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June 03, 2019 01:50 PM UTC

Hickenlooper: The Honest Guy Who Can't Read a Room

  • by: Colorado Pols
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D).

The Washington Post’s Dave Wiegel reports via the Denver Post on an undeniably profile-raising appearance this weekend by former Gov. John Hickenlooper before California Democrats–although whether Hick’s profile was raised positively or negatively is up for considerable debate today:

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper found a way to stand out at a crowded gathering of California Democrats: He denounced “socialism,” and got booed.

“If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer,” Hickenlooper said at a Saturday afternoon session of the state party’s annual convention. As the jeering grew louder, Hickenlooper added: “You know, if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up reelecting the worst president in American history.”

Watching the clip above, you can see that Hickenlooper wasn’t just booed, but booed into submission by irate California Democrats who more or less refused to let him speak after the words “socialism is not the answer” passed his lips. In an interview afterward, Hickenlooper explained what he was (albeit clumsily) getting at:

…In an interview, Hickenlooper said he had spoken “inartfully,” and that he did not mean to single out any of his opponents, though Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is the only self-identified “democratic socialist” seeking the White House.

“We’ve got to clearly show that we reject socialism,” Hickenlooper said. “We’ve got to do that because Republicans will try to make us into socialists even if we’re not. If we’re not willing to draw a bright line and say we’re not socialists, we could quite possibly reelect this president.”

“Socialism” is a term that has almost always been used pejoratively in American politics, with anything identifying thusly marginalized in the public eye by the Red Scare and the McCarthyist purge a generation later. “Socialism” has been more recently rehabilitated and even championed by representatives of safely left constituencies like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who argue that the term has been abused and accurately applies to bipartisan American institutions like Social Security and Medicare. For decades, Republican message masters have worked to define “socialism” in the mold of totalitarian communism–an extreme meant to frighten Americans out of rational consideration of such things as universal health care and economic regulation of any kind.

Into this overheated rhetorical space steps our own former Gov. Hickenlooper, who in his eight years in office tried hard and often thanklessly to advance “progressive goals” without pitched ideological battles. Hickenlooper certainly has his issue blind spots, though overall his platform is one that a large percentage of Democrats nationally could support. But he doesn’t call his agenda “socialism,” and he thinks the term is politically repellent.

In Colorado, he’s…if not right then more right than wrong. The problem for Hickenlooper is that by waging war on the word “socialism,” he’s giving into the frame of Republicans who agree that the word is politically toxic and extend that toxicity to the Democratic agenda as a whole. Instead of railing against a word in front of a crowd who definitely doesn’t agree with his connotations of the word, Hickenlooper would do much better to remind prospective voters that what the right falsely demonizes as “socialism” today are the institutions we all depend on–and what Hickenlooper himself supported as governor.

It’s possible that this exposure will have an inverse effect from the boos of California Democrats, and increase Hickenlooper’s profile at a time when he can surely use it. But unless he can follow this up with a unifying principle that transcends any one word and its many tortured definitions, a valuable opportunity to make the case we think Hickenlooper wants to make in this presidential campaign is being lost.


19 thoughts on “Hickenlooper: The Honest Guy Who Can’t Read a Room

  1. Democrats are making a mistake to dance inside the Republican's message frame.

    It's pitiful the lesson has gone unlearned despite the repeated opportunities to have done so. 


    1. Don't cry for Hick, he loves punching left.  What more centrist thing is there?

      Nobody would have brought up socialism.  There was no need for Hick to.  Of course he brought it up.  How else to shine the light on the path leading to the glorious Third Way?

      1. . . . he loves punching left

        Almost, it seems, as much as he likes punching himself in the balls?

        The good news is that there’s no position ex-governerlooper can’t be dragged to taking credit for after it has succeeded . . .

        . . . If Hick’ were an “honest guy” he’d be wearing a sandwich board that said: “I’ve never led on anything. Follow me, follow you.”

    2. My thought exactly. Seems awfully amateurish for someone who successfully ran twice for Governor. Perhaps the larger audience of Dems around the country will finally send a clear message to Hickenlooper that we don't want and don't need Republican-lite. 

  2. Can we change this Gawd-dam narrative?!!  Can we call it what it is? ‘Democratic Socialism’?!?  That ‘thing’ that built rural America – and a whole lotta other things?!?  Keerist. My head wants to explode.  

    1. The REA?  90 years of farm subsidies?  Rural roads paved by city taxes.  Rural schools funded by city taxes.

      what are you talking about? That ain't Socialism!  Socialism is t he $20 some damn fool slipped to that hungry black kid!

    1. Nobody said he did Moldy.  They just said he sucks at messaging.  Here's the thing.  As much as you like him spewing Republican talking points, you would never vote for him so it doesn't matter in his current situation whether you prefer him to Jay Inslee. 

  3. I usually lean toward a centrist and I like Hick but he's done after his bid fails. Having said that this is not the time for a centrist, we need a left leaning president just to bring us back to center after the mess Trump and the republican Senate have made but what we'll get is Biden. If Hick were smart he'd quit now, wait a couple of months and then run for the Senate against Gardner but he says that he doesn't want the Senate. Maybe a cabinet post could be in his future. 

  4. Hickenlooper spent time explaining himself, and has a vision of his place in the campaign.

    WAPO, The Daily 202: ‘Socialism is not the answer.’ John Hickenlooper discusses his Sister Souljah moment after boos in S.F.

    — Despite his popularity in Colorado, and eight years as the chief executive of a purple battleground state, Hickenlooper has struggled to break beyond 1 percent in the national polls. But Hickenlooper is gambling his candidacy on the assumption that the nominee won’t be determined by far-left activists in San Francisco.

    …. My whole point is that I'm the one person who's actually done all the progressive things the other people are talking about. As such, I think I can I can win in Ohio, North Carolina and Michigan. But, almost more importantly, I've demonstrated that after we beat Trump, I can bring people together. We've got a national vision for climate change and a national vision for universal health care that we can get to rapidly with relatively modest investments. A lot of what we've done in Colorado is a template of what will work nationally.”


    1. The state did get progressively bluer while Hickenlooper was governor but to say he can bring people together is a bit of a stretch and he is missing the key point that to get to that point, he has to convince a lot of Democratic primary voters that he intends to do more than roll over for Republicans.  This is an age where Democratic voters don't want to deal with McConnell's treachery anymore.  Hick can't seem to get his head around that fundamental driving force in Democratic politics.  Democrats don't want to place nice anymore.  They might have the moral high ground but Republicans are busy bulldozing the Supreme Court and gerrymandering the country.  Republicans have no reason to play nice when lying, cheating and stealing is working so well for them.  Hick doesn't seem like the kind of guy to change that calculation.

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