The late Robert A. Heinlein remarked that though elderly retirees made great political volunteers, they were a dangerous constituency, since they had no direct long-term stake.
I'm on the threshold of joining them; at 59 I have, with luck, twenty mostly-hale years left, followed by a decade or two of decline, maybe even three, which is the stuff of Greek tragedy. My Mom was more fortunate than most and I wouldn't wish her final decade on anyone, with falls and clumsy care-givers and frequent hospital trips.
But despite my years, the AARP just loves me and wants to be my friend, sending promotional mailers almost weekly and look at all the lovely perks they offer -- discounts for travel and dining out, and my-oh-my, the insurance. Yes, the insurance -- AARP's co-founder Leonard Davis went on to found the Colonial Penn Group insurance company, and who did they partner with for years and years, right up until a 60 Minutes expose prompted competitive bids? You won't have to guess.
The elderly, supposed beneficiaries of AARP's vast clout (their membership makes them one of the biggest lobbies in Washington, D.C.), are a captive market and one with no say about what the organization might lobby for or against -- and AARP doesn't have to care what they think: wait a decade, and most of the critics or supporters of this or that bit of legislation will be dead or incapacitated.
There's only so much room in the lifeboat. There are only so many dollars in the Federal Budget. How will you spend it? Who will you save? My goodness, Granny is in dire straits -- and so are the thugs trying to use her as a flotation device.
I haven't joined AARP. You know what the biggest difference is between them and the NRA? No, not politics; sure, one leans left and the other right, but not so much you won't find their well-suited flacks at the same D.C. parties, grabbing after the same mixed drinks and laughing politely at the same tired jokes. Here's the difference: I get to vote on NRA board members and they send me surveys to get an idea of what matters to the NRA membership. I have some input into what they do and how they go about it. AARP has none of that; they just keep pushing those lovely discounts and that fine, fine insurance. (Income from lending use of the "AARP" name to products is a bigger source of group's income than membership dues. Consider that A Clue.) Maybe someday I'll have to join up to get supplemental insurance -- but not today, thank you very much, and not if I can find some other way.
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