By Linda Valdez for the Arizona Republic.
Linda Valdez: Raul Grijalva’s health-care town hall proves it: People want an agenda from Democrats, and they want it spelled out in the way America talks.
The Democrats’ desire for strong leaders who can give them something to vote for — not just against — was on neon blue display in Tucson Thursday night.
The event was a health-care town hall hosted by Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva.
There was plenty of talk about the life-and-death stakes for people who stand to lose their Obamacare coverage if the ruling Republican Party detonates its repeal-and-replace bomb.
But recurring questions from the audience were also about the health of a party that still has that deer-in-the-headlights look nine months after an election they thought they couldn’t lose. But did.
Do Democrats stand for anything?
People repeatedly asked: What can we do? What’s the agenda? What does the party stand for?
The answers did not rise to the occasion.
That was revealing because Grijalva is not one of those too-cautious Democrats who can’t take a stand.
He has been articulating the left’s frustration since he called for a boycott of Arizona in 2010 after conservatives enacted the “show me your papers” immigration law SB 1070.
His assessment of what’s going on in Washington today again reflected the anger of the Democratic base.
Activists are fired up. Leaders? No clue
“The repeal-and-replace process has nothing to do with health-care reform,” he said. “It is political in nature and ideological in intent.”
The applause was enthusiastic.
MORE: Protesters cited over health-care protest at Sen. Flake’s office
He gave activists full credit, saying that only the “unprecedented opposition from the public” has saved Obamacare “thus far.”
Many in the audience have been passing petitions, demonstrating, writing to Congress.
They are also waiting for their party to give them an agenda that goes beyond resistance.
It’s not enough to be against Trump
The first question after Grijalva opened the microphones made that clear.
“What’s your strategy?” the man demanded, saying that simply being against Trump is not enough.
Grijalva’s response included this: “If the Democratic Party wants to be a majority party, it has to talk in the way the American people are talking.”
So true. Democrats intellectualize instead of capitalizing on the passion, fear and anger of an energized base. They sermonize while America tweets.
Grijalva was repeatedly asked if he would support a Medicare-for-all measure in Congress. He is a co-sponsor of HR 676, introduced in January to offer Medicare for all. It’s gone nowhere.
The plan’s ready, just not introduced
The big, high-profile push could come from an effort he’s been working on with Sen. Bernie Sanders, which is expected to be a single-payer, Medicare-for-all bill. It’s been delayed because of Sanders’ desire to coordinate efforts with the House and Senate, Grijalva said.
Sanders has been promising to introduce his bill since the House repeal of Obamacare was stalled. The repeal bill passed. People are still waiting for the Democratic alternative as GOP leadership tries to build support among reluctant Republicans for a stalled Senate repeal that’s just as mean as the House version.
“We have something people can look to,” Grijalva said of the Sanders bill. It’s been ready for weeks. Maybe it will be introduced the week after Congress returns from recess, he said. Or “soon after.”
When pressed again on why he didn’t become “a champion” by pushing health care for all, Grijalva said: “If I made a mistake, it was waiting for Bernie.”
This is where progressives fail
This represents a collective failure of progressives. They are squandering an energized base.
Sure, these are tough times for a party so far out of power. Decades of progressive achievements are under assault from a Republican majority bent on rolling back progress on human rights, environmental and consumer protection, as well as health care.
“Now we find ourselves defending a piece of legislation that needs fixing,” Grijalva said of Obamacare, which he supported as an “incremental step toward establishing health care as a right for everyone.”
Democrats have to defend Obamacare because people will be hurt if the Republican repeal goes as planned. But they should not be distracted from the need to offer an uplifting vision of their own for America.
The crowd in Tucson made that clear: They want leaders who can walk and chew gum at the same time.
They want an agenda, and they want it spelled out the way America talks.
Reach columnist Linda Valdez at linda.valdez@