Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

I felt former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s pain when I read about his being booed in California.

It seems the longshot presidential candidate was booed at a state Democratic Party meeting when he urged those present not to embrace socialism. And as a former political science professor at the Air Force Academy, this kind of thing drives me nuts. I’ve previously written that socialism is not the scary creature hiding in your closet, just waiting to jump on you and take all your money. No, socialism is replete throughout our system of government, and we are all the better for it. If there are some gentle readers who feel socialism is always wrong, I’d urge you to not pick up your mail (socialist Post Office), nor drive on the interstate highways, and to give your children medications that have not been tested to make sure they work. Oh, and if your house catches fire, be sure to call the independent and capitalistic private fire station near you (in fact, in the early days of our nation, this was actually the norm. People would place the insignia of the fire company they had hired, and if a fire erupted, you’d find firefighters checking the front door for the insignia of their company. If it wasn’t there, they let the house burn).

So, let’s be a bit more careful with our words, shall we? Hick’s concerns are with some of the more aggressive of the reform proposals circling around these days. The Green New Deal, for example, isn’t really a set of policy proposals, it’s just an idea. Regardless, many on the right have leapt atop their rickety soapboxes to denounce the very idea of a serious set of policies to help mitigate our environmental concerns. What Hick was cautioning about was to not embrace words that the other side can use to try to scare voters — Boo! Socialism is coming! Won’t someone think of the children?

Hickenlooper’s caution would resonate with political figures from the past, including, say, Nixon and LBJ. Nixon once cautioned that to get the Republican nomination for president, you must “run right, then run center.” Nixon was saying that, because people who vote in primaries tend to be more extreme in their views than the electorate as a whole, you need to appease those on the far right, then pivot back to the middle to win the election. And Lyndon Johnson cautioned that you can’t get the government too far ahead of the people, or else you risk losing your supporters.

Both those views are, of course, both cynical and just may be good advice, from a Machiavellian point of view, where only winning matters. President Trump makes a lot (and I mean a lot) of incendiary statements, which causes the more thoughtful to wonder what he’s talking about, but at least a portion of his base feed on that red meat. Remember “lock her up?” even though multiple GOP congressional committees had investigated and found no crimes? 

So, we appear to be in a fact-challenged world today, in which a horrifyingly large percentage of (mostly) GOP voters believe a free and open press is a danger to democracy. Is there room for nuance? Are their subtle and important substrata of issues that are not best served by loud and simplistic pronouncements? Yup, lots of them, like, well, socialism

As a life-long Democrat, I’ve seen my party’s “purity tests” all too often bring too extreme candidates, leaving more electable folks in their wake. Hickenlooper, it seems to me, is cautioning against the kind of party squabbling that ends with lots of smug feelings and an unelectable candidate. As a guy who is often thirsty, I like half-full glasses better than empties. A Hickenlooper or a Bennet or another moderate candidate is the most likely to run the country well, in terms of actually getting stuff done — stuff that satisfies neither extreme of the parties but is actually more in tune with the majority of the American electorate. 

In my own quixotic run for Congress back in 08, I found that some of the farther-left folks were disappointed with me on guns, education, and a few other areas, and resolved not to vote for me as an “impure” Dem. Now, in my congressional district, the numbers are such that I can’t reasonably claim these non-votes matter, but they will in the upcoming presidential election in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and yes, Colorado. And so I’d ask the more extreme folks, would you rather lose with a “pure” candidate, or truly compete with a more pragmatic person as the nominee? I’ll take the later for the win.

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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