Jimmy Kimmel is not amused. And the comedian does not seem to care one bit if he’s amusing you. He is pissed. As almost everyone knows, Kimmel’s son was born with a life-threatening heart defect that will require numerous and costly surgeries in the first years of his life. Kimmel, host of the late night entertainment show Jimmy Kimmel Live, became a sudden and passionate advocate for health care when he realized that without his very generous employer-provided insurance policy, his son would die. No one, he said, ought to be faced with that. Then, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana went on Kimmel’s show and swore that no health bill would be passed if it didn’t meet the Kimmel Test. The Kimmel Test—that no family should be denied necessary medical care because they can’t afford it—was Cassidy’s own invention and I suspect he regrets it now that Kimmel has called him out as a liar for sponsoring the very bad Graham-Cassidy health care bill. This bill is so harmful that every major health organization in America opposes it. It not only fails the Kimmel Test, it fails the test of human decency. Kimmel is right. Cassidy is a liar.
The majority of people in America agree with Jimmy Kimmel, but the ones who don’t would like for him to sit down and shut up. It’s rich, really. These same people praise Trump for his pull-no-punches style of speaking. They like it now and they liked it when Trump was nothing more than a C-list celebrity. They like how he says what he thinks without worrying about offending anyone. Well, that’s what Kimmel is doing. The morning couch trio at Fox & Friends ought to be applauding Kimmel for calling Cassidy a liar in the same way they applauded Trump for calling Kim Jung-un the Rocket Man. If you claim to be anti-political correctness and pro-free speech, then Jimmy Kimmel is your guy.
So is Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick, of course, is the professional football player being snubbed by the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of the ongoing violence against and oppression of people of color in America. No NFL team will abide a player waging a peaceful protest, though they are fine with hiring violent criminals. The hypocrisy is too much, even for a corrupt organization like the NFL. The truth is Kaepernick is demonstrating extreme patriotism. He is using his First Amendment rights to demonstrate peacefully and to make his voice heard. That’s as American as it gets.
It’s ridiculous to ask celebrities and athletes to stop expressing political opinions. These people do not exist solely to entertain us. They are citizens with real concerns and a vested interest in the future of this country. This is true of The Dixie Chicks and it is true of Ted Nugent. It is true of Jimmy Kimmel and it is true of Kathy Griffin. It is true of Clint Eastwood and it is true of Susan Sarandon. It is true of Kanye and it is true of Kid Rock. We can disagree with these people and we can refuse to buy their albums or watch their movies, but they have as much right to speak as the rest of us.
If you don’t like what Kimmel has to say, turn the television off. But don’t beat your fists and tell him to shut up or go home. And if no NFL team wants to hire Colin Kaepernick, that’s a choice they have a right to make. But if you are comfortable cheering on players who have been arrested multiple times on domestic abuse, animal cruelty, DUI, or illegal weapons charges, but you draw the line at a man who takes a knee; well, you have to figure out how to sleep at night.
Look, I don’t agree with a lot of things famous people say and sometimes even when I do agree, I don’t like the way they say it. It would be great if our national discourse rose above silly or mean-spirited memes and insults, but even those are protected speech. Let’s absolutely call people out when they say things that are blatantly false or ruthlessly cruel. Let’s shame people when they need shaming. We should raise our voices at the ballot box and the box office. We should definitely call our Senators. Speech does not come without consequences and no one is guaranteed an audience or a job. But let’s stop telling our fellow citizens to shut up and sing, or dance, or play ball, or make us laugh. Everyone has the right to speak. Everyone.