Jimmy Sengenberger

Jimmy Sengenberger

“If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer,” proclaimed Democratic presidential longshot John Hickenlooper at the California Democratic Party’s annual convention.  His words echoed what he said his May 5 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “I’m Running to Save Capitalism.”

“American capitalism is at risk,” he began. Hickenlooper finally declared that, “yes, [I am] a capitalist” at the end of the piece — two full months after refusing to accept the label on MSNBC.

When he asserted that “socialism is not the answer” at Saturday’s assembly, the crowd whipsawed the former Colorado governor with boos.  His retort: “You know, if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up re-electing the worst president in American history.”

In other words, Hick’s reasoning for opposing “socialism” when pressed in front of fellow Democrats is not that it’s a flawed and failed economic system.  It’s because he thinks it’s bad politics.

Labor activist Jonathan Tasini lambasted him for having “red-baited us and got down in the mud, and I think it finished him.”  Yet in March, when Salon asked Hickenlooper about his thoughts on Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a self-described “democratic socialist” — he responded: “I don’t agree with everything that she says, but I think that we share the vast majority of perspectives on a lot of… we share a majority of perspectives.” 

Hick may not realize it himself, but to endorse the “vast majority of perspectives” of Ocasio-Cortez and “big progressive goals” is to sanction a set of ideas that are decidedly not capitalist. 

On the one hand, Hickenlooper rightly stated in his op-ed that capitalism is “the only economic system that can support a strong middle class, a growing economy, and innovative entrepreneurs leading global technological advancements.”  But he assails capitalism as “simply [not] working” for “too many Americans.” 

“To save capitalism, the government has to adjust it,” he contended, asserting that it has done so “countless times in this nation’s history.”  But many of the “adjustments” the federal government has put into effect have eroded capitalism, not “saved” it.  America today is rooted in capitalism, but our economy is a heavily government-influenced system.

Hick says that arguing for an “increasingly deregulated market” is putting capitalism at risk — yet capitalism is literally about unleashing the unlimited potential of every individual, not constraining it by government edict.

While claiming to be a “capitalist,” he wants to provide free community college, raise the minimum wage to $15 nationally and index it regionally, break up businesses he deems “too big,” and greatly expand government health care programs.  He has frequently embraced more government authority, not less.

As governor, Hickenlooper raised Coloradans’ electricity bills by pushing the Xcel monopoly to replace coal with more-expensive wind energy; he put us on California emission standards; he massively expanded Medicaid (hurting Colorado’s finances), and he appointed the overzealously anti-religious liberties members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  While his record is not a radical one, it does reveal a large faith in government more than in the market.  He just prefers that government grow incrementally.

I first argued on the radio back in November that Hick would ostensibly run for president — but he wouldn’t be (and isn’t) serious about running.  My contention was — and remains — that he recognizes the need to develop a robust national fundraising base to effectively take down incumbent Senator Cory Gardner in Colorado’s 2020 Senate race.  He also must realize he has no viable chance at winning the presidency.

Gardner, the former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, will be well-equipped with a formidable war chest, in addition to loyal, affluent allies like the NRSC.  Even though Gardner is arguably the most vulnerable Senate Republican up for re-election, any Democratic nominee must still have tremendous financial support to mount a victorious campaign. And with 579 Democrats seemingly vying for the nomination already, financial resources will be more difficult to build up.

Thus, John Hickenlooper’s vain attempt to “stand up” for capitalism seems to be all about setting him up for the Senate pivot as national Democrats have jolted further left. 

The ex-gov’s words and actions reveal that he is a walking, talking contradiction.  Colorado conservatives must be ready to make the case.

Jimmy Sengenberger is the host of Business for Breakfast on KDMT Denver’s Money Talk 1690 AM and The Jimmy Sengenberger Show on News/Talk 710 KNUS.  He is the President and CEO of the Denver-based Millennial Policy Center.

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