Ellis Henican: 'Bash-the-AARP effort off to a smarmy start'
Wednesday, February 23 @ 10:00:33 EST
By Ellis Henican, Newsday
It's like a Washington sequel to "Reservoir Dogs."
Finally rested up from their cynical assault last year on John Kerry's patriotism, the most ruthless smear squad in American politics is back together again.
And they're revving up for another nasty job.
Their latest ugly enterprise? Slamming the AARP, which had the nerve to come out against President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security.
This is the same gang of rhetorical hatchet men behind the deceptively named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. During last year's presidential campaign, they were telling vicious lies about Kerry's combat record in Vietnam. Now, they're turning their trash talk on the nation's largest and most effective senior citizens lobbying group, which they'll try to tar as an extreme left-wing cabal.
Any reason not to name names?
Ex-Marine Chris LaCivita, who wrote the incendiary Swift Boat commercials ripping Kerry's war record, is coordinating the anti-AARP media campaign.
Rick Reed, whose Virginia-based ad agency Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm handled production on the Swifties' print and broadcast ads, will be standing over the editing console again
Creative Response Concepts of Arlington, Va., the Swifties' public relations firm, is handling PR this time, too.
And lurking in the shadows nearby, ready to rush out any late-breaking anti-AARP books, is the hard-right print shop known as Regnery Publishing. These are the ruthless knife-twisters who published the hateful anti-Kerry screed, "Unfit for Command."
(REGNERY is owned by a white supremist and hate monger. Google the name and see what pops up. These people really keep good company. )
Keep a jaundiced eye out for "Unfit to Get Old."
Money certainly won't be a problem, not with the deep-pocketed Republican donors and well-crafted direct-mail network this crowd can depend on. Bringing the old gang together and coughing up the dough - $10 million just for starters, by one estimate - is an organization called USA Next.
Founded as the United Senior Association by legendary Republican direct-mail jockey Richard Viguerie in 1991, USA Next is a bare-knuckles conservative lobbying group masquerading as a senior citizens association. Viguerie and the group's current president, Charlie Jarvis, have developed quite a knack for scaring old people with dire warnings about their Social Security checks.
Now they'll try to demonize the insufficiently compliant AARP.
"They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts," USA Next president Charlie Jarvis told New York Times reporter Glen Justice the other day. "We will be the dynamite that removes them."
Jarvis is a former undersecretary in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Justice has done prize-worthy reporting highlighting the dogs' 2005 reunion.
Actually, the AARP is an odd target for this kind of venom.
With 36 million members, a busy headquarters in Washington and chapters across the nation, it's as mainstream a lobbying group as you can find in American politics. Anyone 50 or older is eligible to join. And many do for the discount life insurance, the cheap hotel rates and the straightforward financial advice.
Whenever issues come up that affect older Americans, AARP makes sure their voices are heard. So of course, they'd take a careful look at any effort to monkey with Social Security. No one in the White House was using words like "extremist" or "left wing" two years ago when the AARP came out in favor of the president's prescription-drug plan.
Now, "You're a card-carrying member of the AARP" could become the No. 1 conservative insult in Washington, supplanting the dreaded ACLU.
But this time, quite a few Americans from all walks of life will have to shrug and say, "Well, yeah, I guess I am."
The USA Next bash-the-AARP campaign is getting off to a truly reprehensible start: An Internet ad titled "The REAL AARP Agenda." It was posted Monday to various right-wing Web sites.
The ad makes the preposterous claim that the AARP hates the troops and loves gays.
The ad features two photos: One picture, of a U.S. solder in combat gear, has a big red X drawn through it. The second photo shows two men in wedding tuxedos, kissing - and a big red checkmark.
By yesterday, a roar of outrage had risen from Democrats on Capitol Hill, and the ad seemed to have been pulled, at least temporarily.
But if this is any indication of the tactics to come, it could be a very nasty spring in Washington, for those card-carriers especially.
Reprinted from Newsday: