Politics & Policy

Rock of The Aged

Rock the Vote meets AARP.

There are few stranger spectacles in Washington than when Hollywood celebrities show up. Serious, high-powered D.C. players will stumble over themselves just to bask–however fleetingly–in the neon-tinted glow of B- or even C-list stars.

This sorry behavior was on full display Wednesday evening at Rock the Vote’s 15th-anniversary gala. Senators John McCain, Barack Obama, and Norm Coleman as well as ex-Democratic National Committee chief Terry McAuliffe and ex-Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp all turned out so they could be seen with such celebs as the hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas and Amber Tamblyn, star of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

The Republicans’ appearance was especially shameless given the nature of Rock the Vote. The MTV Generation nonprofit RTV bills itself as a nonpartisan group dedicated to voter registration and other young-voter issues. But while RTV may be technically “nonpartisan,” the description is really just a fig leaf: Even a casual observer can tell that RTV is a liberal group. It’s made opposing President Bush’s Social Security agenda a particular crusade, countering the wishes of the very age group it purports to represent.

That’s not surprising if you know who runs RTV. Hans Riemer, the group’s Washington director, was with the liberal group the Campaign for America’s Future before he joined RTV. He ran CAF’s project opposing Bush’s first-term Social Security agenda.

RTV president Jehmu Greene was formerly director of women’s outreach for the DNC and is on the board of the liberal American Prospect magazine. She even offered “a special thanks” to the labor movement during a speech Wednesday.

RTV’s board includes Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union; Danny Goldberg, CEO of Air America; and Simon Renshaw, manager of the Dixie Chicks.

On the Social Security issue, RTV has tirelessly propagandized against the idea of private accounts. It has gone so far as to team up with AARP, the massively powerful seniors’ lobby and a co-sponsor of Wednesday’s event.

This is despite the fact that numerous polls–even a February one jointly commissioned by AARP and RTV–have shown that most younger voters favor private accounts.

A recent CBS poll found that “Young people under age 30…are the most supportive of President Bush’s plan to allow individuals to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes on their own: two-thirds say it’s a good idea.”

But in this case RTV is happy to oppose those voters’ views. “All the cool kids oppose privatization,” Riemer wrote on RTV’s official blog earlier this year. Like AARP, it maintains there’s no significant funding crisis with the program and will brook no contrary opinion.

Indeed, the National Building Museum, where the event was held, was covered with “I (heart) Social Security” posters, a curious sight for youth-oriented event. Among the evening’s speakers was Tom Nelson, AARP’s chief operating officer, who praised RTV for its help in stalling Bush’s agenda. “We, like Rock the Vote, are going to make sure our Congress does the right on saving Social Security,” he said. He then touted the virtues of old age and AARP membership to all the kids in the room.

Given all this, why were the Republicans–all supporters of Bush’s plan–there giving a bipartisan gloss to the event?

Kemp at first said he was there just to honor McCain and Obama. But he subsequently said he was also there to “engage the adversary.” “Read Sun Tzu,” he said.

Your humble correspondent has not read The Art of War, but based on Kemp’s actions later that night there must be a chapter in it on engaging the adversary through lame comedy skits.

McCain had a bit more lead in his pencil. After warming up the crowd by saying he would become the fifth Black Eyed Pea, “McFunk,” he briefly challenged RTV.

“We’ve got to do something about Social Security,” he told the audience during his award acceptance speech. “You’re not going to get the benefits your parents and grandparents got because the money isn’t going to be there.” But McCain’s lone discordant note passed quickly.

Surprisingly, Bill Clinton, billed as the event’s headliner, didn’t show up; he sent a videotaped greeting instead. Who’d have thought he’d be less interested in hanging out with celebrities than the Republicans?

Sean Higgins is a reporter for Investor’s Business Daily.

Sean Higgins is a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, specializing in labor policy.


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