the meaning of a technical discussion of accounting issues (it's on Page 58 of the 2004 trustees' report), which has nothing to do with the cost of delaying changes in the retirement program.
The same type of "infinite horizon" calculation applied to the Bush tax cuts says that their costs rise by $1 trillion a year. That's not a useful measure of the cost of not repealing those cuts immediately.
So anyone who repeats the $600 billion line is helping to spread a lie. That's why it was disturbing to read a news report about the deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, who must know better, doing just that at a pro-privatization rally.
But in his latest radio address, Mr. Bush - correctly, this time - attributed the $600 billion figure to a "Democrat leader." He was referring to Senator Joseph Lieberman, who, for some reason, repeated the party line - the Republican party line - the previous Sunday.
My guess is that Mr. Lieberman thought he was being centrist and bipartisan, reaching out to Republicans by showing that he shares their concerns. At a time when the Democrats can say, without exaggeration, that their opponents are making a dishonest case for policies that will increase the risks facing families, Mr. Lieberman gave the administration cover by endorsing its fake numbers.
The push to privatize Social Security will probably fail all the same - but such attempts at accommodation may limit the Democrats' political gain.
Krugman then goes on to talk about the Bankruptcy bill.
Let me repeat: when Joe or any other Democrat uses Republican talking points they give them validity they don't deserve. When they use them they give the Republicans cover they don't deserve. When they use them they make it that much harder for Democrats to make the case for choosing Democratic leadership over Republican leadership.
If you are a centrist Democrat then argue your case. But argue it based on Democratic principles. Don't argue it using the Frank Luntz playbook. That's just shooting your friends in the foot.
Take it away Paul:
It isn't always bad politics to say things that aren't true and claim to support things you actually oppose: just look at who's running the country. But Democrats who engage in these tactics right now create big problems for a party that has been given a special chance - maybe its last chance - to remind the country of what Democrats stand for, and why.