The decision by the AARP to support a Republican-sponsored Medicare drug bill was a shock to Democrats and the media. It has led to a spate of negative stories about the group. An Associated Press story on November 26 reported that senior citizens were angry over the AARP’s endorsement of the bill and were “ripping up or burning their AARP membership cards?” in “what could be the biggest revolt in its ranks since the 1980s.”
The article later noted that between 10,000 and 15,000 members had quit over AARP supporting the bill, but this is out of a membership of 35 million. Such reports prompted filmmaker Michael Moore to declare that AARP was “imploding” because it had broken with the Democrats.
This overblown criticism exposes a liberal bias. The Washington Monthly in 1992 went so far as to describe AARP as among the “bosses” of the Democratic Party, along with teachers’ unions and government employees. As long as the AARP toed the liberal line, it was largely immune from criticism. Considered the largest and most influential organization representing senior citizens, the AARP is so liberal that it supported the Clinton administration’s socialized-medicine plan. But many of its members are conservative, and seniors constitute the most conservative demographic in the country. The AARP’s own poll found that its members were overwhelmingly against the Clinton health-care scheme.
When the AARP endorsed the Republican Medicare bill, the gloves came off, led by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in a column headlined, “AARP Gone Astray.” This was the line of the Democratic Party, and it was echoed in the media. A favorite tactic of the Times, the Washington Post and the NBC Nightly News was to dispatch reporters to Florida and other locations to find seniors opposed to the bill. NBC Nightly News reporter Mark Mullen asked, “What do seniors think of it?” and showed several seniors with critical comments. He didn’t mention that the AARP supported the bill.
Another tactic was to find other groups opposed to it. One was the Medicare Rights Center, featured on MSNBC. Viewers weren’t told that the group’s board includes Andrew Stern, president of the country’s largest union of health-care workers, the Service Employees International Union, which has endorsed Howard Dean for president. Another organized-labor front group opposed to the bill is the Alliance for Retired Americans. Its executive director is a liberal political consultant who has worked for Senator John Kerry, another presidential candidate.
These groups opposed the Medicare bill because it doesn’t guarantee government control of prescription drug plans. For this reason, some conservatives are hopeful. Robert Goldberg, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress, says, “This legislation is not perfect, but it begins to redefine how medical care is financed in America, and its principal focus is truly non-partisan: improving Medicare so that seniors receive better healthcare through choices of their own.” But many conservatives are still dubious and critical.