- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2000

Daily distortions by Vice President Al Gore, joined now by Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, that George W. Bush will take away Social Security and Medicare, is a stark reminder that scaring seniors for political gain has become an art form for Democrats.

Indeed, it has been observed that one political party has ridden the twin horses of hypocrisy Social Security and Medicare for over 30 years. Why? To garner votes.

From Barry Goldwater in the 1960s to Jeb Bush in the 1990s, scaring grandma and grandpa with these phony charges has been the Democrats' modus operandi. As head of a strictly nonpartisan senior citizen organization, the 60 Plus Association, I pride myself on staying neutral in the political arena.

However, when senior citizens are used as political pawns by one party against the other, we're compelled to step in and set the record straight. Consider this a public service announcement for the elderly. The closer we get to the Nov. 7 election, the higher the demagoguery decibel level rises, scaring us "white hairs" into thinking Mr. Bush and those mean-spirited Republicans are going to take away our Social Security and Medicare.

Before that happens, it's more likely that a meteorite will strike the Social Security Administration building.

Unfortunately, sucker-punching seniors for political gain is a proven election year ploy. Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was savaged in 1964 on the Social Security issue. By the 1990s, the Democrats gave birth to "MediScare" and defeated, among others, Mr. Bush's younger brother, Jeb, for governor in Florida. In the year 2000, the Democrats suddenly discovered the need for a prescription drug benefit even after Republicans passed the first such benefit in history in the House of Representatives earlier this year.

Clearly, Mr. Bush is braced for these assaults by Mr. Gore. For example, in recent days, he has said that he expects similar MediScare tactics of the sort that were used "against my little brother Jeb."

In 1994, Jeb Bush was on his way to defeating incumbent Governor Lawton Chiles. But 72 hours before the election, the Chiles campaign paid $360,000 to send telephone scare calls to 684,000 seniors in seven heavily Republican counties. They disguised these calls as coming from the Florida Association of Senior Citizens; the false message, the bold-faced lie, being that Jeb Bush would take away Medicare.

This sleazy tactic suppressed the Bush vote and turned a clear victory for Jeb into the closest gubernatorial loss in the state's history.

On behalf of more than 35,000 of our 60 Plus members in my home state of Florida, including my favorite senior, my mom, a resident of Okeechobee, I held a press conference in Tallahassee and threatened to sue the Democrats for scaring seniors.

60 Plus called on residents in Pinellas, Pasco, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Polk and Manatee counties, to come forth if they were willing to testify that they had received one of these slime calls. One couple, in their mid-80s, told me they had voted a straight Republican ticket since the Eisenhower days in 1952; while the husband went to the polls the next day for Jeb Bush, his wife was so distraught, she stayed home. Political scientists estimate that this technique can suppress 7 to 8 percent of the vote.

For over 14 months following the governor's re-election, the Chiles campaign denied involvement. But on the eve of a state Senate Committee subpoena to be issued to the telemarketing firm for its records, Mr. Chiles called a press conference to announce that his aides had just informed him that they paid $360,000 for the phone campaign without his knowledge. Anybody who followed his 35-year career, from the state senate, to his 18 years in the U.S. Senate, to his then more than five years as governor, would never believe that a $360,000 expenditure, 10 percent of his re-election budget, would have been spent without his OK or more accurately, without his wife's ok, who was his de facto campaign manager.

These attack telemarketing phone tactics were used all over the country to scare seniors. And as one senator described it, "last minute telecommunications offer a fertile field for mischievous parties."

What is so encouraging to seniors is that while we know Social Security is there for us, Democrats and Republicans alike are working to come forth with a new and improved system, one that will be solvent for our children and grandchildren, the baby boomers.

There's precedent for privatizing or personalizing the system, allowing workers greater personal control over their financial destiny. The blueprint was provided by Chile, which paved the way in 1981; a dozen countries around the globe have followed suit. President Clinton's own 13-member Social Security Advisory Council has endorsed this concept.

The Advisory Council, of which Mr. Summers is a trustee, was not unanimous on the course of action to follow. Indeed, it issued three separate reports. But, the one common theme was that all three recommended privatization as the wave of the future.

Being the policy wonk that he is, Mr. Gore knows this. That's why it's so sad that he is so shamelessly scaring seniors. Mr. Gore, please stop the demagoguery. Seniors deserve better.

James L. Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association.

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