So long, Sanders. It’s Clinton’s convention now.
PHILADELPHIA — At first it was about him. And then, finally, it was about her.
The theme of the first day of the Democratic National Convention was “United Together” — a redundancy that underscored how desperate the Democratic establishment was to set aside the divisions of this year’s long, hard, primary battle and unite the party around nominee Hillary Clinton.
In practice, this meant that Bernie Sanders and his often obstreperous delegates dominated the first 24 hours of the event. How they booed. Who they booed. What they chanted. Whether Bernie could control them. What his surrogates would say onstage. Whether the divisions on display in the Wells Fargo Center reflected larger divisions in the party.
Even Tuesday’s roll call vote, usually a ceremonial tribute to the nominee, was all about Bernie. Instead of interrupting the proceedings when Clinton hit the magic number of delegates — 2,383 — every last one of Sanders’ 1,894 votes was counted, as his team had requested and his supporters had demanded. A woman from South Dakota spoke about how Sanders had “inspired us all”; a man from Washington described him as “transformative.” That was the tone of much of what transpired in Philadelphia up until that point: Trump is terrible. Hillary is pretty great. Bernie is spectacular.
From a historical perspective, it was a remarkable reversal. The names of other Democratic runners-up had been entered in the roll call before: Ted Kennedy in 1980, Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart in 1984, Jerry Brown in 1992, Hillary Clinton in 2008. But none had been treated as tenderly, or portrayed as heroically, as Sanders.
The 1992 “convention was so controlled, they wouldn’t even let me talk,” Jerry Brownrecalled on Tuesday. “This is a love fest compared to that.”
The tables turned, however, the minute that Sanders stepped to the microphone at the end of the roll call and “move[d] that Hillary Clinton be selected” — unanimously — “as the nominee of the Democratic Party for president of the United States.” The delegates roared. A version of Pharrell’s “Happy” played on the sound system. And Sanders disappeared from the massive screens over the stage.
He’s unlikely to appear again in Philadelphia.
The rest of the night was Hillary’s. The rest of the convention will be hers as well. For the next five hours, a long line of senators and surrogates, politicians and police officers, celebrities and survivors paraded to the podium to tout Clinton’s achievements and testify on her behalf.
“I’m here with Hillary Clinton because she is a leader and a mother who will say our children’s names,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter, Sandra Bland, died last year in policy custody.
“Every time I have a big operation coming up, I always receive a note from Hillary, full of encouragement and kindness,” said Ryan Moore, who suffers from spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, or dwarfism.
“When we needed someone to speak for us, to stand with us, to fight on our behalf, Hillary Clinton was there, every step of the way,” said 9/11 first responder Joe Sweeney.
“She looked me in the eye and said, ‘Jelani, I’m proud of you,’” said Jelani Freeman, a former intern who benefited from Clinton’s policy of reserving one spot in her Senate office for foster youth. “I felt seen and heard — for the first time in my life.”
And so on. Speaker after speaker insisted that Clinton was all the things her opponents and critics claim she is not — kind, caring, honest, trustworthy, human — by highlighting the “fights of her life”: for kids, for social justice, for women, for 9/11 survivors, for health care, for human rights.
Bill Clinton was, as usual, the highlight. As Olivier Knox, Yahoo News’ chief Washington correspondent, described it, Bill’s address was “part grandfatherly musings, part nostalgic love story, part family history, part political memoir and entirely about portraying the former first lady as trustworthy, authentic and an agent of change for voters sick of the status quo.”
“Speeches like this are fun,” Clinton chuckled. “Actually doing the work is hard.”
The evening was a laundry list, a hodgepodge, an overstuffed résumé with dozens of reference letters from every imaginable character witness and constituency. But that’s what national nominating conventions are, or, at least, what they’ve become. So far, it’s a fact that’s been easy to forget during this year’s unusual convention season. Tuesday was the night that Philly became conventional again. (Except, of course, for the fact that a major party had just nominated a woman for president, for the first time in the United States’ 240-year history.)
Outside the Wells Fargo Center, Sanders’ last remaining holdouts defied their hero’s wishes and tried to seize the spotlight again, storming the media tents and staging a semi-silent sit-in. The effort was a tacit admission of their waning influence: With a new Pew Research Center poll showing that 90 percent of Sanders’ most ardent supporters plan to vote for Clinton in November, the only way such avid but unrepresentative activists can continue to get attention is by getting in the media’s face.
“It’s exposure,” Ohio delegate Alex Davis told Yahoo News. “We’re forcing you to cover us.”
With Tim Kaine, Michael Bloomberg, Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama set to take the stage Wednesday night, and with Clinton scheduled to accept the nomination Thursday, “Bernie or bust” delegates probably won’t be able to force the issue for long.
Back inside the arena, the convention moved on. Meryl Streep spoke. Alicia Keys sang. And suddenly, as the delegates were starting to stream out, Hillary herself materialized on the Jumbotron, live from New York.
“I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” she said. “If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say: I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”
The camera panned out to reveal a roomful of people, smiling and waving robotically. A little girl clung to Clinton’s red pantsuit. The infomercial was back on track.