Surveys indicate that average Americans tend to get more conservative as they age. Yet when they join AARP, seniors are being represented by “a bunch of liberals,” according to Jim Martin, who founded the 60 Plus Association in 1992 as the “conservative alternative to AARP.”
Martin is now president of 60 Plus, but when he founded it, he was only 56 and didn’t intend to run the organization after he got it started. However, the more he learned, the more strongly he felt about some of the major issues affecting seniors—such as the estate tax, Social Security, and healthcare—and he ended up enjoying the work. Martin, who worked in politics and journalism for years and has an ear for catchy phrases, is credited with inventing the term “death tax” to refer to the estate tax. (Martin credits Ronald Reagan with originally using the phrase, but agrees that he popularized its usage.) As Martin has explained its accuracy: “Death alone triggers it. You don’t die, you don’t pay it.”
Martin points out that the issues that affect seniors are the issues that will affect all of us someday. 60 Plus has represented seniors on policy issues ranging from the ongoing battle to repeal the death tax, to dependence on foreign oil to the current debate over healthcare reform. 60 Plus has strongly opposed any healthcare legislation that would make major cuts to Medicare. The group was also involved in the successful campaign to remove the earning limit on people over 65 who are Social Security recipients. Martin says he is regularly asked to respond to the accusation that Republicans want to abolish Social Security, which he calls a lie.
Martin, who enjoys his role as a “thorn in the side” of AARP, points out that the 60 Plus Association is not a multi-billion-dollar industry like AARP and cannot attract membership by offering benefits and discounts. His organization has gotten more press recently, partly through their national advertising campaign warning seniors about flawed healthcare reform proposals. Their ad headlined “Sacrifice” contrasts images from D-Day and the Great Depression with warnings about the effect of the current reform bill. Recent media attention is also partly due to a phony exposé about the ads by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. Membership has been increasing, according to Martin, who says he should put Maddow in charge of publicity. “Our phones are melting down” from all the recent calls, he told Human Events.
Martin denies Maddow’s accusation that 60 Plus is funded by the big pharmaceutical industry lobby PHARMA. On the other hand, he points an accusing figure at AARP’s taxpayer funding. Martin has testified before a congressional panel about AARP’s taxpayer-subsidized status and money-making enterprises. Martin said he believes AARP is deceptive. One difference between the 60 Plus Association and AARP is that 60 Plus is honest about “selling a philosophy,” Martin said. 60 Plus’s celebrity spokesman is Pat Boone, who is known for being right-of-center.
Boone is often on hand to present some of the Guardian of Seniors Rights certificates that the association awards to sitting senators and congressmen in order to highlight their record on issues concerning seniors. It is one of the ways that 60 Plus raises awareness of seniors’ rights, Martin says. Recipients are selected once in every Congress and honorary awards can also be presented to politicians at the state level.
Martin likes to say that “a tsunami of seniors” is rising, prompted by issues currently under debate in Washington, D.C. Since seniors are also typically a strong voting bloc, he warns that politicians ought to pay attention. Many of the people protesting at town hall meetings over healthcare reform legislation were seniors, and Martin calls House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comment that town hall protestors were “un-American” a “shameful statement.” Many seniors, including Martin as a former Marine and a veteran of the Korean War, fought, leaving American blood on battlefields.
Martin and the 60 Plus Association are working hard to make sure that seniors are not forgotten, and to keep them informed and represented on the issues that affect them. They are concerned, and motivated, and he would tell politicians who do not understand that to expect to pay in “political pain at the polls in 2010.”