The Real AARP Agenda

I’ve been thinking about Jimbo’s recent discussion (also here) of “cynical reason” quite a bit over the last few days. Jimbo’s comments arose out of a discussion of David Horowitz’s assertion that university professors work an average of six to nine hours a week while collecting annual salaries of over $150,000. Now, if I lived in such a reality, the last few months of my life would have been far less stressful. Of course, Jimbo’s point was that Horowitz knows very well that professors don’t collect such salaries or work so little. Instead, he’s engaging in cynical reason, saying what he knows to be false in order to further some other goal, whatever that may be.

Today’s New York Times offers yet another example of this kind of cynicism, with Maureen Dowd’s column on the USA Next group, a group which wants to criticize the AARP’s opposition to Bushian Social Security “reform.” In order to criticize the AARP, USA Next recently posted a “comically hyperbolic” advertisement on the American Spectator website alleging that the AARP not only supports gay marriage but also hates the troops, both horrible sins under the Bush regime. The ad suggests that because the AARP opposed the Ohio “gay marriage” amendment, on the grounds that the amendment’s vague wording might afect legal recognition of any union, including older heterosexuals living together, they must by default condone gay marriage. The AARP ostensibly does not “support the troops” because they do not specifically endorse the USA Next position on combat veterans’ health benefits, which is, of course, a non-issue when it comes to the AARP position on Social Security.

In the article, the President of USA Next, Charlie Jarvis readily admits that he doesn’t believe that the AARP is a front for a pro-gay, anti-troops agenda, but knew that he could count on liberal bloggers to express outrage and moral indignation at his absurd allegations, as I am now. But then Jarvis gleefully admits that that’s exactly what he wants (and that’s why I’ve refrained from linking to–or even trying to find–the USA Next website) because this “viral” quality of blogging spreads the USA Next message for free around the entire blogosphere. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve engaged in my share of liberal outrage blogging, but Jarvis’s stragtegy here calls for a different kind of response, one that brings the cynicism of people like Jarvis into much clearer relief. I’ve been thinking a lot about the economy of linking and how it might be used to promote these conservative ideas, and I’m still caught in this impasse between criticizing groups like USA Next and being complicit with their goals of spreading their anti-Social Security, I mean, “pro-privatization,” message.


  1. Kenneth Rufo Said,

    February 24, 2005 @ 3:33 pm

    Hullo from me again, different home these days, as Broken Letters went poof. Anyway, the good and bad news here is that Jarvis may be telling the truth, but if he is it’s a really partial truth, as the Ricky Monet (one of the two men in the right side of the ad) recognized his photo, notified the Trib (who had taken and published their photo), and the Trib contacted USA-Next to tell them they had illegally used copyrighted work and that satisfaction of some sort was to ensue. In addition, right wing sites who found the ad distracting from what they otherwise believe is a solid case against the AARP complained that it made the conservative position harder to defend.

    We’ve been following this one of late, so if you get bored, stop on by. Webs they weave and all that.

  2. dave Said,

    February 24, 2005 @ 3:35 pm

    Thanks for posting that. While a schoolyard bully’s glee in the anxious handwringing of his victims fits pretty well with this group’s m.o. (I wrote my own tortured posting about Swift Boat illogic way back when), ought we bear in mind the casual dismissal of Rush Limbaugh as lunatic fringe fifteen years ago?

    Even if there’s a difference between a Media Matters-style urge to put malfeasance under the spotlight and mob anger at the cartoonish ad above, but ignoring things — I don’t mean to imply that’s your position above, but it’s a related risk — because they seem ridiculous hasn’t always worked.

    Does it count if we echo chamber it without linking? Or is it possible to just let straw men rot?

  3. Chuck Said,

    February 24, 2005 @ 5:00 pm

    Dave, I think you’re right that casual dismissal is bound to fail. And that’s why I feel stuck in this particular impasse (although I’m aware that I’m creating a false “either-or” here). My immediate response is that commenting without linking at least reduces the traffic to that site and its overall page rank. I’m still not sure I have a good answer here

    Kenneth, I wondered what happened to Broken Letters. And what do you mean by saying that the advertisement is a “partial truth?” Does the fact that it’s “partially true” even matter? What I mean is that the advertisement has a specific rhetorical effect (liberal outrage) regardless of the truth of the accusations, which have nothing to do with Social Security in the first place. And of course, the discussion of the advertisement might be the very smoke that prevents us from making other connections regarding what USA Next seeks to accomplish, as your entry seems to imply.

  4. Kenneth Rufo Said,

    February 24, 2005 @ 5:24 pm

    Sorry, didn’t mean to say that the ad is partially true, but rather that his explanation for posting it and then removing it – namely to bait liberals into acting all upset – could be true, it just can’t be the whole truth, given the legal issues.

    Which is in no way to say that the ad should be the story, I’m all for thinking that USA-Next’s financiers should be the story. For me, the ad is just symptomatic of a partiuclar way of thinking strategy from the right, and it’s a sick, sick way to be.

    As for Broken Letters, the host got badly hacked and the site went poof. More than a bit sad for me. I may start it back up when the domain name frees up in a month or so. But it did give me a chance to start this more explicitly political blog experiment, which has been fun so far.

    Oh, and I loved Sloterdijk’s book – it’s a fundamental challenge to critical theory, at least in terms of any political or ideological approach to it. Then again, I’m a hefty Baudrillard fan, so I had reasons to be enticed by it.

  5. Collin Said,

    February 24, 2005 @ 5:48 pm

    My immediate response is that commenting without linking at least reduces the traffic to that site and its overall page rank. I’m still not sure I have a good answer here.

    I’ve got one word for you, Chuck: Googlebomb! Okay, maybe it’s actually two words…but still…


  6. Jonathan Said,

    February 24, 2005 @ 7:23 pm

    Are you getting all Sloterdijkian up in here?

  7. Chuck Said,

    February 24, 2005 @ 8:51 pm

    Jonathan: Hey, we get Sloterdijkian all the time around here!

    Collin: I’ve Googlebombed a few times back in the day. Maybe if I did it more often, I’d feel better about things.

    Kenneth: Maybe I’m dense, but I’m not sure why the legal issues matter in terms of his New York Times comments. In fact, “borrowing” the copyrighted photograph might be seen as fueling the outrage. But your larger point–about following the money–is certainly crucial here.

  8. Steve Said,

    February 25, 2005 @ 3:54 am

    My humble two cents- I stopped linking to any right wing sites (with a handful of rare exceptions) after I started becoming aware of how much traffic you can generate by posting a lot of stuff. Those people are literally drowning in cash, and don’t need any help from me.

    Well, I’m off now! I have a big meeting with some little old ladies. They are planning on attending some pro-insurgent gay marriages later.

  9. Chuck Said,

    February 25, 2005 @ 4:58 pm

    Steve, I think you might be right about not linking, though there are obviously other strategies to consider, too. As someone who ostensibly gets paid for thinking, writing, and talking about movies and media images (okay, so I get paid for grading papers, too), I’m intersted in unpacking these rhetorical strategies as specifically as possible, and I’m still not satisified with *my* descriptions (so that’ll be an ongoing thread over the next few days).

    Hey, I’ll be attending those pro-insurgent gay marriages!! Should be lots of fun! Those little old ladies are really devious, aren’t they….

  10. Steve Said,

    February 25, 2005 @ 6:16 pm

    The GOP hit list-

    1.) Saddam (got ’em)
    2.) Iranian Mullahs
    3.) North korean Midgets in platform shoes
    4.) Little Old Ladies
    5.) Gay people
    6.) UBL

  11. Jimbo Said,

    February 26, 2005 @ 9:50 am

    When I don’t want to link, I’ll put the URL unlinked in the text. As I understand it, that will prevent the search engines from counting the link. That way you can get the info out without boosting the google traffic, and only those who want to take the time to copy it will make the link. In addition, then there is no way to link back to your site as the referring URL, which is generally why I don’t like to link to those sites. Paranoid, well a little. I haven’t yet gone to the point of figuring out how to block the IP address, which I should probably do next, since at least one of the sites from which I access the web has a stable IP.


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