That Priorities USA Ad: Dishonest but Important

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That new Priorities USA ad which effectively blames Mitt Romney for a woman’s cancer death is a strange beast. It is at once the most dishonest and substantive ad of the summer.

Narrowly judged, the ad is scurrilous. It implies that a Romney-led takeover of GST Steel company in Missouri by Bain Capital left a GST worker, Joe Soptic, and his wife, Ilyana, without health insurance; that she delayed seeing a doctor for cost reasons; and that she received a fatally late diagnosis as a result. But a CNN fact-check severely undermines this narrative. Leave aside the fact that Mitt Romney had left Bain to manage the Salt Lake City Olympics when, in 2001, Bain shuttered GST. The more relevant fact, not mentioned by the ad, is that the man’s wife had her own health insurance, lost it when she was injured at her job, and did not fall ill until several years later. The distance between Romney and this woman’s tragic death is subtantial, and even if you want to argue the causal culpability of Romney and Bain, the ad deceitfully condenses the story.

But the more accurate version of this heartbreaking story is still worth telling. Indeed it may be the best illustration this campaign has offered of how politics affects the lives of ordinary people. America’s employer-based health insurance system–in which a layoff plus an illness can equal financial ruin or death–is a national embarrassment. Barack Obama took a crack at improving things with the Affordable Care Act, which at least in theory would have made affordable health care available to the Soptics regardless of their employment status. Mitt Romney would repeal “ObamaCare” (given a Republicans enough Congress), and replace it with fairly nebulous reforms based on state-level innovation and market competition.

Voters can judge which approach will work better. And there’s probably no “right” answer; it involves a combination of guesswork and an opinion about our national priorities, character and the role of government. But at least a story like the Soptics’ illuminates the kind of policy choices that lie at the heart of this election–certainly more so than advertisements about Romney’s foreign assets, or a distorted quote from the president. What it does not illuminate, with more than a candle’s flicker, is anything about Mitt Romney’s character or how he would govern the country. My advice for Priorities USA: take your ad back to the editing room and re-release it as an endorsement of Obamacare, and an argument for re-electing the President who will preserve it.

Epilogue: And now even the Romney campaign, oddly enough, is using this ad to¬†tout the benefits of a health insurance mandate (in Massachusetts, that it). That I did not see coming….