Sanders Fans Were Just a Distraction
The first day for the Democrats in Philadelphia couldn't have gone better -- from the podium. In the convention hall? That was a little more complicated.
Let's start on the podium.
The contrast with the Republican convention's day one was enormous. The Democrats offered first-rate headliner speeches. The standout was Michelle Obama's short but powerful message: "When they go low, we go high." And there was an effective mix of politicians and "regular people" speaking in the afternoon and evening, along with a sprinkling of celebrities and some humor, courtesy of Senator Al Franken and comedian Sarah Silverman and in a video featuring Ken Jeong.
The Democrats quickly swapped signs in and out, so that, for example, the Bernie placards were waving when Bernie Sanders was speaking, and the Michelle signs were hoisted when the First Lady gave her address. Some videos used Donald Trump's words against him; others showed Hillary Clinton in action.
None of this is anything special. The parties know how to do this stuff. But in Cleveland, the Trumpified Republicans didn't.
Off stage, it was rockier for the Democrats. Sanders's delegates began the convention session by loudly booing every mention of Clinton's name. Later, however, it seemed that most Sanders delegates -- with the exception of a small group of dead-enders -- decided to behave themselves (that is, cheering Sanders but not booing Clinton or shouting down the speakers).
The disruptions themselves didn't much matter. Most people don't watch much of the convention. What matters is whether the media chooses to dwell on the dissenters, rather than on the show of unity reflected in the speeches. And, no question, the Democrats are as unified as they can get. Sanders ended the day lauding Clinton and explaining why his supporters should vote for her, and several other former Bernie backers appeared on the podium, all of them now on Team Clinton.
But the protesters were loud, and conflict makes for better stories than agreement, so we'll see how this plays out.
While most of the day went exactly how the Clinton campaign must have wanted it to, it was still pitching squarely at Democrats, especially the liberals, for much of the day. In the broadcast-network window at night, two of the three speeches -- the keynote from Elizabeth Warren and the Sanders stemwinder -- were highly partisan, very liberal versions of the Democrats' story. Only Michelle Obama's speech in that time period reached out to anyone else.
That made sense. Conventions are often aimed at appealing to people who "should" be with the party but haven't got there yet. Maybe this is because they supported another candidate in the nomination fight. Maybe they have some other reason to dislike the winner. Maybe it's because they just haven't paid any attention to politics so far this year.
Conventions supply voters reasons to return to the party. This is true even for voters who don't recognize themselves as doing that -- who think of themselves as choosing the person, not the party, but just happen to always wind up liking the Democrat or the Republican better than the other candidate. The conventions remind those voters of heroes past and current. They tell stories that make sense to people like "us."
And they see the party at its best. This is why the media coverage matters so much -- because many people only see fragments of the convention, and will hear based on those fragments whether the party has its act together or not.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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