Rhetorical Recap: Oh Yes, He’s Running, Too

John Hickenlooper Presidential Candidacy Announcement Speech, Civic Center Park, Denver CO March 7, 2019

An affable demeanor. A capacity for eloquence. One career foot in business and one in government. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats! These were the main assets former Colorado governor and Denver mayor John Hickenlooper brought to his declaration speech stage last week.

Like Jay Inslee, who declared days earlier, John Hickenlooper spoke of American optimism in an appropriately confident voice. He styled himself as a man of the big, rugged, and seemingly boundless West:

We’re a young country in a wondrous, bountiful land, teeming with possibility.

We’re innovative, filled with the strength that dwells in the toughest alloys – the magic you get from combining all origins and outlooks into something resilient and wonderful.

Then, as no candidate has to date, he ripped into Donald Trump for what he has said, how he has said it, and what he has done (closing down the government, “kidnapping” at the border).

It was as though Trump was a scourge upon the great outdoors and Hickenlooper was Paul Bunyan.

He returned to the optimistic register, now established as a contrast to the president:

We broadcast America’s values by celebrating those who may not have been born in America—but America was born in them.

We gauge our standing in the world by the number of allies who trust us and stand with us through the worst of times.

He threw in an autobiographical jab:

Let me tell you something else: growing up as a skinny kid with coke bottle glasses and a funny last name, I’ve dealt with my fair share of bullies.

Hickenlooper’s account of policy accomplishments while governor ranged from expanding Medicaid to background checks on guns (“in a western state”) to methane regulations and going from 40th to 1st among states in economic growth.

His personal history focused on the feat of moving out of two years of unemployment into a brewpub business that created jobs for others.

His program includes rejoining the Paris climate agreement and taking the moonshot approach to reducing carbon emissions, “universal affordable” health-care coverage (he did not say “Medicare for All”):

And we’ll renew our commitment to a reformed justice system that addresses our long history of slavery, segregation and racial bias.

Son of a bitch. Give me a drink.What’s not to like here?

Well, his chances. Hickenlooper today lacks the financial and party network resources to get noticed by Democratic voters. He was one of nine candidates who spoke at SXSW last week, which illustrates the problem of riding from the sparsely populated West into a crowded field that includes the similarly geolocated Jay Inslee and perhaps his fellow Coloradan Senator Michael Bennet, Hickenlooper’s hire to run the Denver schools when he was mayor. In Austin Hickenlooper tried to distinguish himself on the basis of his record. He wants to be known as the candidate who has been part of bringing into law what so many of the other Democrats are urging. To do that he collaborated with oil and gas executives, an enemy force to several prominent Democrats.

In these times, Hickenlooper may be the wrong type of one percenter, as in poll standing not personal wealth. He seemed too witty to coin and repeat a slogan. He probably needs one.

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