Is Grandma Un-American?

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When I first heard that friends of the Bush administration were going to start attacking AARP, I didn't think it could be true. First of all, what could possibly be objectionable about the "seniors lobby," and secondly, was it really politically wise for anyone to attack an organization of those over 50? But as is often the case, I was wrong: Bush supporters are actually going after AARP, apparently not worried about getting yelled at by their own mothers and grandmothers.

They aren't saying they're against everyone over 50. They're just against this organization. But what could they possibly not like about a group that opposes age discrimination, promotes physical and economic health for seniors, and projects an image of vitality for those over 50? It comes down to two magic words: "Social Security." AARP is against sweeping changes in Social Security, and the Administration is for them. One White House official has said, "The AARP is an ossified bureaucracy that isn't always responsive to its membership." You read that correctly. Someone in the federal government actually referred to another organization as "ossified" and "not always responsive." The Republicans are saying AARP is "too conservative!" What are they going to say next: that some of its spokespeople talk in a folksy way and sound "too Texan?"

Get ready to hear all kinds of charges about AARP's "secret agendas." These people can make their anti-AARP charges because they're pros. They're political mudslingers. If slingers could smear John McCain about his adopted child, if they could turn a war hero like John Kerry into a near-traitor, they're certainly not going to have qualms about attacking AARP. One group behind this is USA Next, which has received millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies. Another contributor is Bob Perry, one of the key people behind the "Swift Boat Veterans" group. So, it should be interesting to watch these guys try to turn the image of AARP from "Mom And Apple Pie" to "Seniors Without Family Values."

But don't underestimate AARP. It's a well-oiled machine, as anyone who has celebrated a 50th birthday knows. On the very day that you hit the big five-oh, right after you've looked in the mirror and told yourself, "I don't really look 50," the AARP magazine arrives in the mail. They don't even give you a few days to kid yourself. I don't know how they know everybody's birthday and everybody's address, but they do. Does that sound like an organization that's going to take an attack sitting on its IRAs?

There may be some gray hair in AARP, but there's also a lot of gray matter. They have 38 million members. That's a lot of educated, experienced people to tick off. And this isn't a bloc of people who are shy about voting or writing to their representatives in Washington. Speaking of Washington, I wonder how many people in the Bush Administration are members of AARP. Can they all honestly say that they've never been tempted to take an AARP discount or read about the latest Hollywood celebrity to turn 50? And now that the president has been telling everyone that he reads before bed, is it really a stretch to picture him in his presidential PJ's, reading his personal copy of the AARP Magazine? Maybe he bases some of his diet and exercise program on things suggested by AARP. That's a lot more likely than his picking up pointers from "The Playboy Advisor."

So, it should be an interesting, if unfortunate, fight. It still amazes me that these guys have chosen AARP as an opponent. Who are they going to pick on next? Poor people who can't afford prescriptions? The little guy who wants to sue the huge corporation? Silly cartoon characters? Oh, that's right. They've already gone after all of them.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver