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Will the Democrats' Philadelphia Love-Fest Last?

Will the Democrats' Philadelphia Love-Fest Last?

Hammering away at compassion and unity might not work in November.

Of course, Sanders was the most anticipated speaker. The democratic socialist, much to the dismay of many Republicans, did not upend the storyline and backtrack on his commitment to Clinton. Like Obama, he was hyped by a short video. It featured footage from his historic campaign and was set to Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.” It concluded with a photo of him and Clinton hugging, smiling, and waving, tagged with the discombobulated mash-up slogan, “Stronger together to build a future to believe in.” After the video, Sanders had to wait three minutes before thunderous applause waned. He lectured that the “struggle” for racial, social, and economic justice continues. He called for a “forty-year decline of the middle class,” the elimination of poverty, the transformation of the economy, and an end to “income and wealth inequality.”  

As for Clinton, he touted her debt-free college plan and proposal to bring about universal healthcare. Then around 11:18 PM EST, he conceded that he and his former competitor have butted heads on a number of issues. “That is what democracy is about,” he opined. To further reassure his loyalists, he pointed out that they had created the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party, one that would break up monopolistic banks, protect “a 21st-century Glass-Steagall Act,” and oppose “job-killing free trade agreements like the TPP.” “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president,” he ended, “and I am proud to stand with her tonight.” Television cameras panned across a young girl with tape over her mouth and a number of supporters, of varying ages and ethnicities, with tears of disappointment spilling across their cheeks.

Overall, reconciliation was sought by obsequiously congratulating Sanders supporters for their dedication during the primary. And sometimes the congratulations arrived as an afterthought. “You have voted to make Hillary Clinton the nominee of the Democratic Party. This is your victory!” exclaimed John Podesta. He speedily added: “And to everyone who supported Senator Sanders, this is your victory too!” Comedian Sarah Silverman, a prominent Sanders advocate, tried to heal wounds through frankness. After noting she “put some cream on it” after “feeling the Bern,” she lashed out, “To the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous.”

Arguably, the most rousing performance was given earlier in the evening by Senator Cory Booker. This was yet another prime opportunity to solidify his rapidly rising reputation as the real deal. And he followed through. Booker brought the house down and Bill Clinton, who was in the audience, to his feet. Amidst a spirited discourse that combined philosophy and history, he dropped a series of memorable one-liners (e.g., “When we are indivisible, we are invincible,” “In times of crisis, we don’t abandon our values, we double down on the them”). Sourcing the Founding documents, he poopooed the notion of “tolerance,” and declared America “a nation of love.”

The Democratic Party seems convinced “love” is the silver bullet, the most effective antidote to Trumpianism. One of the most prominent signs in the crowd read, “Love trumps hate.” It remains to be seen whether the hammering upon compassion will ultimately carry the Left across the finish line in November. Indeed, will this strategy rooted in emotion resonate with independents, blue-collar citizens, working-class white males, and, more generally, Middle America, which—unlike the elite commanding heights of culture—is motivated more by everyday interests? After the Orlando nightclub massacre, Attorney General Loretta Lynch pronounced during a press conference that “our most effective response to terror is compassion, it’s unity and it’s love.” A lot of Americans, nevertheless, though probably not yesterday’s convention attendees, felt the comment exuded aloofness. That’s because they recognize there’s a difference between the type of “hatred” that causes college students to form “safe spaces” and the genuine brand of hatred that leads Islamists to slaughter innocents.

Paired with the message of love was a heavy serving of immigration promotion. John Podesta, chairman of Clinton’s campaign, mentioned he’s the grandson of Italian immigrants. Representative Linda Sánchez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, underscored she’s the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Karla Ortiz, an 11-year-old American-born citizen, spoke about her fear that her undocumented parents will be deported. Topping off the succession was Astrid Silva, a recent graduate of Nevada State College who, when she was four, crossed the Rio Grande with her mother in a homemade tire raft.

The Democratic Party rolled out a standard, yet fraying patchwork quilt of identity politics. Importantly, the economic message repeatedly received the greatest feedback. Yet the message, as much as the speakers might have wished America was living in a bubble, was stunningly similar to the one promoted by Trump since he announced his candidacy. “#StopTPP” signs saturated the crowd and it’s only recently that Clinton—in a move to appease those flanking her left—has distanced herself from what she and surrogates characterize as bad trade deals. Senator Warren howled that Americans are busting their “tails,” wages are stagnating, senior citizens are struggling, basic living expenses are rising, and housing, healthcare, and childcare costs are skyrocketing. And so has Trump. Warren’s sermon was compelling as long as one suffers from short-term memory loss, forgetting that a Democrat has been president for the past eight years.

The most striking aspect of the convention’s first day was the virtual absence of mention of current events at either home or abroad—unless Trump himself is considered a current event. Muslim radicalization was overlooked. ISIS was shelved. Russia, China, and the Middle Eastern were ignored. Inferred, in turn, was that Trump is the greatest threat to civilization. The Democrats’ falling back on themes of inclusivity, equality, and justice and appealing to society’s disenfranchised, marginalized, and offended can’t even be considered “doubling down.” Flouting for the sake of ideological preservation the events that have dominated the news cycle for months is “tripling down” or even “quadrupling down.”

On balance, the sentiment was actually equal parts for Clinton and against Trump. Is that a winning ratio for the Democrats? We’ve all seen the hardcore Donald folks. But where are the hardcore Hillary backers? Will the increasingly narrow cohort of meh-Hillary people be enough? Democrats are dismayed because few believe what Clinton mouths. At the same time, they’re frightened because most of them fully believe what Trump utters. Say what you will, but it’s authenticity—even when very rough around the edges—that taps the soul.

The most awkward moment of the past twenty-four hours was when Senator Franken and Sarah Silverman found themselves on stage being encouraged by producers to “stretch” their segment. Neither knew what to do to fill the time. After a long break, Franken remarked, “You were for Bernie. I’m for Hillary. So we are like a bridge over troubled…” “Oh, good lord,” Silverman rejoined while rolling her eyes. Paul Simon walked out a few seconds later and performed “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Thousands of delegates, in the blue-dimmed space, held hands and swayed to the cool jam. Judging by the smiling faces, troubles, near and far, looked to have evaporated.  

Dissent did in fact subside over the course of Monday as praise was heaped upon Clinton. Yet as this campaign has illustrated, more than any other in modern history, the tide can rise again in the blink of an eye.

Jonathan Bronitsky is a commentator and historian working on a biography of Irving Kristol to be published by Oxford University Press.

Photo: Michelle Obama in London. Image by Simon Davis/DFID; CC BY 2.0.