PHILADELPHIA — The Democratic Party convention kicked off its national convention Monday afternoon with a chorus of boos every time Hillary Clinton’s name was mentioned, but seemed to grow more unified throughout the night with cathartic speeches by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, First Lady Michelle Obama and Clinton’s former rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
It was the Vermont senator’s most ardent supporters that threatened to upend the party’s marquee event. As the convention commenced, they were boisterous and ready to pounce whenever a speaker at the podium inside the Wells Fargo Center invoked Clinton and her pending nomination. Thunderous boos rang out, and chants of “Bern-ie” enveloped the blue-adorned arena.
Both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns sought to quash the uprising. Sanders, himself, sent an email and text message to his delegates asking them not to boo or stage protests from the floor. Sanders, who closed out the first night of the convention with a 33-minute speech, did his best to convince his supporters that it is time to unite behind Clinton. He declared that “Clinton must become president.”
“I understand that many people here in this convention hall and around the country are disappointed about the final results of the nominating process. I think it’s fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am. But to all of our supporters — here and around the country — I hope you take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved,” he said.
Sanders, who spent months trying to topple Clinton, said she would appoint justices to the Supreme Court that would protect the ideals he and his supporters believe in.
“If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country,” he said.
Sanders spent much of his speech pointing out where he and Clinton agree, and noted that the campaigns came together after the primaries ended to develop a platform that is the most progressive in party history.
“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,” Sanders said. “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight.”
Sanders made clear, however, that his delegates should feel free to vote for him on the convention floor Tuesday when a roll call vote takes place for the presidential nomination.
“Thank you for being here, and for all the work you’ve done. I look forward to your votes during the roll call on Tuesday night,” he said.
As the night wore on Sanders delegates became less vocal. Perhaps comments by comedian Sarah Silverman, one of Sanders’ most high-profile celebrity supporters, helped.
She effusively praised both Clinton and Sanders while noting that “this past year I’ve been feeling the Bern,” joking, however, that she “put some cream on it.”
Sanders, Silverman said, “proved that Citizen’s United is not, in fact, a necessary evil.”
“Not only did Bernie wake us up, he made us understand what is possible and what we deserve,” she said. “I happen to believe the crazy notion that people who maybe weren’t born with the same opportunities as you and me should be given the same opportunities as you and me.”
She also praised Clinton for heeding the call of Sanders and his supporters and moving closer to their positions.
“Hillary heard the passion of the people — the people behind Bernie — and brought those passions into the party’s platform. And that, that is the process of democracy at its best. Hillary is our democratic nominee and I will proudly vote for her,” Silverman said. “I will vote for Hillary with gusto, as I continue to be inspired and moved to action by the ideals set forth by Bernie, who will never stop fighting for us.”
But when the crowd roared back with some boos, Silverman became serious.
“Can I just say, to the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous,” she declared, as the arena erupted.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the darling of progressive Democrats, served as the attack dog for the night, helping to focus the attention of Democrats inside the arena on a common cause. She accused Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of seeking to divide America.
“Trump thinks he can win votes by fanning the flames of fear and hatred. By turning neighbor against neighbor. By persuading you that the real problem in America is your fellow Americans – people who don’t look like you, or don’t talk like you, or don’t worship like you,” Warren said. “That’s Donald Trump’s America. An America of fear and hate. An America where we all break apart. Whites against Blacks and Latinos. Christians against Muslims and Jews. Straight against gay. Everyone against immigrants. Race, religion, heritage, gender — the more factions the better.”
Booker, who was considered by Clinton as a running mate, made a strong case for backing her, incorporating many of the themes pushed by Sanders during the long, grueling primary.
“We have a presidential nominee in Hillary Clinton who knows that, in a time of stunningly wide disparities of wealth in our nation, America’s greatness must not be measured by how many millionaires and billionaires we have, but by how few people we have living in poverty. Hillary knows when workers make a fair wage, it doesn’t just help their families, it builds a stronger, more durable economy that expands opportunity and makes all Americans wealthier,” he said. She knows that debt-free college is not a gift, it’s not charity, it’s an investment. It represents the best of our values, the best of our history, the best of our party: Bernie’s ideas, Hillary’s ideas, our shared ideas. Our shared values.”
But it was the First Lady who stole the night, offering a strong rebuttal to Trump and highlighting America’s greatness without even mentioning his name. She framed the November general election matchup between Clinton and Trump as a choice about “who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.”
“I am here tonight because in this election, there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility, only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is our friend, Hillary Clinton,” Obama said.
Speaking, seemingly, to Sanders supporters, Obama noted that Clinton didn’t sulk when she lost the nomination to President Barack Obama in 2008, but pushed on and continued to serve.
“When she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home. Because as a true public servant, Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments. So she proudly stepped up to serve our country once again as Secretary of State, traveling the globe to keep our kids safe,” she said.
The night’s most moving lines were delivered by Obama when she alluded to what her husband’s election meant for the country — and offering a contrasting message to Trump, who promises to “make America great again.”
“I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters — and all our sons and daughters — now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States,” she said. “So don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.”
Even though the boos seemed to recede, some delegates, included Ashley Andreas from Vermont, say they are still not convinced Clinton is the best option in November.
“I think there’s still a lot of anger and frustration,” Andreas said. “To me, it’s just unreal that we’re kind of ignoring some of the glaring facts.”
“We still have a chance to elect a candidate who means what he says and does what he says, as opposed to a candidate who has had credibility issues and has constantly said one thing and done another. Who has repeated Bernie Sanders in order to get where she is now,” she added.
Andreas said she and other delegates remain unconvinced, despite Sanders’ pleading, that they should vote for Clinton.
“There are some people who have more easily gone and supported Clinton and I respect that opinion full-force, wholeheartedly, and it would be nice if those of us who are still not convinced could be respected because there’s a lot of hate toward us,” Andreas said. “I don’t feel right now like I would vote for her in November. That’s a long time from now. She’s going to run a really hard campaign. I’m not at all convinced she can beat Donald Trump. I’m not convinced she’s going to do what she’s campaigning on. So, she’s got a chance to prove that until November to kind of start walking the walk.”