Sunday, March 13, 2005

If You Lay Down with Dogs . . .

Everyone knows that if you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Anyone considering doing business with the Bush administration had better get an extra strength flea collar first.

Take the AARP, please. In 2003 the AARP cut a deal with Republicans in Congress to pass the Medicare Drug Bill. That is the same bill that does absolutely nothing to lower the cost of prescription drugs. In fact, it forbids the U.S. government to in any way assist in lowering drug costs. It turns out that AARP CEO William Novelli is a big fan of Newt Gingrich, yes, that Newt Gingrich, and believes that privatization of entitlement programs is the way to go.

Well, now the AARP is feeling the wrath of the right wing. I guess their flea collar just wasn't big enough. USA Next, the GOP front organization propagandizing against social security, has the AARP in its cross hairs. Read this interview that appeared in today's New York Times magazine.


AARP's Antagonist


Published: March 13, 2005

USA Next engineered the recent controversial ad that branded AARP pro-gay marriage and included a photograph of two men kissing.

What else are you planning?

In a few weeks, there will be ads that very specifically and aggressively brand AARP for what they are, the planet's largest liberal lobbying organization. When they are honest about that, we will take a large number of their members away.

With a budget of $10 million, how much advertising can you afford?

We're talking about TV, radio, Internet ads, large-scale direct mail and e-mail and telephone alerts. And the telephone alerts, for example, are extraordinarily inexpensive. I can call every household in South Dakota in just four hours. And it would cost only $10,000.

But don't all sane adults hang up on those prerecorded digital phone solicitations?

We know that in the range of 10 percent of those called will respond to our message.
With 35 million members, AARP is considered the leading organizational champion of seniors in this country, and I am wondering whether you can say anything positive about the group. I have nothing positive to say about their goals. They are stodgy, out-of-date and they don't really know the facts about an issue like Social Security. We do.

Isn't that just a lot of ideological name-calling?

No. This is a Democratic republic. Democratic republics are loud, and they should be.

Critics say your organization is not a legitimate lobbying group but a front for those who want to privatize Social Security, including Karl Rove, the president's chief strategist.

I have never had a one-to-one meeting with him.

What about a two-to-one meeting?

I've met him. I think he is a political and tactical genius. I've been in presentations by him at the White House briefings.

Does he know your name?

Now he does. He would say, of course: ''Charlie Jarvis was the one who was in that interview in The New York Times Magazine. And how did he blow that interview so badly?''

You previously worked for Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian group that recently dubbed Sponge Bob Square Pants a promoter of homosexuality.

I call him Sponge Robert Square Pants because I don't know him well.

How much time did you spend in the Oval Office during the years when you worked as a deputy under secretary of the interior for President Reagan and the first President Bush?

The deputy under secretary of the interior is position No. 3 in that department. I was a lowly figure. I probably met Bill Clinton more than I met Reagan. Clinton is absolutely, undeniably the most charming person I have ever met in my whole life.

Is your family in agreement with your politics?

Not completely. My two older sons, who are 21 and 19, lean toward a left-libertarian perspective. They wonder what we are doing in Iraq, and they are very concerned about the implications of the Patriot Act. We have had some very honest, knockdown arguments.

Do you care if your sons vote Democratic?

They have to make those decisions for themselves. I mean, I am going to beat them with a rubber hose if they do!

In addition to dismantling Social Security, what are the goals of USA Next?

Generally, we want to provide private-sector solutions to public health programs. Also, we want to eliminate the death tax, and radically cut the capital-gains tax.

As a leading critic of Social Security, how do you plan to support yourself in your old age?

I'm 55. I don't think of myself as getting older. I think of myself as maturing.

Your comment suggests that you are currently immature.

My wife insists that I am.

Whatever Charlie. I have two points about social security. Number one, the Republicans are master propagandists. I fear that they will succeed in getting rid of social security altogether, or altering it so badly that it will cease to function as the solvent, entitlement program that helps millions of Americans survive.

The Republicans have not given up because they had the foresight to form organizations like USA Next. While they perfect their propagandizing the Democrats don't even know how to tell the simple story of how social security works better than any other government program.

So don't sneer when USA Next uses gay marriage to fight the AARP. It was just a trial balloon. They will come up with something else that resonates with millions of Americans. The question is this. What will the Democrats do to counter it?