The universe seemed to conspire against a successful Democratic National Convention.
But now Clinton is off and running.
(written with Jack Hitt)
Who says she can’t bring us all together? Hillary Clinton, in the middle of her glass-shattering ascent, found herself besieged on all sides as a cast of Batman-style villains from literally around the world sought to sabotage her convention.
Donald Trump, Julian Assange, Susan Sarandon, Nina Turner, Vladimir Putin, and Dr. Jill Stein—political bedfellows don’t get any odder than this.
The most infamous moment, of course, was Trump pleading with Vlad the Eavesdropper to further aid his ratfucking of Hillary by producing still more computer hacks. Trump had already exposed himself as a gushing Putin fanboy, even offering to turn NATO into a protection racket for the shirtless Kremlin tyrant.
“Just being sarcastic!” Donald said the next day. “Tantamount to treason,” saidone of the members of George W. Bush’s national security team, as he followed George Will, Brent Scowcroft, Max Boot, and the other members of the GOP’s shrunken national security wing out the door.
The treason might prove to be greater than we now suspect: a further undermining of political reality itself. For whatever line the Russian intelligence apparatus—a leader in disinformation for over a century—chooses to feed to Assange will be taken as gospel, no matter how outrageous it might be.
And whatever they invent will fall on wide-open ears in the Khmer Rouge faction of the Bernie-or-Bust crowd. More annoying than a stadium full of vuvuzelas, the Berners chanted and ranted and cried and cat-called throughout the convention. Almost no one was spared, with insults hurled willy-nilly regardless of who was at the podium or what they stood for.
Inane cries of “Goldman Sachs!” greeted the Senate’s scourge of Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren, while chants of “Black lives matter!” interrupted Senator Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, and shouts of “No more wars!” stomped on former CIA Director Leon Panetta’s attempt to bring up Trump’s collusion with a foreign potentate. Much worse were the visuals of enraged, young white people, their faces contorted in hate, obliviously screaming invective through the speeches of older, African-American representatives such as Marcia Fudge, Elijiah Cummings, and even the 76-year-old dean of the civil rights movement, John Lewis.
Anastasia Somoza, a woman bound to her wheelchair by cerebral palsy, got the same treatment. So did Cheryl Lankford, a young black woman who was ripped off by the colossal grift that is Trump University, after losing her husband to the war in Iraq. It didn’t matter. Such individuals had nothing to teach the Berners, in all their righteousness. When Sarah Silverman, a Bernie volunteer, dared to call them “ridiculous” from the stage, her Twitter account was promptly hacked.
Just who these bravehearts were representing was unclear, since polls show that 90 percent of the Berners are already on board with Hillary. Pulled into post-convention interviews by MSNBC, the Bernie refuseniks proved to be stunningly young and inexperienced, with little or no idea of how a convention even works.
“It’s extremely unfair that a vote has not happened,” one of them nearly sobbed—on the first night of the convention.
This is not to ridicule their naivete but to point out how little effort was made to either select or school them by Bernie’s minimalist campaign. Nothing better illustrated how unequipped Sanders is to run anything bigger than the city of Burlington, Vermont. If it is the responsibility, in politics, of the old to teach the young mercy, humility, and judgement, that duty was sadly neglected by Sanders, who—even as Hillary generously thanked him from the podium—slumped in his box looking as grim as a satrap whose sapphires had been insufficiently burnished that morning.
Other muses rushed to fill in the instructional vacuum left by the great man. Dr. Jill Stein—during her quadrennial glamour run—took to the airwaves to claim that Hillary Clinton would be willing to risk nuclear war with Russia. Susan Sarandon assured delegates that Hillary had stolen the election with massive voter fraud, and that Trump was likely a preferable alternative anyway.
Ms. Sarandon, who was not a delegate herself, was able to sit in the front row of the Florida delegation for the same reason she will be able to escape the consequences of a Trump presidency: She is rich and famous. While many of the Americans she would enlighten will have to actually consider leaving this country to get health care if Trump is elected, Sarandon can always return to the swankier precincts of Europe, where she has lived much of her life.
And yet, whenever the angry left was not on hand—as was the case on the second night, when the Berners walked out of the convention to occupy a media tent, and were not heard from again (only the American left could find a way to disappear after taking over a media center)—it felt as if all the air had gone out of the hall.
There were some good speeches. Booker lifted his to a rousing finish, after a lugubrious start. Michael Bloomberg deftly battered the empty piñata that is the Trump business record, Joe Biden and Jennifer Granholm brought passion, and Bill Clinton gave us a surprisingly charming reminiscence of his years with Hillary, reminding us that, for all its manifest shortcomings, theirs is a real marriage.
The “regular people”—Sharon Belkofer, the gold-star mother who remembered having “cried all over the president’s suit”; the Reverend William Barber, calling on Democrats to be “the moral defibrillators” of this democracy; the survivors of fallen police officers, disabled individuals, and the victim of Trump U.—all excelled, even if the Bernie wailers were too busy shouting to hear them.
But too many of the speeches fell flat, or failed to live up to the quality or the urgency achieved by so many Democratic speakers in 2012. Carting in a constellation of Hollywood talent was probably a mistake, and Meryl Streep’s bizarre self-parody didn’t help matters. There was little else to be gleaned from Tim Kaine, beyond that Hillary Clinton seems to have chosen a simple country woodsman to be vice-president. One who speaks Spanish.
Hillary Clinton’s convention might well have gone down as a strangely sterile dud—save for those two, scintillating addresses by the first couple. In both cases, they elevated the Clinton campaign above anything it deserved, while simultaneously exposing all the maggoty ooze of the American right-wing.
Michelle Obama’s fabulous speech not only rescued the first night of the convention from the Bernie venters, but also nudged the right into further self-immolation with one simple, beautiful passage on how she and her daughters now lived in the greatest house of the land, a house built by slaves. This was an undeniable truth, and one that most Americans doubtless found as uplifting as the first lady herself did, but it reduced the internet right and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly to an orgy of outrage.
Her husband’s oration was a tour de force, easily skewering Trump’s bombastic acceptance shout (“We don’t look to be ruled. … America has never been about what one man can do for us…”), challenging the Bernie babies to join the fight (“Don’t boo, vote”), and anointing Hillary, with a thrilling nod to Teddy Roosevelt, as “the woman in the arena,” fighting the good fight, instead of just insisting on the suffocating purity demanded by Susan Sarandon and Jill Stein.
It was a speech that, in its spirit, easily outstripped the plagiarism of Melania. As many observers noted, it might have been a Republican speech in its rousing, defiant optimism, and it was the perfect note to strike. How ironic that the Democratic Party, which has for so long lived up to Will Rogers’s observation that he was not a “member of an organized party,” but a Democrat, managed to pull together an ordered message and wholesale appropriation of conservative themes even as the Republicans spiraled into continued chaos—a chaos so disordered that the media have struggled publicly to come up with a proper metaphor. Was Trump’s coronation a shit show? A goat rodeo? Or was it, as RedState contributor Ben Howe suggested, something else, revealed as he expressed his reluctant preference for Hillary: “The status quo is better than a dumpster fire in the name of conservatism by a sociopathic fraud.”
On its last night, the Democratic convention came together, as it so often does, in a celebration of diversity. This is the party that looks like America, and it has been for a long time. This year it came off with an almost runaway momentum.
The Reverend William Barber’s magnificent, rolling cadences, and then speeches from the survivors of slain police officers sought to unify a country divided by racial tensions. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar showed how comfortable Democrats have become as the party of America’s diversity, introducing himself as “Michael Jordan” because Donald Trump “wouldn’t know the difference.” He introduced a Muslim-American father, who movingly eulogized his son, Capt. Humayun Khan, who gave his life for his country in Iraq. At one point he pulled out a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution to school Donald Trump. “You have sacrificed nothing,” Khan reminded the Republican draft-dodger. “And no one.” A retired Marine general, John Allen, literally marched onto the stage to a martial drumbeat, surrounded by a phalanx of incredibly diverse veterans, one even wearing a Sikh turban, and thundered out a vow of victory over ISIS, while the crowd went wild, waving American flags and chanting, “USA!”
This display of patriotism, predictably, brought about a Berner retort of “No more war!”—even through the following testimony of Captain Florent Groberg, as he described how he won his Medal of Honor and lost part of a leg, saving his fellow soldiers. But it was too late. The crowd had turned, buoying a determined, well-delivered, even eloquent acceptance speech by Hillary. There were intermittent chants and shouts even then, but the Democrats were off and running out of Philly, having out-hustled the outraged and the outrageous, at least for now.
Jack Hitt is the author of: Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character