Hickenlooper Denounces Socialism, Gets Booed

Bernie Sanders supporters are a wee bit sensitive.

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who is seemingly running for President out of sheer boredom, said something that would seem blindingly obvious. It didn’t sit well with a crowd of California Democrats.

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.”

Hickenlooper’s presidential campaign had previewed the remarks hours before he spoke. The Coloradan, who was a geologist and a brewer before entering politics, has repeatedly argued for Democrats to embrace and reform capitalism.

In a May op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, he wrote that he was “running to save” the “only economic system that can support a strong middle class.”

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.”

Some in the audience disagreed with Hickenlooper’s thinking. Jonathan Tasini, a labor activist who endorsed Sanders in 2016 and published a book about the senator’s ideas, said that Hickenlooper had effectively talked his way out of the 2020 race. Hickenlooper had also been booed for saying that Democrats should not “[remove] private insurance from over a hundred million Americans,” a reference to Medicare-for-all legislation.

“Every single presidential candidate who came into this hall was treated with respect,” Tasini said. “He red-baited us and got down in the mud, and I think it finished him.”

This is bizarre on multiple fronts. First, Hickenlooper wasn’t “inartful” in saying what he’s been saying from the beginning. Second, his message has been conventional wisdom in Democratic politics, including in California, for generations. Third, one can’t run oneself out of a race one isn’t in.

Arguing, obliquely, that a leading candidate’s policy prescriptions are both bad economics and bad politics is neither “red-baiting” nor “getting down in the mud.” It’s campaigning.

Hickenlooper’s message is progressive. It’s pretty much what everyone in the race from Pete Buttigieg to Elizabeth Warren is saying. The only Democrat embracing the “socialist” label is Bernie Sanders, who won’t embrace the “Democrat” label. And even Sanders isn’t really a socialist.

The good news for Hickenlooper is that he’s been talked about as other than part of a list of people running for the Democratic nomination for no apparent reason. From what little I know about him, he seems like a perfectly decent and competent guy. He’d almost certainly make a better President than Donald Trump—or Bernie Sanders. But the man’s 67 years old and managed to achieve zero name recognition nationally after eight years as a governor. He’s not going to be President.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Hickenlooper had also been booed for saying that Democrats should not “[remove] private insurance from over a hundred million Americans,” a reference to Medicare-for-all legislation.

    Heh. The part that gets me about all this is the fact that if one is on Medicare, one needs private insurance to cover all the stuff Medicare doesn’t.

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  2. He’s not going to be President.

    To be fair, that’s true of most of the people in the Democratic field right now. Most of them don’t belong running for President to begin with. Nonetheless, there they are. How long they hang on is anybody’s guess.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The part that gets me about all this is the fact that if one is on Medicare, one needs private insurance to cover all the stuff Medicare doesn’t.

    Indeed. My late mother would have been bankrupt if not for Tricare, which covered essentially every nickel that Medicare doesn’t.

    Still, the Bernie Sanders version of Medicare for All requires Medicare to cover everything and makes private insurance illegal.

  4. the Bernie Sanders version of Medicare for All requires Medicare to cover everything and makes private insurance illegal.

    Of course, the Senator has never adequately explained how he’d pay for that, but I suppose that’s just a technicality, right?

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    Still, the Bernie Sanders version of Medicare for All requires Medicare to cover everything and makes private insurance illegal.

    To which I say, “Than it’s not Medicare.” 😉

    To be honest I am sympathetic to people’s frustration with our current health care system, which is ridiculously complex with hidden potholes at every turn (like going to a covered clinic for a covered procedure who outsources part of the job to an out of coverage provider and one unexpectedly gets a bill for the whole cost). As much as I dislike the idea of private insurance for healthcare (on a gut level, not intellectual at all) I recognize the fact that they are one of the main stakeholders in our current system and they aren’t just going to go away.

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  6. drj says:

    In this context, denouncing “socialism” IS red-baiting, I think.

    After all, Sanders and the left wing of the Democratic Party are not (last time I checked) arguing for the collectivization of the means of production.

    Thus, as there are no socialists in the Democratic Party, it’s not far-fetched to assume that Hickenlooper was trying to associate Sanders with the evils of the old USSR.

    Or perhaps he did speak “inartfully.” Who knows.

    On the other hand, if Sanders would simply call himself a “social democrat” rather than a “democratic socialist” (as is common for people of his political persuasions in other parts of the world), we wouldn’t need to bicker about the exact definition of socialism in the first place.

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  7. @OzarkHillbilly:

    This is why I have been listening more intently to people who have been advocating that we ought to be looking at systems like those in Germany, Switzerland, and Australia whose health care/insurance system include a combination of public coverage and private insurance. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of literature in English about the Swiss or German systems for me to find anything other than broad outlines of what they do over there. It’s worth exploring though.

  8. Steve V says:

    I think he got booed for buying into a Fox framework. No one wants the country to turn socialist. They are tired of being labeled socialist at every turn.

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  9. Teve says:

    I would pay for Medicare for all the exact same way Mitch paid for the $1.5 trillion tax cut, the 30 billion dollars in bailouts for farmers, and that extra $70 billion for the Pentagon.

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  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yep, the Europeans have found several solutions to the “healthcare for all at a much more reasonable price” problem. I don’t see why we can’t look at the various possibilities and find a model that works better than the ridiculous cluged up system we have today that was built piece by piece over decades solely to offend nobody while satisfying even fewer.

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    Republicans are running against “socialism”, labelling anything and everybody as “socialist” and they will continue to do so no matter what Ds say and do. Hickenlooper was doing the GOPs’ dirty work for them. He deserved to be booed. If there were such a thing as a Democratic Party membership card, his should be revoked.

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  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    He wasn’t being booed for condemning socialism. He was being booed for spouting Fox News talking points at a Democratic political rally. None of the other candidates said anything about supporting socialism and then Hickenlooper got up and said they were because he’d rather sabotage the eventual nominees than except his campaign isn’t going anywhere.

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Look at other countries to study solutions that work? What are you, some kinda of pointy headed commie elitist?

  14. andy says:

    I’ll state my bias up front, which is that I like Hickenlooper. He was a very popular and effective governor for my home state and would have easily been reelected here were it not for term limits. The main problem I have with him is in regards to foreign policy his FP philosophy and views are still an open question. This is important for me as foreign policy is my primary factor for Presidential votes.

    But the man’s 67 years old and managed to achieve zero name recognition nationally after eight years as a governor.

    I think the reality is that quiet and effective leadership and management doesn’t get reported, especially in the age of Trump. So of course he’s not well known nationally, especially inside the beltway – he’s not a bomb-thrower and doesn’t weigh into the many stupid controversies and virtue signaling that dominate headlines and the blue check brigade on Twitter. Point being, getting national name recognition in this day and age requires being a long-time national figure (Biden), or saying the kinds of things that generate buzz and headlines.

    The only Democrat embracing the “socialist” label is Bernie Sanders, who won’t embrace the “Democrat” label. And even Sanders isn’t really a socialist.

    Sanders wants to nationalize 1/5 of the US economy by removing private capital completely from health care and banning markets and private competition completely. One might argue that is state or crony capitalism and not pure socialism, but it’s certainly close enough to what most people consider “socialism” for the term to stick. And it belies Sander’s claims that he’s a “socialist” in the sense of Scandinavian countries, which are arguably more capitalist and market-oriented than the United States.

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Well, you CAN pay out of pocket, but the advantage to having insurance is that the Medicare sequestrations DON’T go back on your bill when you have insurance. The most important feature of insurance is that insured people don’t pay “rack rate” for their medical service like people who couldn’t get insurance in the past had to.

    ETA: Creeping inflation. When Rush was ranting about health care it was only 1/7th of the economy. Now it seems to be 1/5th.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @andy: First, Sanders proposal is campaign rhetoric, not draft legislation. Second, government is paying a good shot at half of that fifth of the economy now. Third, if we had a rational system that fifth would be closer to a tenth

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  17. Gustopher says:

    Hickenlooper is repeating the Fox/Trump/Republican talking points, and he should have gotten booed. This was really exactly like Trump tweeting that the US is never going to be socialist. What’s next, Hickenlooper referring to Warren as Pocahantas?

    Loopmania is dead.

    When he gives up on the Presidential race, and ponders jumping into the Senate run, this will likely hurt him.

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  18. Kit says:

    @andy:

    Sanders wants to nationalize 1/5 of the US economy

    Wow, 1/5 of the US economy! That’s crazy. Were healthcare to grow to 40%, the very notion of nationalization would be insane. Were it to grow to… Hmm… I don’t think much of that argument.

  19. EddieInCA says:

    Based on what he said, I’d have booed him too.

    Why not focus on the GOP using socialism to buy votes (i.e. bailout for farmers and ranchers due to Trump’s tariffs)?

    That might have made his point without using Fox News talking points.

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  20. Andy says:

    @gVOR08:

    First, Sanders proposal is campaign rhetoric, not draft legislation.

    He’s submitted draft legislation several times. I think this is the most recent iteration. The many analyses of his plan are based on his submitted legislation, not just his rhetoric.

    @Gustopher:

    Hickenlooper is repeating the Fox/Trump/Republican talking points, and he should have gotten booed. This was really exactly like Trump tweeting that the US is never going to be socialist. What’s next, Hickenlooper referring to Warren as Pocahantas?

    This doesn’t make any sense to me. The right-wing, Trump and the GoP are trying to paint Democrats as socialists. Hickenlooper is saying that Democrats aren’t socialists and that Democrats should clearly reject socialism “because Republicans will try to make us into socialists even if we’re not.” In other words, Hickenlooper is rejecting the right-wing talking point, not repeating it.

    If it’s true that Democrats are a moderate center-left party (and you and the rest of the liberal commentariat have argued the Democrats are not a socialist party – at most it’s a center-left party), then what’s the problem? Rejecting socialism shouldn’t be a big deal except to some small minority of actual socialists.

    Also. Obama and Biden both said similar things in recent years (That Democrats aren’t socialists and Democratic policies aren’t socialist). Democrats rejecting socialism isn’t some new thing Hickenlooper invented. But now Democrats can no longer reject socialism because of GoP/Trump/Fox because of talking points? Doesn’t make sense.

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  21. Andy says:

    @Kit:

    Wow, 1/5 of the US economy! That’s crazy. Were healthcare to grow to 40%, the very notion of nationalization would be insane. Were it to grow to… Hmm… I don’t think much of that argument.

    Fortunately there many options between the status quo and nationalization, which are both bad options.

  22. Mister Bluster says:

    Hickenlooper was not the only Democratic candidate dissed at events associated with the California Democrats State Convention in San Francisco yesterday (Sat June 1).
    Kamala Harris was assaulted by an animal rights activist who grabbed her microphone as she was participating in an event presented by MoveOn.

  23. Franklin says:

    I don’t particularly care one way or another what Hickenlooper said. I will just say that new taxes or regulations have absolutely nothing to do with an imagined slippery slope into socialism.

    Taxes aren’t socialism. Regulations aren’t socialism. Fettered capitalism is not socialism. I don’t know what else to do but repeat this every time someone cries socialism in the comment section of your favorite online newspaper.

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  24. Gustopher says:

    @Mister Bluster: she wasn’t assaulted in any meaningful definition of the word. The bro-tester was a complete asshole, but it wasn’t an attack.

    In a stand your ground state, she could have shot him to death, and no one would have mourned his man bun or beard, but that’s more of a reflection on stand your ground States than his actions.

    ——
    Shooting an animal rights bro-tester might be exactly what she needs to do for her campaign though. If there’s anything that can unite 85% of the electorate, a dislike for pushy animal rights protesters with man buns and truly awful beards is it.

    I hope if this happens again, Harris at least calls the guy a d-bag. That would get her a news cycle I like Harris (I like a lot of our candidates), and would love to see her make national news as everyone debates whether calling someone a “d-bag” was presidential.

    I think “d———bag” has completely eclipsed the f-bomb.

  25. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher: I’m at a bar, and I’ve had a strong beer (and a burger), and I have a low tolerance…

    I want all of our candidates to get a free news cycle of something amazingly stupid, and the opportunity to use it to get people to know them better.

    I don’t trust our media to educate people, but I do trust them to gin up a fauxtrovery about calling a douchebag a douchebag, and the good candidates will be able to use that to their advantage.

    ——
    Yes, I am testing the filters. I don’t think it would be great if every comment had the word douchebag three times, but I kind of what to see if is doable.

    I test boundaries, it’s a character flaw.

  26. al Ameda says:

    @James Joyner:

    Still, the Bernie Sanders version of Medicare for All requires Medicare to cover everything and makes private insurance illegal.

    Bernie really needs to get out more.

    In countries like Switzerland, there is a legislated national plan that everyone may avail themselves of, they use a voucher to purchase the national plan from private insurance companies, the profit to those companies is capped (4% I think?) and, if you want additional insurance you purchase more coverage in the market.

    I’m not a big fan of Bernie., and I’m definitely not a fan of ‘socialist’ baiting, Republican-enabling Democrats like Hickenlooper.

  27. Monala says:

    @James Joyner: Somehow, we need to educate a lot of Americans about how universal healthcare in other countries actually works. Both on the left and the right, people seem to believe that it’s single payer. To many on the right, this is the horror of “socialized medicine” (not realizing that the providers are still going to be private); and to many on the left, this means that the only acceptable plan is Medicare for All with no out of pocket costs and no private insurance. The reality around the world is much more varied.

  28. Mister Bluster says:

    @Gustopher:..she wasn’t assaulted in any meaningful definition of the word.

    Assault in California is an intentional attempt to physically injure another, or a menacing or threatening act or statement that causes the other person to believe they are about to be attacked. This crime doesn’t involve actual physical contact.
    (Cal. Penal Code § § 240, 242)