According to Time magazine, it is the nation’s largest special-interest group: 27 million strong, with an additional 8,000 dues-paying members joining every day. Its membership crosses all racial, social, and economic boundaries. And not surprisingly, it is probably the group that this year’s presidential hopefuls must reckon with in their quest for the nomination.

The group is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and it is riding high on the crest of both a demographic trend (America is getting older) and a growing self-awareness among its millions of retirees that “we are somebody.”

Not unlike the groups that champion women, blacks, Hispanics, and a hundred other peoples and orientations, the united approach of AARP has forced attention on a societal segment long ignored—or in this case, kindly put out to pasture. Moreover, it has offered its constituency an agenda that, in turn, has given something of a meaning to and purpose for being—twin essentials our youth-oriented culture has lost sight of in its avoidance of aging and, ipso facto, death.

Yet, for all its good in providing political clout and essential services for America’s retirees, the AARP and other groups of its kind should not be perceived to be the final answer when it comes to our understanding of aging. In the midst of all the struggles over social security allowances and federal support for nursing-home care, the larger questions over the role of the retiree in society and the responsibilities of the generations remain. As ethicist Daniel Callahan writes in Setting Limits: “The place of the elderly in a good society is an inherently communal, not an individual question. It goes unexplored in a ...

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