Bird-Dogging for Social Security

At Take a Stand, we call the tactic “bird-dogging.” And I believe it’s a major reason Social Security is going to become a much bigger issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

It works like this: At town halls and other political get-togethers in the early presidential contests, AARP volunteers are pressing each candidate on how they plan to keep Social Security strong for future generations. Our “bird dogs” are asking them to be specific — and reminding them of the need to update Social Security for the 21st century.

It’s not easy to move the political spotlight to Social Security, with all of today’s concerns. But on a visit to New Hampshire, I saw bird-dogging in action, and the impact our volunteers are starting to have on the debate.

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I’m thinking of people like the retiree from law enforcement who stood up and asked Ben Carson just how he intended to address Social Security “for our kids and grandkids.”

Or the volunteer working our phone bank in Manchester who vowed to personally urge Hillary Clinton to talk more about Social Security. Or the older gentleman who approached me at a forum and declared: “I’ve now asked John Kasich three times about Social Security.” The list goes on and on.

In Washington, D.C., there is so much cynicism in politics. But on my trip to the Granite State, I was struck by the idealism of our volunteers and their desire to contribute to the democratic process. The voters I met took civic pride in the fact that their state holds the first presidential primary, and felt a responsibility to engage candidates on Social Security.

Our bird dogs are unfailingly respectful and polite. But they also are determined and well-informed. With their help, Take a Stand has now phoned more than 36,000 AARP members in New Hampshire alone. We hosted a standing-room-only event with the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College. And our campaign has been noted in the Manchester Union-Leader and Concord Monitor.

I’m looking forward to the day when presidential hopefuls bring up the topic of Social Security on their own, without needing to be reminded by our volunteers. But we’re not there yet. That’s why our efforts to hold candidates accountable are so crucial.

Social Security benefits calculator: At what age will you claim your benefits? »

To learn more about our nonpartisan campaign, please visit the Take a Stand website. There, you can see each candidate’s position on Social Security (or lack of one), and you can send candidates an email to let them know your thoughts.

For now, we are concentrating our efforts on the early battlegrounds of New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina. But we have exciting plans to broaden the push in 2016.

Every candidate needs to Take a Stand on Social Security.

John Hishta is the AARP senior vice president of campaigns. Follow him on Twitter @jhishta.

Photo: Twitter

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