PHILADELPHIA: There could not have been a more appropriate song than Bridge Over Troubled Waters for Paul Simon to render at the Democratic National Convention on Monday as the party tried to close ranks against the insurgency by Bernie Sanders supporters on a steamy Philadelphia evening boiling with the fury of the idealistic.
In city squares and street corners, on sidewalks and in parks, the young and disenchanted remonstrated and demonstrated, carrying posters and placards that called for Hillary Clinton to be sent to prison, or at the very least denied the presidential nomination in favor of their hero Bernie Sanders. Police and security made it arduous for many of them to go to the Wells Fargo Center where party grandees tried to choreograph proceedings aimed at muting dissent.
.It didn’t work. Enough supporters got in to give Sanders three-minute standing ovation, and his address endorsing Hillary Clinton for the nomination, was received with boos and jeers even as Hillary acolytes tried to drown it out with chants of “Hillary! Hillary!”
“It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues… That’s what democracy is about,” Sanders said in an effort to mollify his adoring flock, many of who wept openly as they heard him officially throw in the towel and back an establishment figure they hate. “I understand that many people here and around the country are disappointed….I think it’s fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am.”
But, he advised, the time had come to put the nomination fight behind. “Based on her ideas and her leadership, Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” he said amid boos that reduced in intensity with each supportive statement. “I am going to do all I can to make that happen.”
The real credit for calming the passions in the Wells Fargo Arena should, however go to First Lady Michelle Obama, who spoke before Sanders with uncommon grace and elegance. In an uplifting speech that presages a future political career should she choose to go the way of Hillary Clinton, she eviscerated Donald Trump contemptuously without once taking his name, mocking his frequent use of Twitter, his ornery personality, and his poor grasp of policy and processes.
“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. This right now, is the greatest country on Earth,” she told a rapturous crowd, in an oblique reference to Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” recounting the romance of a black family making it to the White House.
But it was her full and front-on endorsement of Hillary Clinton that was really striking, given the history of disquiet between the two women starting with when Hillary fought her husband for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
Clearly trying to salve the rancor in the ranks, the First Lady gently admonished the party flock: “When crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other. No, we listen to each other, we lean on each other, because we are always stronger together…I am here tonight because I know that that is the kind of president Hillary Clinton will be.”
It set the stage for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, another Clinton foe who has come around to supporting her, to wield a hatchet (compared to the scalpel Michelle Obama used) to disembowel the Trump persona with ill-disguised contempt. She called him a cheat, a narcissist, a financial parasite preying on the poor who has no real ideas and who wants to turn America in a land of fear and hate.
But it was the Sanders finale, and the party’s efforts to douse the anger of its young idealists that provided the drama on a torrid day. How the silver-haired 74-year old Senator from Vermont has enthralled the youth of America will be studied for generations in political circles and campaign offices (the promise of free college education is just one explanation), but such is the rapture he has generated that even the Clinton cabal (the former President, who will speak on Tuesday evening, among them) looked on in both amazement and embarrassment.