As the first openly gay person ever elected to public office in California, Harvey Milk helped change America with a simple message to his community: Come out.
“Every gay person must come out,” Milk said on Gay Freedom Day in 1978. “As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better”
Thursday in Kentucky, the state’s Democratic governor Steve Beshear offered a different version of the same argument at the Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast in support of Obamacare, as Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) sat in the audience.
“You’re friends with them,” he said, referring to the state’s 640,000 uninsured residents. “You’re probably related to them. Some may be your sons and daughters. You go to church with them. Shop with them. Help them harvest their fields. Sit in the stands with them as you watch your kids play football or basketball or ride a horse in competition. Heck, you may even be one of them.”
He went on to describe the plight of praying you don’t get sick or having to choose between food and medicine.
Of course, the burdens and prejudices members of the LGBT community have to endure are in no way the same as being uninsured. But as a purely political strategy, Beshear is showing health care supporters how to make an argument in support of reform, given that 85 percent of Americans have insurance and just don’t want to lose it.
One of the major difficulties in selling Obamacare is that its most direct benefits go to the 15 percent of America that doesn’t have insurance. Most of these people are the working poor who earn too much for Medicaid but not enough to afford coverage. They are, unfortunately for supporters of the law, generally not reliable voters. And they certainly don’t donate much to political campaigns.
Beshear is speaking to the 85 percent. He’s not just giving them a dose of reality by telling them that they could easily end up in the pool of the uninsured, which they could. He’s also saying, do we want these people to live a life of constant worry, living without coverage even as America spends more per capita on health care than any country in the industrial world?
America’s uninsured are a minority and they are mostly under-represented in American politics. But they make a powerful statement when they let their friends and family know that they lack basic health insurance.
If America’s insured, who also benefit from the new protections in the health care law, understand that the uninsured could be their friends, sons, daughters or members of their church, it will be much easier to make the case for a law designed to start fixing that problem.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com