The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Here’s what Bernie Sanders’s Hillary Clinton endorsement is really about

For anyone who had seen one of the countless stump speeches Bernie Sanders gave in support of his presidential campaign over the past year or so, the address he delivered Tuesday in New Hampshire sounded very, very familiar.

Which is sort of strange. Because all of the speeches Sanders delivered up until today's in Portsmouth were aimed at explaining to Democratic voters why he would make a better nominee than Hillary Clinton. The speech today was, ostensibly, an endorsement of Clinton's presidential campaign.

But, really, it wasn't. Yes, I know that's how it was billed by the Clinton and Sanders camps. And, yes, he did say this: "I have come here to make it as clear as possible as to why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president." (It was the only time that Sanders used the words "endorse" or "endorsing" in a speech that ran 2,161 words. You can read the whole thing here.)

What was it then? A celebration of Bernie Sanders by Bernie Sanders and for Bernie Sanders (and his supporters).

Here's how Sanders kicked off the speech — after noting that he had won more than 13 million votes in the primaries and 1.4 million people had seen him speak live:

Our campaign won the primaries and caucuses in 22 states, and when the roll call at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is announced, it will show that we won almost 1,900 delegates. That is a lot of delegates, far more than almost anyone thought we could win.

Hmmm.  Clinton stood by his side throughout this recitation of his successes, nodding her head politely with a smile etched on her face. But it's hard to imagine that she or her campaign team were thrilled with Sanders touting just how well he had done — and how much better than everyone expected! — as the lead-in to his long-awaited endorsement.

But, surely, Sanders was simply touting his successes as a way of winding up to the big moment when he acknowledged — even subtly — that Clinton's more moderate, cautious and pragmatic definition of "Democrat" had trumped (ahem) his more liberal, populist one?

Nope! Not really. What followed in the speech was a laundry list of Sanders's talking points and policies supplemented with the phrases "Hillary believes" or "Hillary understands" or "Hillary knows" stuck in front of them. As in:

Hillary Clinton understands that we must fix an economy in America that is rigged and that sends almost all new wealth and income to the top 1 percent. Hillary Clinton understands that if someone in America works 40 hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty. She believes that we should raise the minimum wage to a living wage. And she wants to create millions of new jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure — our roads, bridges, water systems and wastewater plants.


Hillary Clinton knows that something is very wrong when the very rich become richer while many others are working longer hours for lower wages. She knows that it is absurd that middle-class Americans are paying an effective tax rate higher than hedge fund millionaires, and that there are corporations in this country making billions in profit while they pay no federal income taxes in a given year because of loopholes their lobbyists created.

On and on it went, Sanders touting a much-beloved policy of his and then noting that Clinton agreed with it. Close your eyes and forget the past 18 months — that would be an interesting thing! — and you'd be forgiven for thinking that Sanders had won the Democratic primary and Clinton had lost.

If Clinton was bothered by this oddity, she didn't show it. She just kept nodding and smiling. And clapping.

Why? Because Clinton knew she needed Sanders's endorsement — no matter how it came. Would she have written a different speech for him? Oh, you bet she would have. But, to unite the party and rally it behind her in advance of the Democratic National Convention later this month in Philadelphia, the support of Sanders was a box that needed to be checked.

As for Sanders, he made clear in his speech that while he was saying the word "endorsing," he was doing so, in large part, because he was convinced that Clinton had come to agree with him on most if not all of the major planks of his campaign platform. I'm for her because she's me, Sanders seemed to be saying.

Which was weird.