Centrist Democrats Think Seniors Should Work More

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took out party stalwart Joe Crowley. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, is vastly popular nationwide. Nationwide, Democratic voters are embracing leftist proposals like Medicare for all. It sure looks like a socialist wave is crashing the Democrat party. But not if the party’s centrists can help it.

Center-leaning Democrats are desperately trying to stem that socialist tide. And a key part of that effort involves making old people work more.

“Boomer Corps,” a work program for retired seniors, is the brainchild of Third Way, a deep-pocketed centrist Democratic think tank. Think AmeriCorps, but for old people. Under the plan, seniors could earn a $12,000 tax-free annual stipend by working 20 hours a week. It’s part of Third Way’s “New Generation of Ideas,” a list of centrist policies designed, in theory, to appeal to the Democratic base.

The central problem to this proposal is that no one wants it. There aren’t any voters calling for Boomer Corps or other Third Way policies like unemployment training grants or apprenticeship programs. It’s an appeal to Democratic Party leadership and big donors obsessed with winning over non-existent centrists.

“There’s no organic constituency for this kind of thinking,” journalist Ryan Cooper says. “There’s like 10 people, Democratic Party consultants, who [Boomer Corps] would appeal to.”

Cooper is a national correspondent for The Week. His latest piece outlines the problems behind the party leadership’s thinking. He says Democratic Party leaders are quixotically focused on maintaining the politically centrist status quo. While rushing for the center has been a losing strategy for a generation, it’s good for the party’s big money donors, consultants, lobbyists and politicians. And that’s exactly who Third Way is appealing to.

“[Third Way] is basically a big operation for raising money from foundations and Wall Street gazillionaires to push discredited Bill Clinton-style neoliberalism,” Cooper says.

Boomer Corps is a microcosm of this centrist obsession. It flirts with concepts beloved by conservatives (privatizing Social Security) but presents it in progressive language appealing to the liberal love of public service. After all, it’s putting “undervalued” citizens to work. Just slap a catchy name on it, call it empowering, and Democratic voters will buy it.

Except they won’t, because the idea is patently stupid. It’s the antithesis of what Social Security and other national welfare programs exist to do—serve those who are unable to work or who have paid into the system until retirement. Giving seniors part-time work isn’t noble or empowering. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of public service and social welfare.

“It’s based in this absurd idea that all income needs to come from employment, that all social good needs to come from the market,” Cooper says. “In theory, working people produce the economy to take care of the rest of society.”

If the Democratic Party leadership were serious about winning, they’d adopt ideas that actually energize their base. Medicare for all is a winning issue and a solution to America’s crumbling healthcare system. But it doesn’t matter that Democratic voters like it—it’s too radical for the centrists in charge of the party.

Third Way and others will continue trotting out bad policies disguised as progressive ideas. They don’t care about appealing to actual voters. And they’re willing to put old people to work to prove it.