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January 29, 2023

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Jon Ralston:

Oceguera makes case for … Heck

The inescapable conclusion after congressional candidate John Oceguera’s performance on television this week is either he believes in nothing or is scared of everything.

Or both.

Either way, if there are any Democrats who can defend his spectacularly evasive and all-too-revealing appearances on “Face to Face” and “The Agenda,” they should be ashamed of themselves. Oceguera’s refusal to take positions on seminal Democratic initiatives such as health care reform and the stimulus are emblematic of a party whose candidates hope to win by hiding their core beliefs or have decided to discard them — at least temporarily.

This is as sad as it is pathetic, watching a major political party surrender its principles to expediency, putting winning above standing for what it believed only a few short years ago and then wondering why the public won’t be eager to follow if its leaders win and miraculously rediscover their beliefs.

Oceguera is the absurd personification of this phenomenon as he gave arguably one of the worst, most vacuous performances in “Face to Face” history Monday and followed up with a nearly identical encore on “The Agenda” on Tuesday. He could not/would not answer a single question on subjects he should, by now, know inside and out, instead reverting to hollow talking points that a Democratic National Committee boiler-room teenager could have provided. To wit:

I began by asking about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, intending to probe his commitment and suggesting (knowing the answer, I thought) he would have voted for it.

“I think that anything that we can do that would put transparency into insurance companies is something we can work on,” Oceguera offered, unhelpfully.

“Is that a yes?” I wondered.

No, the speaker, replied, informing me he doesn’t have a crystal ball and could not predict what the Supreme Court would do — thus answering a question I had not asked.

So would he have voted for it?

“If I can make health care more transparent, make insurance companies more transparent, then I’m all for that,” he boldly asserted.

My blood pressure rising, I decided to come at it differently, wondering if he thought the projected half a billion dollar expense to cover the Medicaid expansion here from Obamacare was worth it to get all those uninsured covered.

Medicaid, he, again helpfully, explained, “is on the state side,” before launching into a talking-points fueled assault on Rep. Joe Heck on Medicare. Fine, but does he think the expense is worth it? Again, dodging, he simply said, “I think giving more people accessibility is important,” which, I prided myself, was almost an answer.

I had a similar experience later in the program when I asked Oceguera about the other legislation that put many congressional Democrats through the political meat grinder: the stimulus. Like Obamacare, it is manifestly unpopular, despite economists on both sides saying some sort of package was essential, mostly because the Democrats passed it and then ran away and let the GOP define it.

Oceguera again refused to take a position, telling me, “You can go back and rehash the 2010 elections if you want,” something I have neither the desire nor the temperament to do and which did not have anything to do with my question.

Would you have voted for it? I gamely asked the speaker.

“I’m going to look forward,” he replied.

At that point, I was looking forward, too. To a commercial break. Or a stiff drink. Or a 16-ton weight falling on my head.

I had similar luck when I pressed Oceguera on the foreclosure crisis, wondering what he would have done differently from Heck. But Oceguera could not come up with a single policy prescription, only saying he would have “different priorities” than the incumbent who backed giving “tax breaks to Big Oil and Big Banks.” Really?

So how would he jumpstart the economy? By giving — wait for it — incentives to companies that want to move here. You know, tax breaks.

Then, when I asked about the Paul Ryan budget and Medicare, he started rotely reciting his talking points again until I stopped him and asked how he would protect the program, as all Democrats say they will.

“If there’s waste in government, we should cut it,” he said, with a straight face. I immediately told my producer to alert the Medicare trustees that the solution had been found.

I walked off the set trying to remember when a politician running for an important office — not to mention one of the critical swing congressional districts in the country — had so cogently made this case for his opponent. I remembered that this was a man who held the highest-ranking legislative position, and I didn’t ask him about any topic that should have surprised him. And then I had the most frightening thought of all:

Maybe saying nothing is his campaign platform.

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