The Kimmel Effect

Political discourse is vital for a healthy democracy, but these are turbulent times for We the People.  Politics has become a contact sport, leaving the conflict-averse to sit on the sidelines. We have seen a spike in activism since the election of President Trump. People are tuning in and turning up to be part of the conversation. No such turn to activism has been more notable than that of comic and late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

Kimmel has shown the way forward for those that steer clear of politics by using his national platform to ask the tough questions and hold politicians accountable. He made a big splash earlier this year when he weighed in on the healthcare debate after his newborn son was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition. The experience opened his eyes to the importance of access to affordable healthcare coverage, the kind afforded by the ACA (aka Obamacare) and targeted for extinction by the GOP. Kimmel’s emotional monologue made the complex issue of healthcare simple and laid out the life and death consequences of healthcare before and after the ACA, as he noted: “If your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not live long enough even to get denied because of a pre-existing condition.”

Armed with an arsenal of facts and embodying a parent’s most primal fear, Kimmel delivered a devastating rebuttal to the Republicans’ repeal and replace argument. His audience, who typically tunes in for a late-night laugh, was met with a sobering message about the national healthcare crisis that hit home, especially for kids whose dads don’t have their own show.  Kimmel put Congressional Republicans on notice and defense.

Senator Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham became the face of the Republican rebuttal. Graham attacked him for regurgitating liberal talking points, and Cassidy responded by saying that Kimmel just didn’t understand the bill. Kimmel hit back stating, “which part don’t I understand? Is it the part where you cut $243 billion from federal health care assistance? Am I not understanding the part where states would be allowed to let insurance companies price you out of coverage for having preexisting conditions? Maybe I don’t understand the part of your bill in which federal spending disappears completely after 2026? Or maybe it was the part where plans are no longer required to include essentials benefits, like maternity care or pediatric visits?” Kimmel’s comeback wasn’t well-received by conservative media and they hit back with the, “Stay in your lane” response, a tactic used to silence political outsiders who offer fact-based and thoughtful commentary that threatens party politics. The strategy cost conservatives the win in the case of Kimmel v. Cassidy.

Jimmy Kimmel’s willingness to break from the banter to talk about our problem-plagued healthcare system shifted public opinion and put the brakes on legislation that was bad for your health.

Everyone should be encouraged to engage in thoughtful discussions about our nation’s toughest problems. It is our only path forward. At a time when our country’s appetite for partisan politics has diminished, Kimmel proved that our capacity for compassionate and contemplative conversation has not.