Hickenlooper’s Lonely Plea to Wall Street Journal Readers: ‘I Am a Capitalist.’

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

In response to Hickenlooper Makes His Case, Poorly


Allow me to give John Hickenlooper a few molecules of credit for what he lays out in his Wall Street Journal op-ed. For all of his incuriosity, reflexive faith in government and comforting generalities, Hickenlooper’s argument still represents him coming to peace with an uncomfortable truth: by the standards of today’s Democratic party, he’s something of a conservative.

This is not to say Hickenlooper is a conservative by the standards of, say, National Review readers. But Hickenlooper’s vision and agenda would fit comfortably in the Democratic party of the 1990s or early 2000s, and stands out among the more-progressive-than-thou bidding war among the other candidates. He wants to “make community college free for those who can’t afford it” — acknowledging that some students and their families can afford it and should pay for it themselves. This is pretty heretical at a time when Elizabeth Warren wants to make all public colleges free for everyone, regardless of ability to pay, and to wipe away all college debt for about 75 percent of borrowers. While defending his plan to expand access to community college, Hickenlooper cites — egads! — a report from the American Enterprise Institute. It’s just a matter of time before he gets denounced as a neocon.

Hickenlooper also stands out from some of the better-known candidates because he thinks private health insurance should continue to exist:

I reject the idea we can improve health care by turning it entirely over to the government. More than 150 million Americans have private coverage through their employers, and the majority of people are satisfied with the coverage they have. It would be a fierce and needless battle to take that away from them. Under my plan, if you want to keep your private coverage, you can; but if you don’t have coverage, or if you desire coverage from a public option, we’ll make that available and affordable by allowing you to buy into a plan like Medicare.

Hickenlooper wants to “reform” the capital-gains tax by taxing it adjusted for inflation, at the same rate as income.” If you look at the tables for the tax rates for capital gains and the tax rates for income they’re not that far apart for most earners; Hickenlooper would raise the top rate for the capital gains on the highest earners from 20 percent to 37 percent. Few conservatives will applaud this, but by the standards of today’s Democratic party, this is small potatoes when it comes to tax hikes. Bernie Sanders wants the top capital gains tax raised to 54 percent, and Kamala Harris and Warren have proposed separate wealth taxes on millionaires and billionaires.

Hickenlooper defends free trade, at least in theory: “The U.S. should expand trade rather than adopt a protectionist crouch. One of the most reckless things President Trump did was walk away from potentially positive trade agreements and impose tariffs to force other countries to capitulate.” However, he wants to enforce global greenhouse gas emissions targets through trade deals and threatens to withdraw trading privileges to penalize countries that consistently steal American ideas – read, China. Nonetheless, if Hickenlooper were to become the Democratic nominee — imagine he’s late to one of the candidate forums, and some meteorite slams to earth and wipes out the rest of the field – he would be a relatively pro-free-trade Democrat against a protectionist GOP incumbent.

Finally, Hickenlooper, a former owner of a Denver brewery, comes as close as any Democrat to defending the capitalist system. “I am a small-business man — and, yes, a capitalist. But today American capitalism is broken. We have to fix it before it’s too late.” Sure, Hickenlooper’s fixes are bad, but most of the rest of the party wants to throw gasoline on capitalism and burn it to the ground.

It’s not easy to be the most rightward candidate in the presidential primary of a party veering to the Left. Former vice president Joe Biden is perceived to be the “centrist” in the primary, although it’s probably more accurate to say that Biden simply represented the mainstream of his party throughout his career, and in past eras that was significantly less leftward than now. Hickenlooper needs to somehow supplant Biden as the choice of Democrats uncomfortable with a party platform that represents a de facto socialist revolution, and let’s face it, verbal discipline has never been a strength of Biden or Hickenlooper. But if for Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents horrified at the thought of the next national convention breaking out in The Internationale,” Hickenlooper represents a place to park their votes.

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