Monday, February 9, 2009

Why the Electorate Is Uninformed, Part One

As a child of an elderly, ailing parent, I get copied on her email. Occasionally it includes informative jewels like this one from the AARP:

The Congress is moving to enact the economic recovery bill – and I just heard some great news!

A crucial provision has been included in the Senate bill that would send real relief to at least 26 million older Americans who were previously getting overlooked.

But this retiree payment is not guaranteed to stay in the packageeven though it makes up only 2% of the total bill.

Will you take two minutes to help ensure that the Senate insists on maintaining this crucial provision?

Write your senators now and tell them that older Americans deserve real relief from this economic recovery legislation!

Older Americans aren’t asking for much from this economic recovery bill – just a little real relief to help them pay their bills and keep their homes. But we need to make sure this relief stays in the economic recovery legislation, and is not stripped out of any final bill.

The email includes links to an AARP online form to send a letter to Congress imploring them to keep this "real relief to seniors" in the stimulus package.

There's just one problem: nowhere in the page - or anywhere on the entire AARP site - is this "real relief" outlined in any detail.

No line item reference, no policy agenda item, no specifics on the package. Nothing.

There IS an article posted that outlines how the major policy planks and stimulus items will benefit the older segment of the population (just as it will the rest of us). But nowhere is there any indication of this real relief targeted at seniors that the email - and the corresponding letter - implies. And the letter is so vague, general and insipid that the only value it could have lies in its origination with the AARP, one of the more powerful lobbies in Washington.

It's entirely possible that the AARP intends to use this campaign to promote passage of items entirely unrelated to the emergency action it claims its membership should take. The wording is vague enough that it could be used to push almost anything.

I've seen action requests from other PACs and lobbies before: Public Citizen, MoveOn and others have used this method in the past. Most of the others, however, have at least been specific about what they want passed or rejected. There's the vaguest hint of dishonesty in AARP's request: after all, if the AARP can't tell its own membership what it's promoting, one has to ask what it is promoting that it can't tell its membership about.

If this is the level of advice most of our citizens are getting, or the specificity of the calls to action, it's no wonder that our electorate isn't up on the issues.

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