Rule #1: Don't Piss Off The Old Folks

Well Sam certainly hit that nail on the head. The question, though, is whether or not setting some weird front group like USA Next in opposition to AARP is really such a smart idea. AARP's spokespeople certainly won't be alone in news articles, but whether or not anyone actually cares about the pull quotes from both sides is open to dispute. Moreover, they never got articles all to themselves, a CATO-flack or heritage "expert" always contradicted AARP's take, so I'm unconvinced that this play for media equivalency does the right any good.

More to the point, G.W. had a good thing going in mending fences with AARP. There's no doubt that Medicare would've failed without their backing, and, even if it had miraculously passed without AARP's, there would've been no cover when AARP decided to turn out its members against the scoundrels who wrecked their system. But even though AARp lined up against Medicare, if you can't be friends, you can at least be enemies only temporarily. Siccing USA Next on them doesn't offer rapprochement a few years down the line, it pushes them into full-out opposition towards the president and his party.

One thing that was nice about the Swift Vets deal, and is doubly in effect now that USA Next hired their media team, is that the veneer of plausible deniability really fell away for the Bush administration. There was no doubt that the attacks were part and parcel of the reelection effort, and there'll be no doubt that these attacks are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Bush administration. That's liable to leave the 35 million-person AARP with the impression that Republicans want to kneecap them now and for the future, and they best move to show that such things shouldn't be attempted. And that, of course, plays into the central truth of Bush's tax-cutting and budget-busting and privatizing schemes, which is that all of them make future Republican congressmen cannon fodder. Privatization has just worked quicker than its backloaded cousins, of course, but when the economic consequences come due for all these initiatives, there'll be electoral consequences right there with them. Pissing off AARP simply hastens the reckoning, particularly for no-name congressmen in districts with large populations of seniors.

A few months back, the administration understood this and was doing everything in its power to assure seniors that they wouldn't be touched by the new plans, that they and AARP really didn't have a dog in this fight. But now AARP does have a dog and, more to the point, it's actually their dog. So they not only want to mobilize seniors to fight privatization, but to protect their organization and head off future challenges. I wouldn't necessarily like to be Katherine Harris when that counterattack manifests at the ballot box.