Legendary allies, like Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Claude Pepper of Florida, are gone. A formidable phalanx of key policy players have mobilized to advance proposals for deep cuts or radical restructuring of entitlements. AARP’s ambivalence will only embolden politicians who already have challenged the alleged unity of the “senior vote,” realizing that it has long been fragmented by differences in income, ideology, education, race, religion, gender and marital status.
But a strong AARP stand on Social Security and Medicare has the potential support of not only 78 million aging boomers but also the general public; polls have found broad majorities opposed to slashing Social Security and converting Medicare into a voucher system.
It might also heal the ideological rifts and mini-mutiny wrought by AARP’s support of Mr. Obama’s health care plan. That episode cost AARP at least 400,000 members, many of whom wrote angry letters and e-mails accusing it of selling out older Americans and redistributing Medicare funds to other groups (a suspicion that lingers because the Obama health care overhaul projects a reduction in the rate of increase in Medicare spending). Finally, leading a popular political crusade might dispel the stereotype that AARP puts profits over principles.