WASHINGTON — Defenders of Social Security angrily demanded that President George W. Bush disavow a right-wing attack ad that targets the AARP, the nation’s largest organization for people 50 and older, for its opposition to Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security.
The ad, sponsored by the far-right front group USA Next, features a photo of a soldier with thick yellow lines crossing him out. Beside it is another photo of two men in tuxedos kissing. The caption reads, “The real AARP agenda.”
Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) accused Bush and his White House minions of instigating the attack on the AARP. In a blistering letter to the president, Corzine wrote, “Deploying mercenaries to smear opponents of your plan is beneath the dignity of the American people and not an honorable tactic.”
His letter continued, “The motive for USA Next’s irresponsible use of such hot button issues is not difficult to decipher: If you can’t attack the message, attack the messenger, no matter how dishonest and off-base those attacks become.”
Corzine demanded that Bush “without delay or ambiguity … repudiate the tactics employed by USA Next” and “restore civility and honor to the ongoing Social Security dialogue.”
Patti Reilly, communications director of the AFL-CIO-affiliated Alliance of Retired Americans, said, “These ads have no place in a truthful Social Security debate. The producers are just hired guns engaged in despicable scare tactics.”
USA Next calls its campaign, “Stop Scaring Seniors.” In 1992, the group, then called United Seniors of America, sent out a deceitful mailer headlined, “All the Social Security Trust Fund Money is Gone.”
Ever since, the group has used fear mongering to promote turning Social Security over to Wall Street profiteers. “They accuse us of spreading fear but they use those tactics, not us,” Reilly said. “It is Bush and those who want to demolish and privatize Social Security who use those scare words. They try to convince people there is a crisis when there is no crisis. The system is not going bankrupt. Bush was asked to condemn USA Next’s scare tactics and he did not.”
More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition initiated by Democracy for America demanding that the media refuse to air the USA Next ads. “I demand that you keep hate speech and false claims off the air,” the petition reads. DFA Communications Director Noreeen Nielson told the World the outpouring has been so widespread and angry that USA Next was forced to pull an ad originally scheduled for $10 million worth of airing across the nation.
David Smith, Human Rights Campaign vice president for policy, called the USA Next ads “nothing short of vile.” They are “just appealing to the most base anti-gay prejudices and trying to exploit prejudices for political gain,” he said.
The ads are seen as a maneuver to shore up Bush’s floundering crusade to privatize Social Security. A recent USA Today poll showed that 56 percent oppose the scheme. Support fell after Bush traveled to eight states to drum up enthusiasm. Every participant at his staged rallies was screened to insure that only Bush supporters were admitted.
During the recent congressional recess, lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, ran into a wall of opposition during town hall meetings in their home states.
AARP, which claims 38 million members, began airing television and full-page newspaper ads three weeks before Bush’s inaugural, debunking his claims that Social Security is in crisis and should be privatized.
The USA Next attack ads were produced by the same right-wing public relations crew that turned out the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ads that slandered John Kerry in last year’s presidential election. Kerry, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, was depicted as a coward and a war criminal in those ads.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich), ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Democrats’ leader in the fight against privatization, said, “The president can’t simply look the other way as supporters of his Social Security privatization plans … launch a character assassination campaign against the AARP. He must condemn these efforts immediately.”
AARP media spokesperson Steve Hahn told the World, “We are advocates of Social Security based on the issues, not the distractions. We have not taken positions on gay marriage or the troops. But it has been known for a long time now that [USA Next] gets its funding from the pharmaceuticals. It’s widely known that Social Security is fully funded until 2042. They are using erroneous information to divert attention from the real issues. They do have the ability to raise lots of money from their corporate donors.”