Democrats In The City Of Brotherly Love (Day One)

[ Posted Monday, July 25th, 2016 – 23:37 UTC ]

Day One of the Democratic National Convention is now over, and tonight seemed designed to allow Bernie Sanders supporters to vent their frustrations, given the lineup of speakers. All the most liberal and progressive speakers were lined up for the first night, which only served to concentrate the energy for Bernie Sanders. At first it was announced that Bernie would speak tonight, but not in primetime. Later this was changed to give Bernie the final speaking slot of the night (which was entirely the right move for the convention to make), but instead of getting into all of that I'm just going to jot down my initial reactions to the spectacle of the first night.

The day started with the announcement that not only was Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down as the chair of the Democratic National Convention, but that she was (in the words of many) "fleeing the convention" entirely -- instead of assuming just a ceremonial role (but not giving a speech), she would not even gavel the proceedings open. She would not appear at all, in fact. This was pretty stunning news, but not all that much more stunning than the news of her stepping down.

The convention began with high feelings all around. Bernie supporters both inside and outside the arena were not shy about letting the world know how they felt, but Hillary supporters inside were also giving voice to their feelings. The chant outside was "Hell no, D.N.C. -- We won't vote for Hillary!" Inside, there were competing chants of "Bernie!" and "Hillary!"

Far from the usual set piece of nothing more than an extended campaign commercial, what we appeared to have, at the beginning of the day, was an actual old-school divided political convention.

I wrote all of the above before heading into the convention, just watching the news coverage on television. The early hours of the first day were rocky. Debbie Wasserman Schultz appeared before her own state's caucus, and the Floridians let her know in no uncertain terms that her presence was unacceptable. She apparently got the message, and soon announced she wasn't even going to gavel the proceedings open, the traditional start to any political convention.

Later in the day, an even more extraordinary thing happened. The Democratic National Committee officially apologized to Bernie Sanders and his campaign for their shenanigans. This was an olive branch, one that (once again) I never would have expected to see.

But was it going to be enough? Bernie Sanders met with his own delegates and actually got booed by them, when he told them that he fully endorsed Hillary Clinton and begged them to do the same. A presidential candidate getting booed by his own delegates? There were a lot of surprising "firsts" on this first day of the Democratic National Convention, that's for sure.

As people filed into the arena, there was a contingent of Bernie supporters outside the security perimeter making their disapproval known to all the delegates filing in. At one point, they even attempted to block access (by peaceful means) to the security gate. Things looked like they could spiral out of control. Bernie even texted his own supporters, begging them once again not to protest on the convention floor, and to follow his lead by supporting the party's nominee.

Some protests did manifest inside the convention hall, but they were subdued at best. I personally saw some delegates on the floor standing in protest with tape across their mouths with the phrase "Silenced by the D.N.C." written across them. Many signs with the international "no" slash across "TPP" were being waved as well. Very early on, whenever either the name Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders was mentioned from the podium, scattered boos and cheers competed for dominance. Even the weather turned ugly, as a thunderstorm broke over the arena, and the rain pounded down.

But then the speeches started in earnest. Although the crowd was initially restless (at best), at some point the pageantry started to work wonders. You may be a die-hard Bernie Sanders delegate, but it's hard to not be touched by an 11-year-old girl speaking from the podium about how she was putting her faith in Hillary Clinton to do everything she could to solve the problem of families being torn asunder by deportation. What are the die-hards really going to do at that point? Boo an 11-year-old girl who is quite obviously terrified of speaking in front of such an immense audience -- but at the same time remaining poised and brave as all get out? Seriously? You're going to protest that? There's "die-hard" and then there is "heartless" -- and virtually nobody crossed that line. In fact, she got one of the most rousing standing ovations of the entire evening, because Democrats' hearts remain in the right place.

That was one turning point. Another might have been the speech given by Al Franken. Franken has (as I've noted before) only recently given himself permission to once again be funny in public. He did this tonight in fine style, and -- once again -- what are you going to do, protest Al Franken? After he does a hilarious riff on Trump University? What would be the point? It's a lot easier to sit back and laugh, which is precisely what the crowd did.

The crowd, in fact -- in spite of all their political differences and squabbles -- started to actually have a pretty good time together. Unlike the first three days of the Republican convention, the house was absolutely packed to the rafters. Perhaps to draw attention to this, the lights were on throughout the whole arena, so the cameras would show every seat filled (by contrast, the GOP dimmed the lights in the upper tiers to try to hide all the empty seats).

After a disabled woman condemned Donald Trump for making fun of a disabled reporter on the campaign trail, musical instruments were wheeled out and set up. Al Franken reappeared, and he had with him none other than Sarah Silverman -- who (unlike Al) has never had to give up being funny to further a serious political career. They took on the Bernie/Hillary division in highly amusing fashion, to fill the time while the band set up. At the end, they introduced none other than Paul Simon, who came out and sang "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" -- a far cry from the best musicians the GOP could scare up (G. E. Smith and his band).

Shortly afterwards, Senator Cory Booker spoke, leading off the "A-list" of speakers. Booker gave a rousing address, and the crowd began cheering as one to his best lines. All around, it was a pretty good speech, but it would soon be overshadowed by the rest of the evening.

After a short introduction to lead off the primetime hour of coverage by the broadcast networks, First Lady Michelle Obama walked onto the stage. A virtual sea of "Michelle" signs began waving, and she proceeded to absolutely knock it out of the park. It was the best speech I've ever heard her give -- by far. The pictures she verbally painted were absolutely flawless, beginning by talking about her children growing up in the White House, followed by a brilliant segue to defining what was most important about presidential elections: "Who will next have the power to shape our children's lives?"

Obama gave a not-so-subtle rebuke (an iron fist in a velvet glove) to Sanders supporters by reminding them what Hillary Clinton did eight years ago when she lost a close contest to Michelle's husband: "When she didn't get the nomination eight years ago, she didn't get angry or disillusioned!" Obama smacked Trump around a bit, noting that presidential leadership "cannot be boiled down to 140 characters." She made her moral and historical case, noting, "I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves." That's a pretty powerful image, you've got to admit. She ended up with something conservatives have always complained is lacking from the Obamas -- some classic American exceptionalism: "This right now is the greatest country on Earth."

Michelle Obama's speech was easily the best of the evening. It may even become the best of the entire convention, in the same way that Bill Clinton's speech was the best of the 2012 convention. We've got three nights of impressive speakers to go, so such a conclusion is premature at best, but Michelle Obama's speech was truly good enough to be a contender for this prize. Again, she absolutely knocked it out of the park. There's just no other way to put it.

Elizabeth Warren followed, after an introduction from Joe Kennedy III (who told an amusing story about being Warren's student). But even though I am a fan of Warren, I have to say she had an off night. Perhaps it was the fact she followed such a bang-up speech from the First Lady, but Warren's speech seemed a bit unemotional and flat, at least to me (I am, I should mention, operating on very little sleep, so I might just have been getting tired at this point). In fact, I wasn't the only one to comment afterwards that the order of the two speeches should really have been reversed. Warren would have done a better job giving her speech before Obama, rather than following her.

A side note is necessary here, before I get to the keynote of the evening. I was sitting up in the rafters (better to view the entire crowd's reaction), and even up in the nosebleed seats, right before every speaker appeared, helpful volunteers appeared to distribute the proper placards to wave for that particular speech. We got "Michelle" sticks to wave, Hillary slogan posters, and -- most amazing of all -- "Bernie" signs to wave for the final speech. This is notable for two reasons. The first is the nuts-and-bolts of the organization, which was flawless. Not only were people down on the floor and the delegates in the lower tiers given stuff to wave for the cameras, but those of us in the upper decks were also not left out -- even though the cameras likely wouldn't even catch anyone up there waving their signs. That's an impressive feat of coordination and pre-planning, to put it mildly. Secondly, it was downright stunning to be provided with signs with the losing candidate's name on them -- by the convention itself. This, to put it plainly, is not normal. Usually, the fear of a divided message means only the nominee is featured on such paraphernalia. But thousands of "Bernie!" signs were handed out free of charge, for the runner-up's supporters. That is beyond impressive, and shows what an inclusive note Team Hillary is striving for. Kudos to them for going far beyond the norm, in other words.

Bernie Sanders gave the speech of his life tonight. When he walked on the stage, the crowd went bananas. The cheering, the repeated standing ovations, and the thunderous chanting were unbelievable for a runner-up. The crowd just would not quit making noise for many moments (I'd love to time this, to see how long it took before he could even be heard over the din).

But I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave everyone hanging there, because it is almost 2:00 in the morning, and I'd like to get this posted. I will try to post my thoughts on Bernie's speech tomorrow (early) as well as more than just the highpoints of the first day of the Democratic National Convention, but for now I simply have to get to sleep.

As an overall observation, the day started with disunity on full display. It ended with the closest thing to unity as could be imagined, hours earlier. The crowd was split into two camps at the start of the evening, and while they were not fully unified by the end, large strides towards that goal had been achieved. We've got three days to go to fully get the party to rally around its nominee, but the progress that was made on the first night was absolutely unimaginable 12 hours earlier. If the rest of this convention follow the same trajectory, then Democrats won't have anything to worry about in November. At the start of the day, dark warnings were being issued and comparisons to 1968 were being dusted off for easy reference. By the end of the night, there weren't a whole lot of dry eyes in the house. Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders more than rose to the occasion tonight, and the crowd -- and, hopefully, the party at large -- responded quite favorably. I never would have predicted so much progress could be made in such a short period of time, especially after the ugliness of the WikiLeaks fiasco and Debbie Wasserman Schultz's unprecedented exit just before the convention began, but tonight Obama and Sanders reminded a whole lot of people what the Democratic Party truly stands for, and why the stakes of this particular election are so high. So I apologize, but I'm going to have to leave it there, at least for now.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “Democrats In The City Of Brotherly Love (Day One)”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Two by two and side by side
    Love's gonna find you, yes it is
    You just can't hide
    You'll hear it call
    Your heart will fall
    Then love will fly
    It's gone, that's all
    I don't care what any Casanova thinks
    All I can say is: love stinks
    Yeah yeah


  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    great reporting, CW! keep it comin'

    at least from where my wife and i were sitting, cory booker's speech got short shrift from the media, possibly because it wasn't during prime time. she and i were thinking it was a lot like the obama 2004 convention speech, beautifully delivered, and we could practically feel whole segments of the crowd turn with him from hostile to supportive. michelle obama's speech was excellent, but i think booker's was even better.


  3. [3] 
    Paula wrote:

    Chris: that's how it was looking where I was at. Watched the evening's events with friends and we were clapping and cheering along the way. Michelle Obama reached heights that may not be matched, but everyone else did their part in different ways.

    HRC doing everything possible to bring Bernie's folks on board -- eventually its up to them to decide.

  4. [4] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Great article! I have to say that reading this felt like talking to that one friend everyone has who you trust to get the juicy details on an event! Your detailed descriptions really made it easy for me to put myself at the convention and take in all that was occurring through your eyes. Kudos!

  5. [5] 
    Paula wrote:

    And history is made. Bernie came through -- huuuuge cheers. HRC, first woman to be nominated by a major American party, for President. Tone in the arena was wonderful. Always love the roll-call.

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i wonder why the RNC didn't have a roll call too... oh yeah, because to do so they would have had to reveal how few of them actually wanted to vote for their nominee. heaven forbid anyone actually vote their conscience - apparently to republicans conscience is a dirty word.


  7. [7] 
    Paula wrote:

    [6] nypoet22: Yep!

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