MoveOn scores with a simple video

MoveOn scores with a simple, powerful video.

I haven’t always agree with MoveOn’s take on things or their media approaches. But my hat is off to them regarding the below video, noticed by Steve Benen. 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.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

13 thoughts on “MoveOn scores with a simple video”

  1. The most powerful advertising is often an actual, straightforward argument that clarifies and frames the issues that distinguish candidates and political parties.

    Yep. And it is two-minutes long.
    That’s an eternity in a sound bite culture that knows only short term profits.
    The people that need to hear this advert never will. But they will hear “Ponzi scheme” hammered out endlessly.

  2. I too think it’s a powerful ad. And I was absolutely sickened by the audience reaction to the Paul question, as well as his hemming and hawing, as well as the silence of the other candidates.

    But I think the difficulty is this: many of us on the left are approaching this from the frame of people who care about others, who find it disheartening that society would actually leave someone out in the cold. The Republican candidates, and an increasingly large segment of Republican voters, actually seem immune to sympathy. I don’t believe this ad will connect with them. Not because it’s too long. But because they do not care. They will hear Steve’s story and not think “that is tragic — we could have done something.” Instead, what they will think is “how irresponsible not to have insurance. He expected the (Nanny State)(Obamacare)(Big Government)(Insert pejorative) to help him.” It won’t matter that Steve was unemployed, nor that he died in pain or stress.

    It’s been cited many times in recent days that when Rick Perry was running again for governor, pollsters asked staunch Republicans whether it bothered them that he may have sent an innocent man to his death. The chilling response pollsters received from GOP focus groups was “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

    This is the frame of reference, the moral system, that we’re dealing with. How can a reasonable, humane, intelligent person work against it?

  3. That awful debate audience notwithstanding, Matt, I am less pessimistic than you are. Indeed I believe calls to compassion are likely to prove more politically effective than the political pros believe them to be.

    My wife and I spend a lot of time working on developmental disability and related issues. The vast majority of people across the political spectrum are supportive and generally compassionate on this issue. Some of the Knights of Columbus volunteers I meet handing out Tootsie Rolls in developmental disability fundraisers are probably tempted by Tea Party perspectives. We shouldn’t give up on reaching out to them, despite our many differences.

  4. @ Koreyel,

    Yes, this version is two minutes. But it can be edited down to 60 seconds and not lose much of its impact. And I hope Obama’s people have found Ms. Grigsby and another dozen like her, because as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow they are out there.

  5. Not to pick nits, but…wasn’t the question in question about someone who voluntarily refused to buy insurance? And wasn’t the brother of the woman in the ad involuntarily uninsured due to unemployment? So doesn’t this ad miss the point in a way? I mean…suppose I’ve paid for health insurance all my life, and my neighbor refuses, perhaps even laughing at what a sucker I am. Then he gets sick. I paid my premiums, did the responsible thing…now am I also obligated to pay for his health care as well? It doesn’t seem like such an easy question to me…

    (Of course most uninsured people are involuntarily uninsured…and that’s a very important point…but a different one…)

    I do agree, however, that the best ads are straightforward presentations of arguments. When I hear that sinister political ad voice, I turn it off, no matter who it’s an ad for. That BS nauseates me.

  6. Yes, the hypothetical uninsured man in the debate was voluntarily uninsured and, if reports are correct, had a good job. What happens in that type of case is that the person gets care w/o insurance, and is then billed for the cost. Only destitute or nearly destitute people get charity care (I havd some experience with this). What they don’t get is good access to the primary care that would in some cases head off the need for extreme care.

  7. And let’s not forget those who HAVE insurance but the insurer won’t cover certain services, prescriptions, and treatments which are necessary. Then remember that there are those with insurance who cannot absorb the co-pays, and continue to eat. Aside from all of that squalor of the ethically-challenged, this victim was in a coma and had no say in the matter of his emergency health care. Imho, Society decides to save him, Society pays. Many of us are happy to do so. If I understand AHCA correctly, he will be placed on a public insurance plan, subsidized as warranted by his income (or not), and insured (providing he survives) from there on out. Why do Americans balk at becoming the recipients of the lowest group rates available?

  8. Interesting. I always assumed that even very poor people would still be billed for any uninsured emergency care they get. I thought the “charity” came in with the hospital basically accepting that the bill would just not get paid (unless they sent it to collection).

  9. Good ad (and, being less of a believer in sin than some, I don’t think the difference between “cannot get” insurance and “does not get” insurance, mentioned at the end of the ad, should be a matter of life and death). But I think koreyel is right and Dennis is too optimistic: 30 seconds, folks. That’s the limit. When ad makers really want to grab people nowadays, they often aim at 15.

  10. Well, are my options, then: (a) pay insurance premiums for years, until I get sick, and then insurance pays and (b) don’t pay insurance premiums for years, until I get sick, and then insurance pays? Look, I’m all for health-care reform. I’m just not so sure the objections in question are so obviously stupid and/or evil. Seems like there are significant free-rider problems here.

  11. Winston,

    It sounds like the audience at that debate already made a comment on the free rider problem as it pertains to health insurance.

    All (graveyard) humor aside, I believe that if you looked at most spheres where free ridership is a problem, you would find that it could only be minimized at best and never eliminated.

    Healthcare has such important ramifications for a society that some free ridership will probably have to be (and already is) tolerated. We already put up with anti-vaccination parents taking advantage of herd immunity (natural free ridership!) to allow their own views to override the public interest.

    Since I cannot believe this man cited in the debate should die for his sins of not buying insurance (and not knowing the context why), I’m not going to worry as much about free ridership as you might.

  12. David,

    Well, I’m not worrying about it, I’m wondering about it.

    As it turns out, my own view is that it’s unfair to put the rest of us in the position of having to either pay for your care or watch you die. Which is one reason I support health-care reform that forces people to buy in. I’m a liberal largely because I’m a civil libertarian, but not an economic one. I’m all for helping those who can’t help themselves, but I am not comfortable with a state that shields us from too much of our own stupidity. Of course the stakes are really high in such cases, and ordinary youthful stupidity should not condemn one to a painful death. None of this entails that there aren’t sensible worries in the vicinity.

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