Defying Convention(al) Wisdom

This has been anything but a normal election year.

Last week, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump officially became his party’s nominee. When he first announced his candidacy a little over a year ago, few thought he had a real shot.  Pundits pointed to the roster of current and former governors and senators among the 17 primary candidates as the most likely nominees.

And, just yesterday, Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination in Philadelphia. For the first 143 years of our nation’s history, women didn’t even have the right to vote. Now, for the first time ever, a woman is the presidential nominee of a major political party.

Both candidates are bucking conventional wisdom in their own way.

As unusual as this year’s politics may seem, it really shouldn’t be that surprising. Blazing new trails and defying the odds is part of America’s DNA. As I walked around the convention hall, I talked to a lot of people. Nearly everyone I met believes that the country will change for the better — that today’s conventional wisdom is no match for the innovative ideas that will drive America’s future.

I was particularly struck by a conversation I had with one young woman. When I told her I work at AARP, she said, “I worry about my grandparents. I know they count on Social Security to make ends meet.” She didn’t ask me whether the trust fund would be there for her when she retires — for someone in their 20s that seems awfully far away. Like so many of us, her primary concern is for her loved ones. It’s a conversation that I have all across America — how important Social Security is for people to have a secure retirement.

What might surprise you is how often I hear this from millennials. Like the woman I talked to in Philadelphia, they’re not focused on themselves when they talk about Social Security. In fact, data shows that a little over half of millennials believe that Social Security won’t be there at all when they retire. But this generation is concerned about their parents and grandparents. The same study shows that 60 percent believe that Social Security benefits should not be cut.

For decades, conventional wisdom dubbed updating Social Security the “third rail” of American politics — too difficult, too dangerous to touch. In this odds-defying year, it’s time to lay that old chestnut to rest. AARP’s Take a Stand campaign is pushing the presidential candidates to tell voters how they plan to secure the future of Social Security. We’re also asking congressional candidates to commit to taking action in the next Congress.

In 1935, when Social Security was created, over half of older Americans lived in poverty. Today, thanks to the program, fewer than 10 percent do.

It’s time to push our leaders to take on this issue so we can keep the promise of a secure retirement for the silent and boomer generations ... and for Gen Xers  ... and, yes, for those millennials.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to prove their conventional wisdom — that they won’t get any Social Security benefits — wrong?

Nancy LeaMond, chief advocacy and engagement officer and executive vice president of AARP for community, state and national affairs, leads government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.

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