It may seem odd, but I do enjoy getting negative replies from organizations I have taken to task for disingenuous or bad behavior. Invariably, they contain all manner of attempts at making me look as if I haven’t done my homework and my accusations are wrong.
One such communiqué arrived from AARP in response to my recent article, AARP, what a tangled web you weave when you practice to deceive. Clearly, I struck a nerve.
In the article, I took the group to task for duplicitous and diversionary TV ads designed to unnecessarily scare Social Security and Medicare recipients, and to manipulate the elderly into pulling the Democrat lever because those nasty Republicans want to reform entitlements. That the GOP is desperately trying to save these programs from bankruptcy a decade or two down the road is meaningless to AARP and Democrats. Such entities are famously myopic because they focus only on the here and now. That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in. No vision.
Never, however, have I received a response so filled with qualifiers (could, may, might, possibly, discussions), assertions, innuendo and assumptions so neatly gilded to appear as facts as I did in this letter. It’s textbook corpspeak designed to discredit me and mount a defense of what’s indefensible. It didn’t work.
Due to space limitations, I can’t share the whole letter, but will pick the most salient arguments and respond.
The ads being run no more pass the smell test than does the absurd and malicious ad put out by some radical left-wing cesspool that had a Paul Ryan lookalike pushing a wheelchair-bound elderly lady off a cliff. Yeah, that was classy trash that was so far from the truth as to be unimaginable. The AARP ads are far more tame and reasonable, but still disingenuous because they make people afraid of hot air, nothing more. Fortunately, only about 10% of members, and those on the left believe them. Independents are asking why they’re running the ads, and recent polls show that the elderly, long-time Democratic voters, are beginning to peel away from Obama alarmingly.
The current ads have a call to action, a petition AARP wants it’s members to sign. They have 40 million members according to three sources I checked (CBS News, USA Today, Wikipedia) while the latest ad implies they are 50 million in number. In fact, the actor says, “We’re 50 million strong.” Apparently, not so.
The call to action is signing a petition to send to Congress. So far, according to AARP, some 4+ million have signed the group’s hands-off-our-benefits petition. That’s just 10% of the membership, leaving some doubt about how well these are getting seniors ginned up to sign petitions and send off nasty letters to Congress.
Now for the letter itself, which begins cheerily: “In his October 17 attack on AARP’s recent television ad, we have to conclude that James Hyde is either ignoring or is unaware of the numerous proposals being discussed in Washington which could cut the Medicare and Social Security benefits seniors and near-retirees have earned through a lifetime of hard work.”
Right off the bat we find our first two-word qualifier, “which could.” Could is a scary word to some because it implies that such things as benefit cuts are imminent (I love how cleverly organizations like this use qualifiers or disclaimers, all of which lead to false conclusions in the minds of the uninformed).
As for my ignorance or naïveté, I keep my finger firmly on Washington’s pulse and stay well informed about what is flying around in the Capitol rotunda. I’ve been a journalist since 1985, majored in Political Science, studied law, have worked for numerous candidates, some big names, and I’ve run campaigns and run for office myself, so the backs of my ears dried decades ago. I am neither ignorant nor naïve. Importantly, I learned quickly to look for “code words” such as “could” and saw how they were effective with those not trained to pick them up. I call them “air words” because there is nothing with which to back them up. They’re vapor concern fabricated for political reasons.
Right now, beside members of the Super Committee, there is not a member of the House or Senate who would so much as broach the topic of entitlement reform in legislative format without risking ballot-box retirement. I Googled “entitlement reform bills before the House and Senate” and got a measly four hits, none of which mentioned any pending entitlement legislation before either chamber. Ergo, the assertion that “there are numerous proposals being discussed in Washington” and the implication that it’s pandemic is disingenuous and a massive stretch if it’s intended to prove that there are serious threats being posed to the entitlements.
Mr. Allen further wrote: “Mr. Hyde also states in his column that AARP’s ad could be seen as an attack on Republicans. This is particularly puzzling given the bipartisan make-up of the supercommittee, the concerns we’ve raised with a Democratic administration…and the fact that we are a nonpartisan organization.”
First, it’s common knowledge that the Republicans want to reform the entitlement system so it can survive (it can’t on its current trajectory), and the Democrats slap their hands over their ears at the mere mention of the words “entitlement reform.” Thus, the GOP is pro entitlement reform and the Democrats generally will have no part of it. To anyone with a modicum of common sense, and considering the entitlement reforms in Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget, these ads are clearly aimed at making Republicans look like bad guys who throw grannies off cliffs. They’re also intended to stop the “elderly slide” away from Obama and other Democrats.
Second, the makeup of the Super Committee is bipartisan, but it’s also believed that with the likes of the ever-combative John Kerry (D-MA) and the uncooperative Patty Murray (D-WA) on the Democrat’s side of the committee, entitlement reform will be yanked off the table, which means the committee, which is tasked with finding over $2 trillion in additional cuts that must involve entitlements, won’t reach an agreement by Thanksgiving as mandated.
At that point, the Democrats will begin to party hardy. Not only will entitlements remain unaffected, but what Democrats like to target most, our Defense budget, will be sliced open from belly to gullet with a 50% budget cut. That will leave us impossibly short of the military power we need to protect not only the homeland, but our interests abroad, from myriad and growing threats.
Third, many organizations declare themselves nonpartisan, but the drivel they produce tells a very different story. To be fair, there are conservative groups that claim to be nonpartisan when they’re not, but in recent years AARP has moved to the left, and while they have had some minor dustups (not outlined in the letter) with Obama, endorsing ObamaCare speaks reams. In addition, with ObamaCare being the law of the land, AARP just happens to offer health insurance in full compliance with ObamaCare’s onerous dictates. They stand to make boatloads of money from their membership.
Let’s be clear here. Any attempt to change or cut entitlements is not about to happen before 2013, when, hopefully, the GOP takes the White House and Senate and builds on its majority in the House. But should the Democrats remain in control, entitlement reform is anathema to them, so how would such reform survive the legislative process? It won’t and both entitlements are slated for bankruptcy if changes aren’t made and soon.
Next, Mr. Allen provides some more qualifiers: “Just this past June, Senators Tom Coburn and Joe Lieberman proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare, which increases costs throughout the health care system. This proposal is still being actively discussed and some of the nation’s largest hospital and insurance groups are openly lobbying for such a change.”
Response: “Just this past June”? That’s written as if it was just last week. In fact it was five months ago and in Washington that’s eons, yet look at all of the entitlement reform that came out of that.
Next, show me reliable data that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that raising the eligibility age for Medicare recipients will increase costs throughout the healthcare system. What I’ve seen is what amounts to nothing more than “what-if” scenarios on Excel spreadsheets or government PDF files, all speculative. There is no compelling proof that costs will absolutely rise if the eligibility age is raised.
Then: “This proposal is still being actively discussed.” The qualifiers here are “actively discussed.” Yes, reform is being discussed, perhaps even actively, whatever that means. But that does not equate to being crafted into legislation, passed and waiting for the president’s signature. I’ll say it again, except for what the Super Committee is discussing, there is no legislation before either the House or Senate that is being seriously considered to reform either Social Security or Medicare. Talk, yes, legislation, no.
Mr. Allen continues: “In addition, the Senate Gang of Six and the President’s bipartisan fiscal commission – whose proposals are being considered by the so-called “supercommittee” – proposed changing the formula for calculating Social Security’s annual cost of living increases starting as soon as next year. Reducing the COLA would cost today’s seniors thousands of dollars over their lifetimes.”
Response: The proposal of the Gang of Six has been deep sixed by Harry Reid (D-NV) and won’t be coming back up, although segments of it may. But for now, it’s in Reid’s cryonics lab with the other Republican bills he won’t even assign to committees.
Next, according to the Social Security site the last year in which a COLA was meted out was 2008, three years ago. Just this month it was announced there will be a 3.6% COLA which will show up in checks in January. How convenient with an election year nearly upon us. So seniors have gone without a COLA for three years and there’s no mention of that in the ads and no major editorial I’ve seen decrying the lapse. Mr. Allen’s is a specious argument, and the timing, given the deliberations of the Super Committee and the election, is amazingly convenient.
I stand by what I wrote in my first article. These ads are like aiming bullets at the sky. There’s nothing to shoot at. And it’s clear to most reasonable people that this issue was picked to keep the elderly in the Democrat’s column. My apologies, Mr. Allen, but your letter refutes nothing I wrote.
Finally, to prove my point completely, I would invite readers to visit the horse’s mouth, the message board on the AARP site where most of the comments are asking the same questions I am. Why is AARP making TV ads about seniors whose benefits are 100% guaranteed to be safe? The only answer is an ulterior motive, and that is keeping the elderly in the Obama column.
Don’t ever consider the older folks amongst us naïve or unable to clearly understand what messages are shoved at them. The majority apparently sees these ads for what they are, and good for them. My one surprise is that they’re still members after watching such ridiculous and utterly needless ads aimed at scaring them witless. The lesson to be learned? Don’t pee on your members’ legs and tell them it’s rain.