Bernie Sanders

“Madame chair, the Vermont delegation calls to speak, our state’s great Senator … Bernie Sanders!!!”

Late afternoon, another hot one, in the Wells Fargo Arena — sports venues all named after banks; sooner or later someone will twig — and the joint was packed to the rafters, the floor sinewing and snaking with delegations moving between each other, bright white lights of TV crews here and there, foreign journos doing stand-ups before bewildered midwesterners:

“Hosataku shiniwor Donald Trump kossassume ‘apocalypse’ … hoshako …” “Errrcuse meee, we’re trying to lissen.” “Kazagui?” “Lissen!” Liseen! We wanna hear the vote!”

From the podium the chair was running the roll call of states votes, and they were getting even more long-winded than the Republican ones:

“Madame chair, the great state of Maine, home of crabcakes, stormy shores, bears in the northern bit, fugitive Canadians, no Presidents yet!, home of many roadsigns, many many roadsigns, the inventor of the shoelace tips, and the home state of future jazz legend Aaron Collins …”

Future jazz legend? Jaysus.

They were all going to get their damn moment of fame, in this arena, with 60 concession stands, and only three of them selling booze.

Facebook had taken over the best bar as its “Facespace” with white couches, soft drinks and the bars tantalisingly locked. At 4pm someone came in and started pulling the chains off the beer taps, causing a sigh of expectation — and then we were all thrown out so Instagram could have their private party.

The convention done in kabuki, more or less.

Could have sloped over to the bar complex at the stadium next door — there are four stadia in this area, looking like spaceships landed from alien planets — but I went back to the auditorium and sat on a concrete bench behind the correspondent for Helsingen Sangomat (“Ah Suomilaisen! Terve!” I said; she didn’t understand a word). Glad I did, because the roll call was something to see, in the end.

[Rundle: day one for the Dems — and don’t mention the working class]

The convention was really gathering pace. Last night (after Crikey deadline — we are cursed with the timing, in case you’re wondering) Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders gave speeches, and showed the Republicans how the Democrats can really rock it out.

Warren’s speech, the next to last, actually mentioned working people — as working people, united by the impoverishment and oppression the United States system visits on them qua workers — and though it wasn’t an actual worker, it was better than nothing.

The hit of the night, by acclaim, was Michelle Obama, whose speech managed to join her life experience and that of her family, with Hillary Clinton and her role in pioneering children’s rights, in such a way as to make it look as if Hillary had paved the way for the Obamas, and the Obamas’ lives had completed Hillary’s, the Hegelian two-step. It was in the usual American personal, redemptive, individualist manner, par for the course, and it included these lines:

“I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves. And I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent young women — play with the dog on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all of our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States … Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great. That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth.”

Thus joining Michelle — the last hold out — to kitsch American exceptionalism.

Later, from the meeja, it was clear that the speech was being assessed as the greatest thing since MLK’s “Dream”, or whatever was the last speech Barack gave. And a legend was born. If you missed it, don’t worry — Melania will do selected parts of it at the inauguration.

But the most important speech of the night was Sanders’, initially scheduled for early evening but pushed back into prime time when Bernie wasn’t having none of that shit. The Democratic National Committee has been more or less crapping themselves over what Bernie would say, especially since the WikiLeaks emails broke.

All weekend and into Monday the protests have been running in the streets of Philly, and on Monday afternoon it spilled into the auditorium, with the Bernie crowd throwing up yugge “Bernie” chants across the ratification of the rules and other everyday business.

Would Bernie use the opportunity — one the DNC couldn’t deny him without having a riot — to bang a wedge into the whole thing, fuck it up worse than the RNC?

There was never any chance of that. Bernie was a union guy in Brooklyn before he was a Vermont besuited hippie. He wasn’t going to go down in history as the guy who got Donald Trump elected, because he wasn’t going to split the popular front. The Clintonistas had complained about Sanders’ attacks on Hillary’s Wall Street connections, and general neoliberal imperialist history stretching back decades — but the truth is that Sanders pulled his punches all the way through. He could have ripped the whole thing open — he pushed it just hard enough to force the Dems to accommodate him. In broad terms, he’s known what he was doing all along.

He knew what he was doing last night, too. He came up in, development, a grey suit, not a blue one — and pressed! — the auditorium vibrating with the cries of “Bernie!!!”. Earlier that day, he himself had been booed at a protest meeting for urging people to get behind Hillary — the movement that bore his name was detaching from him, and splitting.

He was unfazed. When you’ve been on the left for half a century, a split on ideological grounds doesn’t faze you.

Applause, cheering, lasted five minutes when he was up at the podium.

He couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t calm it down. “Thank you,” he said, “thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” He could have calmed it by lowering his hands slowly, but I suspect he knew that was Stalin’s gesture — recorded on newsreel — and some right-wing arsehole would have put them side-by-side.

[Rundle: sticky questions for the Dems in a hot and humid Philadelphia]

People expected … what? A departure? An uplifting tale of the child of Brooklyn immigrants, who died before they could see their son hit the heights? A redemption? No, they got the Bernie stump. They got the same speech he’s been given for one, five, 10, 40, 50 years — about inequality, about unions, about free college tuition, about healthcare. It was as nuts and bolts as a battleship, as dry as aged scotch, it was a beautiful thing.

And the most beautiful part of it all was … he committed Hillary to a yuuuuge number of positions she wouldn’t have adopted otherwise.

“Hillary believes, as I do, in a $15 minimum wage … Hillary believes, as I do, in free college tuition … Hillary believes, as I do, in the nationalisation and socialisation of the 120 largest corporations …”

It was a yuuuuge fantastic judo move. The DNC would have been pissing the razor blades they thought they’d piss but for different reasons.

Heh. Bernie committed her to half a dozen things she hadn’t committed to at all. The task now — and this would be my position if I had a vote — would be get into power, and then keep the pressure up.

Not everyone’s view of the matter. And with the Hilladolatry now playing out in the convention this evening — mothers of police-killed black men, testaments from beneficiaries of Hillary’s children’s rights beneficiaries, Lena-fucking-Dunham — it will be hard for many to take.

People are going to peel off. Many will feel that Bernie betrayed them; led them to the brink and then delivered them to the beast.

Let me tell you, writing this in real time, it is the beast. The Mothers of the Movement (police-killed black men) was deeply moving, women who kept their shit together while talking about the worst thing possible, the sort of deep well of life the Democrats can draw on. But Elizabeth Banks? Lena Dunham? Debra Messing? DEBRA MESSING? Music she walks on to: Fame by Bowie. The first fully pomo convention.

But still, tonight, when the roll call was made, and tiny Vermont reserved its place, so it could be the one to take Clinton over the line. And when it was called on, Sanders was there to do it. To move that Clinton be nominated by acclamation as “the Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States”.

Thus it was done. The first woman nominee for US president, a pretty shocking 32 years after Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for VP in the doomed election of ’84 — and 44 years after Shirley Chisholm mounted the first serious primary campaign by a woman in the Dems’ ’72 contest. No point wishing someone else was doing it. You get what you get, and now here it was.

The nominees had included women who’d been born before women had the vote, remembered women getting the vote. The cheers kept coming and coming. I tried, for these few minutes, not to think about it, and let the cheers hit and bounce back from the hard concrete benches; the force of the real, of history happening.

When it was put to an “aye/no” vote, there were a few hundred “noooeesssssss”. But the “ayeeeeeeeeees” — they rose from the floor, solidified in the air, all but took the roof off, made our laptops shake and the pens rattle in our hands. They felt like a force about to be unleashed on the world. They were still echoing from the arena’s vast roof when we noticed that Sanders had already left the stage.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey