Sunday, June 05, 2011

Just say no to phony generational fights


The New York Times needs editorial help. Only a complete absence of editorial competence or integrity could have allowed a completely false headline --- Between Young and Old, a Political Collision -- to see light on Friday.

The heart of Kirk Johnson's article is an exploration of the suggestion made by one of the experts he quotes:

“Age is up for grabs,” said Fernando Torres-Gil, the director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at the University of California, Los Angeles. “In the last election it was about the young vote, and Hispanic vote — this time the issue is age.”

If you only skimmed the headline, you'd assume that the writer was about to quote young and old people in political conflict -- but that's not what he does here at all. There is not one quote from a young person anywhere in the article. Instead, there's a pretty substantial exploration of anxieties among elders in Jefferson County, Colorado and some discussion of polling data and political consultant opinions about older voters' likely behavior in the 2012 election.

Some of what Johnson highlights is actually interesting, despite a thoroughly muddled presentation.
  • The recent New York CD-26 special election, improbably won by a Democrat in a very Republican area, does show there is a "Medicare voting bloc." Older voters want to keep Medicare. Notwithstanding obstacles such as the Time's style for describing Representative Ryan's budget plan which apparently requires obfuscation and circumlocution, elders evidently believe that this plan means a vote for a Republican is a vote to end Medicare.
  • When AARP urged elders to tell their reps to let Medicare alone, "200,000 e-mails filled inboxes in Washington."
  • Besides, elders face real problems for which they expect government support.

    At least 29 states have already cut financing for programs that serve the elderly and disabled, according to a report this year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy group for low and moderate income people.

    People over 65 had the fastest rate of growth in bankruptcy filings of any demographic group even before the recession, according to a study last year by the University of Michigan Law School.

    And the National Council on Aging, a nonprofit advocacy group, estimates that 13 million older Americans are economically insecure, living on $22,000 or less, and that age discrimination in the aftermath of the recession is rampant.

    It shouldn't be surprising that older people are trying to use our votes and political activity to defend ourselves. We might even be ready to stop allowing ourselves to be distracted by "social issues" from pursuing our economic interests.
This confused article particularly disturbed me because it draws on interviews with folks from a Denver exurb a lot like the near-by one where I had the pleasure of working on the Obama campaign in 2008. In a very short time, I met hundreds of local people and was impressed by their thoughtfulness and their values.

These were people whose devotion to family simply would never have allowed them to be drawn into a competition between young and old for scarce resources. The older folks worked on the campaign so that their young relatives could get a good start in life; the young ones weren't about to throw away grandma. I can't imagine any of them being willing to be drawn into a sham generational fight -- I can imagine them demanding vocally that politicians solve our economic problems in some way that seems fair and offers the greatest good to the greatest number. This may look impossible in Washington, but it seems dead obvious out in the country at large. And it's safe to assume that neither young nor old think the highest good ought to be saving rich people from paying taxes.

If 2012 really is the year of the old, Republicans are likely to be in trouble. I don't see either young or old giving up on each other. Those who want to set up the fight forget at their peril that we all start out young and become old and in between we are in the same families, even if there is friction. Plutocrats don't need social solidarity; most people have little else to fall back on and will fight for it.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

I don't think most young people want Medicare to go away -- most of them are having a hard time in this economy, too, and can't afford to help granny.

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