DNC 2016: Day 2—A Note on Party Unity

Iowa, making history.

On Party Unity

Yesterday was huge. History. (Herstory.) The Mothers of the Movement. Bill Clinton’s FLOTUS speech. Lots of stuff to talk about. But I want to start by focusing in on one key point about party unity that I’m seeing up close and personal: the Sanders delegates who are the most upset are the ones who are newcomers to the partisan political process—which is both potentially precarious and potentially an enormous opportunity.

The Democratic Party is pretty clearly coming together on a national level, but many of the activists who fought hard for Senator Sanders aren’t there yet and may never be. I can’t say for sure, but I’d say most, maybe 2/3 or so, of the Iowa Sanders delegation are signing on to the Unity project. In the convention hall, dramatically fewer boos on Day Two, and lots of loud cheering for Secretary Clinton. That was driven in no small part by the fact that former Sanders staffers were walking throughout the hall personally asking Sanders supporters to not be disruptive, including a few in our delegation. The vigorous effort by Senator Sanders and his high-profile supporters has been received pretty well—with one caveat. His supporters who are new to the partisan political process are confused and angry.

I spoke to a Sanders delegate this morning (Wednesday, Day 3) who was really confused about why all of Sanders’ supporters, and even Sanders himself, were endorsing Secretary Clinton before the roll call vote, which happened on Tuesday. This delegate seemed confused as to why Sanders would ask his supporters to even show up at the convention in the first place if they weren’t going to try to fight it out on the floor. The delegate was wondering why didn’t Sanders just concede right after Clinton locked up the nomination if he knew he never had a chance on the floor, why bother keeping supporters’ hopes up? The delegate thought it felt like Sanders and the speakers at the convention who supported him were all being FORCED to endorse Secretary Clinton as a condition to speak, which was perceived by this delegate to be anti-democratic.

In a nutshell, this delegate just didn’t seem to know that what we’ve been seeing over the last 48 hours is 100% what you’d expect at a convention like this where the Unity project really is the most important priority. In fact, it is remarkably similar to what Hillary Clinton herself did when she lost to Barack Obama in 2008. The big difference there, of course, is that the 2008 primary wasn’t really a referendum on the Democratic Party itself, which 2016 pretty clearly was.

From the way I see it, most of the Bern delegates who are still upset at this point simply don’t really know what the norms of events like the Democratic convention are—which is why you see people upset there wasn’t a roll call vote on the first day. That’s just not how the schedule works. Because they’re newcomers to partisan political process, there’s a lot of confusion about how these events go, what the purpose is, etc. And you can respond to that in one of two ways: 1) You can mock and jeer it and laugh at “how stupid these Bernie people are” OR 2) You can say that participation by new people in the process is a good thing and believe that listening really is important.

We have to double-down on new people and new participation and listening being important—and this goes both way.

On Tuesday morning, as we were casting our votes during the roll call ballot process at breakfast, I did my best to let Sanders folks know that I heard them, that I was listening, and that I was actively trying to see this contest through their eyes. I talked about that a bit in my post yesterday. It seemed to be well-received, and I had a number of Sanders delegates express gratitude and interest in talking. We’ve had a few of those conversations (including the one described above) and I’m looking forward to more. To the extent that there is also interest by Sanders delegates in learning about the process and how to participate and how to shape it and how to help make it the system they want to see, there is a huge opportunity to both bring the party together and to build the party up. There’s a lot more to say about this, but don’t have the time or space here.

The Convention

Gaveled in around 4:30pm, and it began with a recognition of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was authored by former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. (Which I wrote about here for the Daily Iowan.) He gave a beautiful speech that was more or less the antithesis of what we saw in Cleveland last week. After sharing his personal story about his brother Frank and why he co-authored the ADA, he closed his speech in American Sign Language, and taught the room the sign for “America” which is to interlock your fingers with the backs of your hands facing forward, thumbs up, and to then move your hands in a small circular motion. It was a really touching moment.

After the ADA celebration and Senator Harkin’s speech, the roll call vote got going fairly quickly. It was immediately noticeable that the room was less boisterous, which was a very pleasant development. Each state spent a good minute or two extolling the unique values of the state. Lots of cheering, and lots of emotions. I was a little taken aback at how emotionally compelling listening to this live was, and it wasn’t just the fact that we were nominating Hillary or making history or any of that. It was just… democracy, representation of millions of people from across the country, expressing their voice—Sanders and Clinton supporters alike. And then Sanders himself did something really special.

The roll call goes A-Z, so we finally get down to Vermont, which “passes” on announcing their votes, so we skip on to the Virgin Islands. Immediately, it becomes clear that Senator Sanders is going to pull a Hillary Clinton, and move to suspend the rules to nominate Hillary Clinton by acclamation, which is what she did for Obama in 2008. And that’s exactly what happens. The aye’s overwhelmingly had it, although there were definitely plenty of nay’s in the room. And just like that, the first Jewish candidate to have a real shot at the presidential nomination of a major party nominated Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States. (And her campaign was the first to be managed by an openly gay man, Robby Mook.) It was history.

With the actual nomination itself squared away, some Sanders delegates walked out, but most of the Iowa Sanders supporters stayed. The speeches got going, and the Mothers of the Movement were easily the most powerful speeches of the night. The entire room rose to their feet as they took the stage, chanting “Black Lives Matter!” with heart. I just about lost it. I cannot imagine the strength it takes to go through what must be the most difficult experience there is and to then share those stories on a national stage. Almost all of our delegation was either outright weeping or on the verge of tears—and there were no questions about unity, etc. It was a moment of mourning and a commitment to move forward as a country.

Eventually, President Clinton got on stage, and boy did he deliver. He looked much better than he did when I saw him in Iowa—healthier, a bit tanner, bigger smile, and his voice sounded dramatically better. Listening to him deliver a quintessential FLOTUS speech, as both a man and a former President, was really something. He made a lot of points that he made on the trail about Hillary improving everything she touched, giving concrete examples of both her altruism and her competency.

(An aside: a Sanders delegate this (Wednesday) morning told me that she had learned a lot about Hillary from Bill’s speech last night that she didn’t know before and that caused her to regret some of the things she’d said to reporters yesterday (Tuesday) during the day. So Bill’s speech definitely connected with at least some Sanders delegates who still aren’t quite on board with Project Unity.)

It was a great speech. There was a lot of self-deprecating humor, delivered in Bill’s folksy style. He directly alluded to the “heartbreak” they experienced as a couple without explicitly mentioning Lewinsky but in a way that I expect many married couples understand. And most importantly, it was filled with lots and lots of anecdotes. It really was a series of stories of their relationship and their time together.

Finally, we closed out the evening with a live video feed from Hillary in New York, surrounded by women and girls, speaking directly to the glass ceiling that had just been shattered. It was a nice, humanizing moment received warmly by the audience, and it definitely contributed to the build up for her speech on Thursday night. I can’t wait.