By my count, just one speaker in Cleveland at last week’s GOP convention– Ted Cruz — was booed. At all. For any reason. Whatsoever.
By contrast, just about everyone who took the stage in Philadelphia for Monday’s opening night of the Democratic National Convention got at least a smattering of boos if they voiced anything but total fealty toward … not the party’s nominee-to-be, Hillary Clinton, but the vanquished Bernie Sanders. For all the talk about Republicans being only united in their disdain for Clinton, Democrats on Monday weren’t even able to manage that much togetherness.
Sen. Al Franken got booed. Comedienne Sarah Silverman got booed, probably because she first joked about support for Sanders being like a health problem (“I felt the Bern … but I got a cream for that”) and then told her fellow socialist-backers they were being “ridiculous” not to get on board with Clinton. Actress Eva Longoria got booed. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker smartly wove his praise for Clinton into the middle part of his speech, allowing him to end on a high note, but still was greeted with chants of “War hawk!” when he made the case for a woman who voted for the Iraq war and pressed President Obama to intervene in Libya. First Lady Michelle Obama met with some shouts of “Bernie! Bernie!” even as she, much more so than anyone else who took the stage, expertly filleted the position of pro-Sanders holdouts. Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, arguably the candidate Sanders’ supporters really wanted all along, found opposition when she endorsed Clinton: chants of “We trusted you!”
By the time Sanders himself took the stage to close out the night’s program, he’d already been booed at an afternoon appearance with his loyalists. He threaded the needle Monday night pretty well, endorsing his own positions more robustly than his erstwhile opponent but making his support for her far, far clearer than anything Cruz managed for Donald Trump last week.
Still, it was also clear to me that Sanders’ appeal wasn’t all that specific to him. He is not the most gifted orator, and his personal appeals for unity only go so far. He was in this election a vessel for the far left of the Democratic Party; it now appears anyone who transparently made the case for socialism was going to win 40-plus percent of Democratic primary votes. Despite all the talk about the extremism of Trump — and regular readers ought to know I’m no fan of his — Sanders’ positions represent an even more dramatic departure from what we have known in American politics and government.
And for that reason, it is hard to tell if the division and disappointment over Sanders’ defeat will go away — or if it will linger in a way that leaves the Democrats at least as torn as Republicans are. The big takeaway from this week may yet to have been written, but that is what the rest of the party is up against if the Philadelphia DNC is to be a success.