Virginia Democrats, along with their editorial supporters in the state’s major dailies, champion a Medicaid expansion they say could cover upward of 400,000 needy citizens currently without health-care insurance.  They decry Virginia Republicans’ opposition to this proposal as immoral, if not racist.

That’s strong stuff. And it may also fail to heed some sage advice from the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Let’s assume your opponent’s position is immoral. As King pointed out, this doesn’t mean your position is the moral one.

In hopes of helping needy Virginians, our recent column suggested the race-tinged moralizing on Medicaid expansion had been counter-productive. Had we not then been accused of giving aid and comfort to immoral racists, we might have let the matter drop.

But moralists insist their position is the only one people of good will and good conscience could accept. History disagrees.

Years ago, conservative lawmakers refused to honor Dr. King with his own state holiday. Moralists refused any compromise. But pragmatists merged the celebrations for Dr. King with those of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson into one state holiday. History proved their “let’s take a first step” approach a smart move.

In 1985, State Sen. Doug Wilder refused to step aside when white Democratic leaders tried to block his historic run for statewide office. They claimed no black person could possibly win and Wilder’s nomination would sink the entire Democratic ticket. Key African American leaders agreed, saying Wilder would lose badly and set back civil rights a generation. But he believed white Virginians would judge him on merit. The Bellies-Wilder-Terry ticket prevailed in the biggest Democratic win in modern times.

In 1989, key women’s rights groups decried Lt. Governor Wilder’s position on abortion. His gubernatorial campaign made the issue a major theme, but Democratic women’s groups said his position was insufficiently pro-choice and would set back women’s rights in Virginia. History proved otherwise.

In 2003, many of the same people championing Medicaid expansion opposed changing state law to allow Richmond voters, as opposed to the city council, to elect the mayor. They called the change an immoral plot to take away black voting rights and guarantee the election of a white mayor. Thirteen years after the measure won approval, and all of the city’s mayors have been African American. Now even those who cried racism concede they were wrong.

Now comes 2015. While the 400,000 number used in the Medicaid debate is a state statistic, it is also true the state projects only 250,000 people might actually enroll if Medicaid expansion occurred. But the most important number is zero — the number of needy Virginians added to the Medicaid rolls after several years of racial moralizing.

During this period, the Obama administration and others found significant percentages of people already eligible for Medicaid were not getting the AMA’s recommended annual medical care. There are also reasonable doubts over whether available data overstates actual current usage. Medicaid usage goals set years ago have never been met in Virginia.

Statistics suggest about 100,000 needy Virginians can finally get health care by instituting initiatives to make Virginia the first Southern state to reach Medicaid’s usage goals. Such new initiatives can be unilaterally implemented through executive action.

Let’s look at it this way:

Picture two needy Virginians with health problems. Jane is enrolled in Medicaid, but Jack isn’t. Outraged Democrats say it is immoral not make Jack eligible, too. But Democrats apparently aren’t as outraged with the fact Jane isn’t getting the care she needs, even though she is in the program.

If one decries as morally wrong de jure denial of health care insurance, then doesn’t this logic likewise say it is morally wrong when the system works de facto to block needed usage?

The high horse is a lot harder to ride than it appears.