Stay in Your Lane

There's been an outpouring of predictable "stay in your lane" criticisms leveled towards Jimmy Kimmel after his monologue against the Graham-Cassidy legislation that would completely restructure our health care system. The National Review had a truly awful hot take that basically said Kimmel should stick to comedy.

For context, here's a summary of Kimmel's son's condition from CNN: "Kimmel said a sonogram of the heart revealed the baby had been born with a heart condition in which a pulmonary valve was completely blocked and there was a hole in the wall between the left and right sides of his heart. Three days later, Billy underwent open-heart surgery."

He told the story on his show. It was incredibly moving.

After telling his own personal story, holding back tears, he said this: "If your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make."

Then, no longer holding back the tears, he said this about his stay in the children's hospital: "I saw a lot of families there, and no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child's life. It just shouldn't happen. Not here." 

That's the context for Jimmy Kimmel's involvement in this health care debate.

After his monologue, Bill Cassidy came on his show, said all the right things, and adopted the "Kimmel Test" as a method for evaluating health care reform proposals. Could a family afford to treat an infant with a heart defect without going bankrupt?

Great test!

But, in Jimmy Kimmel's words: "This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face." 

Bill Cassidy's plan is a disaster. All 50 Medicaid State Directors are opposed to it. The list of medical groups opposing it is beyond staggering (it includes the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, American Cancer Society, March of Dimes...).

So of course there was a chorus of people on the right taking exception, not to the content of Jimmy Kimmel's critiques, but to the fact that he, as a comedian, would even make them. "Stay in your lane" was basically their argument.


Molly Knight on Twitter had the best line: "Jimmy Kimmel is the father of an infant who needs multiple heart surgeries to live. This is his lane." 

Of course this is his lane. Jimmy Kimmel has a legitimately compelling perspective and he used his platform for meaningful advocacy on one of the most important issues in the public sphere today. And he talks openly about how he has the means to pay for his son's procedures regardless of whether these Obamacare bills pass or fail -- so his advocacy doesn't even benefit his family's medical situation! It's literally just because he believes it's the right thing to do.

I've been having an ongoing conversation over the last few weeks with a friend about celebrities. My consistent critique is: "You have a platform. Great. I'm happy for you. Now what are you doing with it? How are you using it to help people?" And in this case, I'm using "celebrity" as a very broad term, everything from Instagram influencers to Justin Bieber. Anyone who has an audience.

Basically, my critique is the opposite of the National Review's hot take.

This whole idea that celebrities/athletes need to stay out of public discourse is outdated. The former host of the Celebrity Apprentice is President of the United States. That ship has sailed. (I won't even get into the mind-blowing hypocrisy of conservative silence when it comes to Donald Trump trying to tell National Football League owners and fans how they should act. How is that Donald Trump's lane?) 

But on a larger level, our culture has changed. Walter Cronkite is gone. People don't watch the evening news every night to stay up-to-date with current affairs. The way people consume media in this country is changing so quickly, and people with an audience should use their platforms to advocate for the greater good and help the public understand how important these debates are.

I'm not talking about spouting off about random political opinions, or regularly injecting politics into all aspects of popular culture. I'm also not talking about sending out a tweet or an Insta post every few months. That's counterproductive and feeds the narrative that celebrities should "stay in their lane."

Kimmel's monologues are not that. They're personal, sincere, researched, coherent, thoughtful. They have an impact. They make people listen. 

I love how Kimmel phrased it: "And by the way, before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I'm politicizing my son's health problems, I want you to know I am politicizing my son's health problems, because I have to."

We're lucky that he did -- and I hope more people will use their platforms to make a difference. There are a lot of problems in America and around the world right now. A lot to be worried about. We need more voices engaging in thoughtful debate, not fewer.