Former Colorado governor and Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper rebuked Sen. Bernie Sanders’s brand of democratic socialism in a speech Thursday at the National Press Club.
Hickenlooper’s speech was billed as an event to promote his policy plans on abortion and birth control. It was made clear beforehand that he would also use the platform to criticize Sanders and other Democratic rivals who have endorsed socialist policies.
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In the opening sentences of his remarks, Hickenlooper affirmed his position that socialism should have no place in the Democratic party platform, and expressed disappointment that other candidates had paid lip service to the ideology. The former governor warned that Democratic openness to socialism would make the party vulnerable to attacks from Republicans.
"Democratic socialism is not just a poor electoral strategy," Hickenlooper said. "I think it’s a disastrous governing model."
Hickenlooper advocated for a pragmatic political approach rather than radical ideological positions. He said he supported working with Republican lawmakers on policy, and criticized the proliferation of litmus tests among Democratic candidates.
"While Sanders has attacked those in the center for preaching what he calls incrementalism, the reality is that pragmatists don’t say no to big ideas, they figure out how to actually get them done," Hickenlooper said.
Hickenlooper made sure to buff up his progressive qualifications following his condemnation of socialism, referring to his policy record on environmental and police reform, as well as abortion.
When asked whether his poor polling numbers suggested that voters rejected his moderate philosophy, Hickenlooper brushed off such concerns. He replied that most voters are not paying as much attention to candidates and issues as they will in upcoming months.
Hickenlooper has taken up a moderate position as many other Democratic candidates have shifted to the left on issues including the economy, immigration, and the environment. He hopes that the less-vocal majority of Democratic voters sympathize with his moderation and reject socialism. Hickenlooper has drawn progressive hostility for pursuing this strategy.
The candidate attracted national attention earlier this month when he was booed at a California Democratic Party Convention after denouncing socialism. Thursday’s speech at the National Press Club was an opportunity for Hickenlooper to voice his rebuke of socialism without facing backlash from a hostile crowd.