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Thursday, March 31, 2005

10 minutes with NPR: The AARP

As I've recently mentioned, I alternate listening to Howard Stern and NPR on my 10-minute morning commute. That's not exactly true. I used to listen to Stern exclusively, but slowly over the last couple of months my radio has been turned toward the low end of the dial. Say what you will about NPR obvious political bias, those guys can kick some serious arty journalism that can make you think.

As thinking is so rare for me, I thought I'd use my oh-so-short time with NPR as an issue sounding board. Thus, this begins the first of my "10 minutes with NPR" posts.

The Story: The only story I caught today dealt with the recent attacks against the AARP by USA Next, the so-called conservative alternative to the AARP. The AARP is currently working to kill Bush's Social Security reform plan. USA Next has been running internet ads alleging the AARP is much more liberal than its membership. Specifically, they point out (according to NPR) that the AARP doesn't support the war and that it does support gay marriage, despite the fact that over 40% of AARP's members identify themselves as Conservative. The implication is that USA Next is using the Social Security debate to score points and members off the monolithic, 35-million member AARP.

The Spin: NPR's mission here is clear: They must restore the bipartisan credibility of AARP. To do so, they point out that they AARP's last major DC battle was to help pass George Bush's Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003. The kicker is a couple quotes made during the Medicare debate by Republican leaders Hastert and Frist on the general wonderfulness of the AARP.

My Thoughts:

1. USA Next has definitely stretched the truth in its ads. According to the group, the claim that the AARP doesn't support the war centers around their lack of support for veterens' issues, and the claim that the AARP supports gay marriage stems from the fact that the group's Ohio chapter fought against the state's same sex marriage ban amendment. While I would not have been surprised if the national organization had taken affirmative steps against the war and in favor of gay marriage, this does not appear to be the case.

2. USA Next did not need to stretch the truth and only ended up damaging its own credibility. It has been common knowledge for years that the AARP's leadership is well to the left of its membership. The leadership has consistently supported higher payroll taxes, opposed tax cuts, and advocated copious government spending. In fact, the AARP is an active member of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which is neck-deep in Liberal causes from spreading affirmative action, to supporting so-called "hate crimes" legislation, to fighting against Bush's court nominations. The AARP is a liberal/left advocacy group and there were plenty of smoking guns out there. USA Next didn't need to build their case on such weak evidence.

3. AARP's support for Bush's Medicare plan was not an example of its bi-partisan nature, but happened for two simple reasons: (1) the bill was a liberal spending boondoggle and (2) the AARP pragmatically realized that this was the best it could hope to get with the GOP running the White House and Congress and it either had to swallow this or be completely marginalized.

4. USA Next is not going to make any real difference anyway. Millions of seniors have joined the AARP to get breaks on travel and insurance. As long their rates are reasonable, these individuals will continue to live in ignorant bliss over the political agenda of the AARP's leadership. I encountered the same phenomenon regarding the National Education Association. In a poll I saw years ago, an overwhelming amount of people said an NEA endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. Hey, they're teachers, right? And everyone loves teachers. Of course, when the pollster explained the NEA's liberal stances on some issues the poll numbers flipped. As with that case, the AARP has and will continue to paint itself as the fair and balanced supporter of senior citizens, and those seniors will continue to shell out cash for low insurance.

5. Lastly, this should also be a lesson to the GOP leadership that praising a one-time ally can come back to bite you. It should also serve as a reminder of an old Russian proverb: He who lies down with dogs, gets up with fleas.
Centinel 1:33 AM #


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