Bernie Bros Crashed the First Night of the Democratic Convention
Hillary Clinton's coronation is off to a rocky start.
All photos by Jason Bergman
Famous politicians and A-list celebrities essentially begged Democrats to get behind Hillary Clinton Monday night, but they found themselves confronted once again by an angry contingent of Bernie Sanders supporters, throwing off any hopes the party had of projecting a unified front as its national convention opened in Philadelphia.
It was a fitting coda to the first day of the party's national gathering, which was colored by angry heckling and raucous demonstrations from Sanders supporters irate at what they claim was essentially a conspiracy by party insiders to tip the scales for Clinton. On the arena floor Monday night, a handful of delegates booed every time Clinton's name was mentioned, and real enthusiasm for her candidacy was hard to come by even as other speakers took pains to praise Clinton's record on issues like healthcare, the minimum wage, and abortion rights.
Despite an opening lineup stacked with Democratic favorites like First Lady Michelle Obama and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, Sanders remained the main event. Hundreds of pro-Sanders delegates shouted "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!" as their unlikely primary candidate took the stage to throw his support behind the Democratic rival he spent most of the year lampooning as corrupt and compromised.
But even as Sanders called on his supporters to get behind Clinton's nomination, he also didn't exactly tone down the rhetoric around his own campaign, ticking off the achievements of his "political revolution"—and perhaps setting the stage for an ugly roll-call vote when delegates meet again to nominate Clinton Tuesday.
"I think it's fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am," Sanders told the crowd. "Together, my friends, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution—our revolution—continues.
"It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues. That's what this campaign has been about," he continued, winding down what amounted to his last stump speech of the 2016 cycle. "That's what democracy is about."
Watching from the floor Monday, it was hard not to reflect on how poorly suited Clinton—who seems just as comfortable getting paid to address Wall Street bankers as she is tugging at progressive heartstrings—is for this populist moment in the Democratic Party. Class rage was the primordial ooze of Sanders's run, and it represents a potent line of attack against a cartoonish Republican presidential nominee that Clinton is perhaps poorly positioned to exploit.
Democrats did their best to quell the chaos caused by Sanders's fans, trotting out some of their biggest guns after a weekend dominated by a renewal of Bernie bro rage. PauI Simon appropriately sang "Bridge Over Troubled Water." I saw Boyz II Men perform for the first time in my life and briefly felt hopeful about the future of America. Warren, a progressive favorite upon whom many Bernie fans have now pinned their White House hopes, delivered the keynote speech—and while she didn't bring the house down, she did manage to get in a few good shots at Donald Trump.
"Last week, Donald Trump spoke for more than an hour on the biggest stage he's ever had," Warren told the crowd. "But other than talking about building a stupid wall—which will never get built—other than that wall, did you hear any actual ideas?"
But it wasn't until Michelle Obama addressed the convention, taking the stage just before Warren's speech, that the Wells Fargo Center arena really came to life, drowning out even the disgruntled chants of the Bernie Bros. Throngs of delegates waving "Michelle" signs roared in approval at the first lady's arrival, and they listened rapturously as she embraced Clinton as the successor to her husband's historic presidency.
"I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves," Obama said. "And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States."
What remains to be seen is whether a convention that so far seems to be built around appeals to identity politics and making Donald Trump seem as terrifying as possible can generate real momentum for Clinton heading into what could be a tight general election race this fall. Leaving the arena after Sanders's speech, I immediately ran into a gaggle of Berniacs shouting about superdelegates and promising chaos at the roll-call vote.
"As Bernie supporters, if we're true to Bernie and we say he's our leader, then we are gonna need to do what he asks us to do," Katie Nelson, a union official and county Democratic Party chair who works in child support in Olympia, Washington, told me. "Maybe I'm not feeling the unity, but I guess I understand the necessity."
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