It has been such a politically fraught year that talking about this year as a politically fraught year has been tiresome for a while now. First comes the news story or tweet and analysis of policy implications, then comes public controversy, then comes controversy over the controversy. For many average people, avoiding debate has been difficult, and the same can be said for many of the novels, movies and TV shows that have been released this year. The cyclical nature of criticism shows itself in this area too, with arguments strongly in favor of politics in entertainment, adamantly against and everything in between.
Jimmy Kimmel, host of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on ABC, is one of the primary examples of a public voice that has received heavy praise and backlash for bringing politics into entertainment. Following the recent birth of his son who underwent heart surgery almost immediately and was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease, Kimmel has spoken several times over the last few months in criticism of the various proposals for health care overhaul. Praise has rolled in from across the internet, including tweets from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, commending his personal stories. Others are not as enthusiastic, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (who, along with Senator Bill Cassidy (La.), put forward the most recent and now-over iteration of the healthcare replacement), who said on “Fox and Friends” that Kimmel used this as a “liberal talking point.”
But there is another example of an individual in a similar situation of personal closeness to the issue who is going against what his job suggests he should do, and that is Republican Senator John McCain (Ariz.). Sen. McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, voted no on a Republican healthcare proposal for the second time to defeat the Graham-Cassidy bill. Though Republican support for the various health care proposals has not been unanimous, the general expectation of Sen. McCain would be to support his party’s efforts to pass a bill promised by their party’s president. But Sen. McCain’s personal link to the agenda item has undoubtedly transformed his process.
Sen. McCain and Jimmy Kimmel, while occupying very different realms of public attention, are now linked by the shared experience of knowing necessity when it comes to healthcare and speaking out influentially from that position. Following Sen. McCain’s “no” vote, Kimmel tweeted a thank you to the Senator for being a “hero again and again.” Sen. McCain’s and Jimmy Kimmel’s parties and politics are likely very different, indicating that the decisions on both of their parts were transcendent of political maneuvering.
Through these events, it becomes clear that even while political issues are now an element of everyday conversation and late-night talk shows, there is not always a political agenda. When we are faced with situations such as the birth of a sick child or diagnosis with a fatal disease, plotting and posturing do not come first. The rest of us would do best to listen to the people closest to the issues, which sometimes involves putting aside the assumption that there is an agenda at work. Taking this lesson from both Jimmy Kimmel and Sen. John McCain, maybe we will look less for the scheme behind the statement and instead seek out the people who have deeply human reasons to believe what they do.