Gay marriage and Social Security reform

Published February 24, 2005 1:40PM (EST)

There's more news on a Republican lobbying group's attempt to smear the AARP with charges that it supports gay marriage. As we noted earlier this week, a group called USA Next has hired some of the good folks behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to help it marginalize the AARP right out of the Social Security debate. Their first effort: An internet ad that suggested -- and that's way too subtle a word for it -- that the AARP opposes U.S. soldiers but supports men in tuxedos who like to kiss each other.

The internet ad came down as fast as it went up. We thought maybe somebody thought better of using gay marriage as a way to smear opponents in an unrelated political debate. But that might have been giving USA Next way too much credit. It may just have been that someone feared getting sued. It turns out that the kissing fellows shown in a photograph in the ad are two real-life men who got married in Portland last year. Their photo ran in a local newspaper, and they say that USA Next was using it without either their permission or the newspaper's. The men are telling the story over at Daily Kos -- and the Kossacks are helping them strike back.

Meanwhile, the liberal advocacy group Campaign for America's Future is showing that two sides can play hardball with Social Security reform. The group will begin running newspapers ads today in which it accuses Republican Rep. Jim McCrery, the chairman of the House Social Security subcommittee, of a conflict of interest on the grounds that he has accepted almost $200,000 in campaign contributions from financial institutions that would profit from Bush's privatization plan. A spokeswoman for the Campaign for America's Future told the New York Times that it may shine a similar light on other members of Congress.

The Republican National Committee has declared the effort "more angry rhetoric from the Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party." But at least the Campaign for America's Future ad has something to do with Social Security. The group's ad raises the issue of McCrery's campaign contributions to call into question his motivation for supporting private accounts. The USA Next ad, by contrast, had nothing to do with Social Security at all -- it was an attempt to smear AARP into irrelevance through the unrelated issue of gay marriage. Even some of the president's allies are unhappy with the USA Next approach. "This is not very bright politics," the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner told the Times. "Introducing homophobia and other things that are not relevant to Social Security reform is not helpful."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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