BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
Speculation abounds over the presumed casualties of the rancorous healthcare debate raging across the country. Any politician -- left or right, pro- or anti- reform -- who is up for reelection next year is seen as vulnerable to losing their seat over the success or failure of the proposed changes to our nation's healthcare system, depending upon who you talk to.
But who says only politicians stand to win or lose based on the outcome of the healthcare debate? Turns out, there is equal opportunity to exploit the desire for -- and fear of -- change in this country.
Advocacy groups are hunting for new members using the healthcare debate to divide and conquer specific voting blocs. One self-styled "David" is trying to fight a battle with what they call the "Goliath" of seniors' organizations: the AARP. A little-known group called the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) rented the conservative news site Newsmax's mailing list to attack the senior citizen's advocacy group for supposedly supporting "wasteful proposals that will take away our freedom and replace it with rationed health coverage." AMAC urges Newsmax readers to renounce their AARP membership and sign up with them instead.
The group is making a veiled reference to AARP's support for healthcare reform in an attempt to peel off members and get them to sign up with AMAC. The AARP (originally known as the American Association of Retired Persons) boasts 40 million members in fifty states across the country. AMAC also boasts members in each state, but misleadingly admits they're "tiny compared to AARP's 26 million members."
AMAC is attempting to pattern itself off of AARP's membership structure by offering discounts on hotels and insurance, but they are far from national, offering local discounts in only three communities (two in New York state and one in Florida). When one does a Google search for AMAC, the Web site for "the conservative organization for seniors and Americans age 50 plus" comes up in the number eight slot, after the Alternative Media Access Center, the Association in Manhattan for Autistic Children, the Airport Minority Advisory Council and several others.
Though AMAC's actual numbers are undisclosed, the figures were certainly boosted by the fact that membership was offered for free in January 2008, a cost savings of $12.50. But AMAC has competition from other groups besides the AARP.
Up until now, media attention has focused on the American Seniors Association (ASA), a similar group started in 2005 that was the main beneficiary from the recent uproar over AARP's support of healthcare reform. According to the nonpartisan Sourcewatch, the ASA is a member of the Internet Freedom Coalition, which is funded by the Institute for Liberty, a Washington D.C. think tank which supports Glenn Beck's 9/12 movement and helped harvest cell phone numbers to promote and organize tea party protests this year.
Part of the reason for these opposition groups' success is media coverage that fails to point out the blatant lies and misrepresentations forwarded by such "advocacy" groups. Last month, CBS reported that some 60,000 AARP members tore up their membership cards, some of whom signed up with ASA instead. When you read the article and its total lack of objective analysis, it's not hard to see how seniors could get the idea that the AARP is trying to have it both ways:
The American Seniors Association is flat-out against President Obama's plan, which calls for $313 billion dollars in Medicare cuts over ten years. The AARP is widely viewed as supporting the President.
Last week, Obama told a town meeting in Portsmouth, NH, "We have the AARP on board because they know this is a good deal for our seniors."
The AARP called the President's statements "inaccurate," saying it hasn't endorsed any plan or bill.
Some were left with the feeling that AARP was waffling.
"I feel they're supporting it through the backdoor, and telling members that they're not through the front door," said Guardiani.
"AARP has not endorsed any plan at this point," said Cheryl Matheis, AARP VP for Social Impact.
There's a lot wrong with just this little excerpt of CBS's article. It's true that the AARP supports healthcare reform, not any specific plan. They haven't changed their mind on this, so to suggest that they're "waffling" is a distortion.
At the point in time when this report was filed, there was no "President Obama's plan," as the article claims. Furthermore, Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele recently praised the same Medicare "cuts" the article talks about as a way to "maximize the efficiencies of the program."
While it's unclear whether or not Obama and the AARP are aligned in their vision for healthcare reform, it appears that these two groups agree with the GOP. Though both ASA and AMAC claim to be nonpartisan nonprofits, the truth is not quite as clear-cut.
AMAC boasts of having "coordinated several Tax Payer Tea Parties in New York and Florida, some of which gathered over 2,500 peaceful protestors." At the bottom of AMAC's FAQ page, the organization feels the need to state its support for the Second Amendment, though opposition to gun control seems to have very little to do with advocating for mature American citizens.
AMAC founder Dan Weber trumpets religion and free enterprise while railing against socialism and taxation, but I can't help but wonder whether his three decades spent running a private insurance company had anything to do with his recent decision to start an "advocacy" group that offers members discounts on -- well, insurance.
For their part, ASA organizes their beliefs into four pillars. Besides advocating a flat tax and attacking illegal immigrants who are somehow stealing social security benefits (when in reality undocumented workers pay into social security generally without being able to reap retirement benefits), ASA has some interesting thoughts on entitlement programs.
They advocate the reform of Medicare, a program they call the "most abused and wasteful of all federal programs." They also advocate the creation of personal Social Security accounts, a privatization scheme we've heard before. So, at the same time that they're warning that Obama's fictional plan for socialized medicine will take away seniors' access to Medicare, it sure sounds like they'd like to see spending on the program cut.
Their "advocacy" comes into question when you peruse the "services" offered to members, such as discounts on prescription drugs, health insurance and "product solutions for Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan, Medicare Supplemental Insurance and Medicare Advantage Plans." One wonders what might happen to their health savings account business, for example, if insurance reform became an actuality.
Much as Republicans try to lure grey panther votes by warning that the Democrats want to eliminate Medicare, these seniors' groups are trying to align themselves with the independent spirit of aging Baby Boomers to gain some of the political importance imparted on the AARP by casting fears about socialized medicine.
It's truly unfortunate that groups such as AMAC and ASA feel the need to distort the debate over healthcare reform to such a degree that seniors would unwittingly rally against the very programs upon which they depend. After all, if anything out there resembles "socialized medicine" it's the Medicare/Medicaid program.
But digging deeper into the actual tenets of these groups, one finds that their focus on gun ownership and illegal immigrants is tangential to seniors' concerns at best. Seniors' political beliefs are just as diverse as any other group. But a real concern to any senior considering group membership should be their views on the privatization of Medicare and Social Security, especially if they depend upon such programs for survival, as a large segment of the elderly population in this country does.
It's one thing to simply vote against your own interests. But it's quite another to be a card-carrying member of an organization working to undermine the very institutions upon which you depend.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS