There was a group of delegates at the Democratic National Convention who were plainly and understandably disappointed. The candidate they voted for, the candidate many of them fervently believed in and spent their free time and energy working to help elect, the candidate they were there to support wasn’t the nominee.
So what happened?
Those 1,639 pledged delegates turned their focus to the general election, to the ominous prospects of a Republican presidency and to the excitement and hope brimming in the Democratic Party. And they not just begrudgingly but enthusiastically gave their support to the party’s nominee.
Confused? Perhaps because this isn’t how things went down at the first day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention but what happened in 2008, when Hillary Clinton delegates had to face the disappointment that their candidate lost and show up to a party — in every sense of the word — for her primary opponent, Barack Obama.
I wasn’t at the 2008 convention, but from what I saw on television and from the news reports
I’ve reread and people I talked to who were there, at the end of a long and quite nasty primary fight, Clinton delegates were certainly disappointed — even crestfallen — at the outcome of the primary. But when Clinton herself interrupted the official delegate roll call to move that Obama be unanimously accepted by acclimation, her delegates supported her, and the crowd erupted in chants of, “Yes, we can!” Maybe there were some Clinton supporters who were angry at what they felt was a betrayal. They didn’t show it, or at least they were hard to notice as everyone else was cheering for and rallying behind Obama.
If you think I’m pointing this out to shame Bernie Sanders supporters, you’re right. I think those who continually disrupted the convention on its first night — chanting over the opening of the proceedings, heckling Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren — should feel ashamed of themselves. And by the time Sanders closed out Monday night’s session with a strong endorsement of Clinton (following Michelle Obama’s tour de force and a speech by Warren that both celebrated Sanders and endorsed Clinton), it was clear that most people in the convention hall felt that way, too.
I endorsed Sanders in the primary and, despite the “Bernie Bros” who now accuse me of having never actually supported Sanders and merely being a Clinton plant, the fact is that Bernie Sanders’s campaign was a culmination of much of the work I have done in my career. I am a community organizer by training and temperament. I spent 15 years working to put working people front and center in American politics and policy. I not only believe in but have fought from the community level to Congress to put issues like a $15 livable wage, universal health care and debt-free college on the national agenda.
And like many of my fellow Sanders supporters, I have longed for a revolution of our political process in this party and in our nation. I have spoken out against the role of superdelegates in the Democratic primaries, which violates the spirit of democracy our party so proudly proclaims. Just like I can walk and chew gum at the same time, though, I can want to fundamentally change the rules while respecting them at the same time. And the ironic fact in all this is that it was Barack Obama who elevated the significance of superdelegates in the 2008 primary, by early on outmaneuvering the Clinton camp to secure superdelegate support once he began building up a lead in elected delegates.
If Clinton and her supporters could set aside the primary eight years ago, even the most die-hard Sanders backers should be able to this year. Bear this in mind: Clinton began the 2016 convention with a total of 2,821 delegates, including 602 superdelegates and 2,219 pledged delegates. That means Clinton had 387 more pledged delegates than Sanders, who entered the convention with 1,832. That’s close. But in 2008, Clinton had 1,639 pledged delegates compared to Obama’s 1,766 — a difference of just 127 delegates. Superdelegates were arguably even more instrumental in Obama’s primary win against Clinton; many Clinton supporters were understandably disappointed and even rightfully angry about what they felt was an unfair process. But they still not only treated Obama with respect, but honored his victory in the primaries and went on to help elect him president.
I know that the concerns of Sanders supporters run deeper than superdelegates alone and that the recent email leaks about the Democratic National Committee’s clear preference for Clinton have only added real fuel to that fire. The good news is that the Democratic Party is clearly listening. People were swiftly held accountable for those horrible and offensive emails, and I suspect more accountability will follow soon. The party can clearly benefit from new energy and reforms. And I, for one, am thrilled we have crop of impassioned progressive voters ready to do just that.
Most Sanders delegates, of course, weren’t disrupting anything Monday night. Polls show the vast majority of Democratic primary voters who supported Sanders will vote for Clinton in November — and that more Sanders voters support Clinton now than Clinton voters supported Obama when the 2008 primaries ended.
And Clinton and the party establishment are embracing Sanders now, too. Can we take a moment to recognize that? Eight years ago, Obama didn’t give Clinton anywhere near the level of inclusion that we’ve seen extended this summer to Sanders and his agenda. The Democratic Party platform — the most progressive platform in American political history — actively reflects Sanders’s campaign and vision. With a long speech by Sanders right after a powerful speech by Warren, the first night of Clinton’s convention felt like a rally for the progressive Sanders-Warren wing of the party. Clinton’s campaign even had Sanders signs printed up and passed out to delegates for his speech (contrast that with how Donald Trump treated vanquished rivals like Ted Cruz at the Republican convention last week). As it should be. Bold progressive voters are not only the future of the Democratic Party, but the future of our nation. Recognizing this is not only essential to winning elections but to embracing and implementing the transformative policies that will be true game-changers in the lives of the American people.
One of the franker moments Monday night came from the always-sharp Sarah Silverman, who said, “Can I just say, to the Bernie or Bust people — you’re being ridiculous.” To be clear, I don’t think the hurt or hope of Sanders supporters is ridiculous one bit. In fact, I find it encouraging and inspiring. The behavior of a minority of them, on the other hand, is quite ridiculous. Disrespecting the outcome of the primary, disrespecting all those who voted for the other candidate and repeatedly disrespecting the women and men speaking on the stage is as ridiculous as refusing to vote for Clinton and all but handing the election — and our wonderful country — to Trump.
As Sanders said to the convention and his delegates, “Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency — and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen.” Let’s join him.