Last week, many of you saw the video of a Dallas AARP town hall meeting on health care that AARP officials ended early after the audience raised too many objections. The woman leading the meeting, for instance, tried to shut up audience members who said they disagreed with her when she made assumptions about what she thought they would agree with her on. At one point, a man summed it up by asking, “Do you guys work for us, or do we work for you?”
As bad as the video made AARP look, on some level, you could write it off as an instance of a local AARP representative getting frustrated and simply not having the experience or temperament to deal with an audience that was pushing back against her talking points. That’s why I found it much more damning when I saw AARP vice president and spokesman Drew Nannis appearing on Fox (clip below). Not only does he refuse to apologize for the woman’s behavior, but he dismisses those dues-paying AARP members as “a bunch of people yelling.” This is wrong on several levels. First off, AARP is an organization that claims to speak for its membership, but here we have a clear cut case of mounting opposition to Democratic health care policies among older Americans, not just in town hall meetings, but backed up by polling data showing they remain the most skeptical of Democratic proposals (see here and here). Yet instead of representing the concerns of older Americans, AARP is doing the reverse. Its CEO, Barry Rand, who was a major Obama donor, has gotten cozy with the administration, and along with the rest of the top brass at the Washington headquarters, has decided to support liberal policies. Now the group is actively working alongside the administration to sell these policies that their members are rejecting — using their members money to do so. In a typically liberal and patronizing kind of way, they think they know what’s best for their members, and they’re trying to tell them what to think.
But beyond that, there’s a basic customer service angle to this. I can, in some small sense, sympathize with the woman on the video. Back when I was 18, I worked at the box office of an Atlantic City casino, and have some experience dealing with frustrated customers, especially older Americans who can be quite, shall we say, persistent about getting what they want. If there was a dispute over a coupon or a comp they thought they deserved, you can bet they’d make their voices heard. At times this meant shouting at me, cursing at me, blowing smoke in my face, and so on. Yet even as a teenager, I had a basic understanding of the concept that the customer is always right, something that AARP evidently does not get. No matter how angry or unruly or even nasty these gamblers would act toward me, I knew it was my job to remain calm and try to pacify the situation rather than escalate the problem by shouting back. Yet, not only did the woman running the meeting decide to mix it up with dues-paying members, but a vice president from Washington went on national television and defended her actions. So let’s just call a spade a spade. AARP is not an organization that represents its members, but a group that treats its members as dupes so it can suck up their money and use it to advocate a liberal policy agenda supported by its Washington leadership.