I haven’t always agree with MoveOn’s take on things or its media approaches. But my hat is off to the organization regarding the below video. This video demonstrates once again that the most powerful political advertising isn’t a soundbite gotcha or some piece of juvenile street theater, either. The most powerful advertising is often an actual, straightforward argument that clarifies and frames the issues that distinguish candidates and political parties.

I hope that Susan Grigsby’s simple story will exemplify this point. Unemployed and uninsured, her brother Steve died painfully from cancer at age 63. I have no way to know whether his death was hastened by his lack of health coverage. I’m darn sure that his final illness was made more difficult and less dignified than it needed to be. America spends enormous sums on medical care. Yet hundreds of thousands of very sick or severely injured fellow Americans endure similar experiences every year.

These should be central issues in the 2012 election. On one side, we have a Republican party whose base increasingly regards social insurance as an economic drag, at-worst a Ponzi scheme. Against them, we have a Democratic party and president who believe that we should take care of each other, that we can protect each other against tragedies and risks that would otherwise crush virtually any one of us, if we were left to face things alone. On one side, we have a Republican party which would repeal a law which (among other things) expands health insurance to 32 million Americans who would otherwise go uninsured. Against them, we have a Democratic party and president who would allow this well-justified expansion of American social insurance to reach fruition. These are big stakes.

Ms. Grigsby asks “Do you, as a candidate for president, really believe that if an American cannot get–or does not get–insurance, that they should be treated the way Steve was? Do you really believe that?

It’s a good question. It deserves a decent and substantial answer from the Republican candidates. I don’t think they have one.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.