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GRAY MATTERS: Obama and Elders

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

It may be said that Barack Obama, among his other firsts, has become the first president of the Internet age. The Internet, specifically the World Wide Web, did as much as anything in his campaign to help him win the presidency. And with some unprecedented techniques, he has governed through the internet - explaining his positions, publicizing his major proposals, making promises on issues such as Medicare and Social Security, and assuring prospective voters that his is one of the most open and tech-savvy administrations.

From the beginning of his campaign through his first year in office, he has had great help from a booming, left-leaning blogosphere including Move-On, the Center for American Progress, Buzzflash, Common Dreams, The Daily Kos, Crooks and Liars, Firedoglake and the very profitable Huffington Post.

George Bush could have used the net but as in most things worldly, he seemed ignorant about the internet and oblivious about its uses; and there seemed to no one able to teach him, if he was teachable.

Towards the end of his presidency some corporations helped found a couple of phony grass roots groups and sites such as, which was run by lobbyist and former House Majority Leader (under Newt Gingrich) Richard Armey, who helped create the Tea Party movement and now seeks the privatization of Social Security and Medicare, among other right-wing causes.

During Bush's tenure, Armey got money from corporations, to bring in audiences to the White House to support some of Bush’s initiatives; I doubt that Bush knew. But Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney did not use or need the internet as long as they had the cheerleaders of Fox (faux) News.

Now with no Bush to love, Fox has continued to have more influence that the pro-Obama blogs in its scurrilous campaigns, with Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly to cripple the Obama presidency. Think of what Fox did to Georgia Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod; it was a television lynching and Fox has still not owned up to its crime.

Obama has had relatively friendly relations with networks like MSNBC, and its commentators, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann. But they have not been Obama toadies, for they have been critical of the president and his policies, especially his compromises, when warranted. But they have not resorted to the kind of loony, hateful vindictiveness seen on Fox.

In an effort to bypass the mostly wrongheaded and irrelevant mainstream media, Obama has depended on several well done, professional web sites to get his messages of accomplishments across. The site, ended with the beginning of Obama’s presidency.

It became the president’s perennial campaign site, Organizing for America, where people can link with the Democratic Party, sign up for the latest news from the administration, volunteer to help Democratic campaigns, read the White House analyses of new legislation such as the Wall Street reforms and the latest battles in the Congress. If you sign up, you’ll get periodic updates and you may be asked to contribute to Democratic organizations.

When last I looked at the site, it was linked to just about every social networking service, under the heading, Obama Everywhere. And I watched a fair but simplistic YouTube presentation on what the Wall Street reforms mean to homeowners. It does not include the giveaways to banks as a result of Republican opposition and Obama’s compromises.

If you want to know more than that, try which is a private search engine for financial planning and advisors. I don’t know if they have financial ties to Democrats.

As the administration perfects its internet strategy, it has created sites specific to the messages it wishes to deliver. The newest and most useful is which was launched earlier this month by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The site was designed for relatively simple searching to learn what the new health care reforms are offering and how to find private insurance. You may choose your state and find coverage options for yourself and your family and you can familiarize yourself with the new regulations that prohibit cancellation of your insurance if you get sick or refusal of coverage for a pre-existing condition.

Also, there is some handy information on what is now the law: Adult children can stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. If you enroll in Medicare on a private plan, after September 23, most preventive tests, mammograms, prostate tests, colonoscopies and immunizations, will be free – no deductibles, or co-insurance.

And I guess you know by now that if your Part D drug coverage finds you in the dreaded doughnut hole, let HHS know and the government will ease your pain with a $250 check. Beginning next year the law calls for the gradual closing of the hole. The site has a link to one of the better nonprofit advocacy sites, The Center for Medicare Advocacy.

All this internet stuff is good, but the White House internet machine and its blogger allies are missing an important audience that Obama has overlooked to his political peril. Older people, who should be his natural constituency are not as enamored with Obama as many younger voters. One reason they are ignored; most of elders don’t use the internet. And the Obomans have, from the start, gone after the votes and enthusiasm of younger people.

But older people are the most consistent voters and their number is growing. The latest Pew Research poll reports that older voters are inclined this year to vote Republican by a 52-41 margin, Even voters over the age of 49 say they’ll vote Republican by a 45-43 margin.

Only young voters say, by a 57-32 margin, they’ll vote Democratic. Pew says Obama’s approval rating has dropped this summer by nine points among white independents and 12 points among women over 50.

Those figures for older voters, which reflect how they voted in 2008, suggest they will be voting against their interests for the Republicans promise to privatize Medicare and dismantle Social Security. But the older generation, may not believe those threats and may be more concerned about and afraid of the huge federal debt. They are, after all, still recalling the Great Depression.

Beyond that, Barack Obama’s youth and his cool and cerebral style, according to many commentators, are not connecting with the older generations. Their members of Congress hold meetings about the health care reforms, but they reach only a few people.. And the Medicare manuals they will get can be confusing.

Older people don’t care much about the reforms in private insurance, which they don’t use.

While more and more older Americans are taking to the internet, large numbers depend on the mails, television, their neighbors and doctors to figure out how the health reforms will or won’t affect them.

I’m not aware that HHS is reaching out to older people with mailings. And all they know is that they don’t want the government messing wit their Medicare.

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Large numbers like me, don't understand at all due to various levels of brain injury. I have to live by blind trust....and you know how well that works.

Thank you.

Thank you for bringing up this very important error in strategy! I hope the people "in the know" get the message. I am drafting a letter now to send to support your insight in this matter. I think it is important to understand that there are possible Obama supporters that can be overlooked by too heavy a reliance on technology. Thank you, Saul.

You are correct in stating that:

"large numbers depend on the mails, television, their neighbors and doctors to figure out how the health reforms will or won’t affect them."

Case in point that is somewhat relevant;

My husband and I live in a townhouse community of 82 homes. Residents are of all ages. So many times information about important community issues is sent only by email. We check our email but many either don't use email or forget to check it regularly.

It's amazing to me how many people and neighbors my age (and younger) do not know how to use a computer. Most do not want to learn as they are intimidated by the technology.

I think Obama must use a different strategy to reach theses elders. A TV show just for elder issues would work if a sponsor could be found. Someone like Betty White would be ideal to host it.

Interesting that a flock of elders using the internet to read the column and comment on it support the idea that "most elders don't use the internet."

I think that notion is fast becoming obsolete as those who resisted change die and are replaced by computer literates.

I think Saul's analysis misses the real reason the oldsters support Obama to a much lesser extent than the younger crowd does. Frankly, the number of bigots in my generation and the one just ahead and after it is much higher than it is in the younger groups that support our President.

It hurts to say this, but it is so, and we ought to be talking reality, not pipedreams. The bright spot is this will improve as the oldeer generations expire. I suspect Obama's political operatives know this, and aren't interested in wasting too much time communicating with elders who are unlikely to be supporters for what is a very wrong reason.

I find it incredibly discouraging that older Americans would actually vote against their own best interests, but if they vote Republicans back in, that's exactly what they'll be doing! My husband is convinced that the Republicans have hoodwinked many middle and working class Americans into blaming minorities and poor people for all the nation's problems. Divide-and-conquer is an absolutely marvelous strategy for keeping our nation bitterly divided and pitting one group against another. Republicans do that exceptionally well (think Karl Rove).

There's some truth to the observations of both Darlene and Gabby Geezer. It may be that those older Americans with more education use the internet (almost everyone I know does) and these elders are perhaps more likely to favor Democrats. Although I don't have the stats readily at hand, the majority of over-65s may not be in that group, so Darlene's idea is a very creative solution to reaching them in my view.

Unfortunately, Gabby Geezer has a point, too. He's right that things should improve as we elders depart this life and take our learned prejudices with us. However, with any luck that won't happen to most of us before the November elections, so anything that can be done to reach older people who aren't dyed-in-the-wool Republicans (or, even worse, tea partyers) could pay off and may be worth a try. Before the 2008 election, I was part of a POST CARD brigade (how low tech is that?!) designed to persuade anonymous older voters to vote for President Obama. I wrote over 200 and would like to think that a few of them made a difference.

Hoodwinking, you betcha. Over eight years, the Republicans created the biggest deficit in history. Now, they are running against the "big spending" Democrats who inherited the red ink and a horrible economic situation that demanded stimulus funding to keep the Great Recession from becoming another Great Depression.

November will be a mid-term test of how intelligent we Americans are. Two years later, we'll take the final exam.

Try as I may, I haven't been able to entice elder friends to adopt computer use. Has been very disappointing.

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