A day that began with concerns about Democratic Party unity ended last night with a rousing affirmation of Hillary Clinton as the party nominee, led by her primary challenger, Bernie Sanders.
“Any objective observer will conclude that – based on her ideas and her leadership – Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” an animated, forceful Sanders told the crowd. “The choice is not even close.”
Now, that won’t silence the most die-hard of Sanders supporters, as a handful of objecting voices in the convention hall made clear throughout the opening night. But in the words of that noted political sage and Bernie supporter, Sarah Silverman:
“Can I just say, to the Bernie-or-bust people: You are being ridiculous!”
And they are. They weren’t cheated, they lost. It’s extremely self-righteous to argue, as some still do, that Sanders ought to be nominee because their own gut-deep certainty is somehow more authentic and valid than the votes of millions who chose Clinton instead. There’s a narcissism to that argument that directly contradicts the democratic spirit that they claim to honor, and it’s ugly.
Sanders and his top staff kept that false narrative alive for far too long, for largely selfish purposes, and now find themselves trying to stamp it out in the national spotlight. But the relative handful of provocateurs can’t change the fact that most of Sanders’ backers came to terms with the outcome long ago, and based on the events of the convention stage and delegate floor, it’s hard to believe it will have any lingering impact come November.
The star of the night — the irresistible force who by personality, charisma and power of story swept away all doubters — was Michelle Obama. Her husband will not speak in person at this convention and the rhetorical abilities of Bill Clinton have diminished, but even at their peaks those two men might not have been able to top the first lady’s performance. Certainly, it’s not a speech that Melania Trump could have delivered.
She talked of waking up every morning in the White House, “a house built by slaves,” and marveling at the path that brought her family and her country to that moment. She talked of the difficulty of watching her daughters go off to school each morning, packed into black SUVs full of large, heavily armed men.
She took on Donald Trump without ever mentioning his name, yet making the connection clear. In raising their daughters in the fishbowl of public attention, she explained, they had consciously discussed “how to urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith; how we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country; how we explain that when someone is cruel, or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level -– no, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”
She also spoke with enormous conviction about her support for Clinton as her husband’s successor, recalling that “when (Clinton) didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home. Because as a true public servant, Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments.”
And again, without mentioning Trump, she made the distinction clear:
“When you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady, and measured, and well-informed.”
“We need to knock on every door” she said in her conclusion. “We need to get out every vote. We need to pour every last ounce of our passion and our strength and our love for this country into electing Hillary Clinton as President of the United States of America.”
Even the Bernie-or-bust guys knew better to step on that message.