ANGLE: LEAVE THE INSURANCE COMPANIES ALONE…. Last night’s debate between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and Sharron Angle (R) may have been dull, but it wasn’t without substantive revelations.

Greg Sargent noted that the moderator asked Angle if there are literally any medical treatments or exams that health insurance companies should be required to cover. She eventually replied, “What we have here is a choice between the free markets and Americanism. America is about choices. The free market will weed out those companies that do not offer as many choices and do not have a cost-effective system.”

Of course, for decades we’ve had insurers that offered fewer choices and cost-ineffective systems, but relying on the free market wasn’t enough to help families who needed more.

The Reid campaign quickly put together this new ad, explaining what Angle’s approach means in the real world: “At the debate, Sharron Angle couldn’t think of a single thing insurance companies should be made to cover. Not one thing. Not colon cancer tests. Not mammograms. Not autism. Nothing.”

The ad characterizes this as both “extreme” and “dangerous.”

Greg added, “Many have noted already that the Angle-Reid race has posed voters with one of the starkest ideological choices you could possibly ask for in a political contest. Her answer on mandates makes this even clearer.”

Agreed. It’s not dishonesty or corruption or scandal; it’s about competing values. Angle believes what really matters is the government leaving insurance companies alone, no matter what the effects are on the public; Reid believes what really matters is protecting Americans from insurers’ excesses and guaranteeing a standard of care.

It’s a microcosm of a larger philosophical dispute — should the government look out for consumers and offer families a safety net, or should people fall prey to the whims of businesses that are compelled to put shareholders’ interests above the public’s?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.