In general, seniors do not fare well in the political arena. Well, old politicians do; they keep getting re-elected. Other seniors serve faithfully at polling places, and seniors are also faithful voters.
However, they do not vote in their own self-interest. There is no united voice for things that affect their needs, their very lives. There is no senior PAC to lobby or contribute to politicians' re-election war chests. AARP is the most visible organization for seniors, but it is not confrontational, choosing to help its members with special arrangements on insurance, publishing a slick magazine filled with success stories about aging celebrities and providing an informative newsletter.
Why are seniors not doing a better job of standing up for themselves? First, seniors are not a real group. They are a statistical category, like teenagers or baby boomers. They do not identify with that age category. Some avoid that identity like the plague. They choose for themselves racial, ethnic, regional, religious or occupational identities. Typically conservative, they tend to vote as they have been voting for years.
However, aging makes people more alike, no matter how different they might have been before. Shared economic concerns and health issues are and ought to be matters of public policy and, therefore, require that seniors be represented in the political arena. That voice is lacking because seniors do not speak as one. They hardly speak at all. And they suffer for their silence.
As stated in an earlier column, the fate of Social Security should not be in doubt. Extension of Social Security withholding to cover all income, no matter how much, and payment of maximum interest on money borrowed from the Social Security trust fund by the federal government would have Social Security truly secure. When did any member of Congress from any party propose such remedies? One thing that did happen was that the formula for fixing the cost-of-living increases to Social Security checks has been revised 18 times, never in favor of recipients.
Runaway prices on prescription drugs and the rest of health care fall within the authority of Congress (interstate commerce, the VA, the Hill-Burton hospital network and so forth). Medicare and Medicaid are in trouble because they are being bled to death, while small town hospitals die because of delayed payments. Washington wrings its hands about costs as if no one has the power to control them or to find answers to funding.
"What can I do?" you ask. "I am just one person."
One person raising questions and stating preferences is more than none. When political candidates have their town hall meetings, be there with questions - specific questions, "what are you going to do about" questions. Be a pest and press for concrete answers. Write, call and petition. It is your life, your health, your financial future. You have paid taxes for decades and still do. You have a right to ask and a right to get truthful answers. Forget about genteel good manners. The political arena requires steel gauntlets, not silk gloves.
Finally, aging has made you one of many millions who share similar life chances. So, at every opportunity, join with others in making known your needs and wishes. Of those whom you have been electing ask, "What have you done for me?" You might suggest that in the future, your loyalties will be guided by those whose policies meet your needs and preferences. That's how politics works, and nobody is going to look after you if you do not.
It is the squeaking wheel that gets the grease.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.