Swifties Slime Again

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

February 24, 2005

WASHINGTON

Instead of trying to destroy AARP, Republicans should be signing up the seniors' lobby to find Osama.

AARP's super-relentless intelligence network is certainly better than that doddering C.I.A's. Osama has to have turned 50, and AARP somehow knows where everyone who has turned 50 lives.

But no. The same Republicans who used to love AARP when it helped them pass the president's prescription drug plan now hate AARP because it is against the president's plan to privatize Social Security.

"They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts," said Charlie Jarvis, the president of USA Next, a conservative lobbying group. "We will be the dynamite that removes them." He sounded more like Wile E. Coyote than a former interior official in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. "They can run, but they can't hide," he said. But the walker-and-cane set is hard to picture in the Road Runner role.

The Washington Monthly called USA Next's United Seniors Association, a self-styled AARP rival, "a soft-money slush fund for a single G.O.P.-friendly industry: pharmaceuticals."

Certainly, AARP, the gigantic special interest flush with money, probably does wield undue influence and certainly can be an obstacle to public policy, sticking up too much for what their critics call "greedy geezers."

But AARP doesn't deserve this treatment from the "Swift Boat" political demolition team. As Glen Justice reported in The Times, USA Next, which has spent millions on Republican policy fights, has pledged to spend as much as $10 million on ads and other tactics to "dynamite" AARP and get Americans to rip up Social Security. It's hiring some of the same consultants who helped the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who dynamited John Kerry, a war hero, by sliming him as a war criminal.

Once again, just as W. runs into political trouble, he floats above the fray while the help takes out his opponents. Just as John McCain was smeared by Bush supporters in 2000, Swift Boat assassins can rid the president of any meddlesome adversaries now.

The USA Next group intends to combine the two ruthless success stories of the Bush re-election: the Swiftian tactic of amplifying its vicious and dishonest attacks through the media, and the Rovian tactic of hanging gay marriage like an anvil around the neck of a foe.

It began with an almost comically hyperbolic Internet ad that briefly ran on The American Spectator's Web site, painting AARP as pro-gay sex - even though it's tough to think of AARP and steamy lust in the same hot breath - and anti-soldier. It showed a soldier with a red X across him, and two gay men kissing at their nuptuals, with the headline "The REAL AARP Agenda."

(Mr. Jarvis, who used to be executive vice president of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, also urged his Web site readers to "support Mel Gibson's 'The Passion.' " The group's national chairman is Art Linkletter; it seems that aging right-wing trash-talkers say the darndest things.)

AARP has not taken a position on same-sex marriage. But Mr. Jarvis told Judy Woodruff on CNN's "Inside Politics" yesterday that it had opposed a proposal in November to ban same-sex marriage in Ohio.

This was, of course, specious. The Ohio chapter of AARP objected to the proposal because it said the wording could affect legal recognition of any union, even of older heterosexuals living together.

The oleaginous Mr. Jarvis explained that the soldier was X-ed out on the ad because AARP does not "take a position on veterans and combat veterans' health and support an expansion of their assets. And we do." That is so lame. Just because AARP doesn't endorse a USA Next plan for veterans' health, that doesn't mean it hates American soldiers.

Mr. Jarvis defended his ad by saying that he was simply trying to provoke liberal bloggers, and that he succeeded. In fact, part of the sinister beauty of the Swift Boat method is its viral quality: it slips into a host body - "Inside Politics," say - and hijacks it. An ad it showed briefly on the Internet has now been replicated free, all over the world, and, yes, it is now being transmitted through the Op-Ed page of The New York Times.

Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey sent a letter to President Bush yesterday calling the USA Next ad "incendiary" and asking him to denounce such tactics. But, of course, President Bush has nothing whatsoever to do with any of this. Right?

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com