Talking DNC Blues: Dems Walk Fine Line Between Optimism and Anger

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And as through your life you travel, Yes, as through your life you roam, You won’t never see an outlaw Drive a family from their home.

So, the Democrats were in a weird position last night. After the gotterdammerung of the RNC last week, with it’s “last night in a Pompeii whorehouse” vibe, they were eager to make them the Republicans look like panicky chumps, those who saw a mouse in the corner and imagined Godzilla. It was a strange turnabout for the party of Reagan: Dems were basically saying, you guys hate Springsteen, and now you’re singing his songs?

Of course, to do so ignored that the driving energy in the Democratic Party this year was the anger of Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown and others, especially Bernie Sanders, against the rigged system, the idea that the most powerful controlled the system and shut everyone else out. This idea is correct, and they’ve been beating that drum for decades, only to be derided as leftist jobkilling goons. So it must have been particularly galling to hear their language appropriated by Trump and the rest of the Republican Party, for whom words like “inequality” and “rigged system” sounded as foreign and distasteful as, well, I guess any actual foreign words would be.

So that was the trick yesterday, and that tension was a parallel track to the Bernie/Hillary debate. After all, saying “everything is fine and we’re great” ignored the driving force behind the Sanders campaign. To pretend that the newfound GOP distaste for the rich and powerful (which, we have to be reminded, is not sincere) was somehow incorrect or misdiagnosed would not just be wrong, but it would be politically idiotic. That’s why an uplifting speech like Cory Booker’s fell flat.

I feel that no matter what had happened, of course, there would have been a very small portion of Bernie supporters who would have been livid, and rightfully so. They would have booed and chanted regardless. That chanting “We trusted you” at Elizabeth Warren shows a complete disconnect from reality almost doesn’t matter: they had the energy, and that energy had to be recognized.

And, I think, by the end of the night it was. Sarah Silverman, of all people, broke the ice and said what a lot of people were thinking. She elegantly pointed out the stakes here, and used her brilliant with and reputation as a serious thinker to perfect advantage. It was a beautifully honest moment, an unscripted bit of theater that helped bring the convention back to script. I say “of all people” not because I am surprised she had the chops, but because if you had “Sarah Silverman” in the “who’ll save the party” pool, then my hat is off to you.

But there was still some tension, and still some Hillary hate. Then Michelle came on, and gave a stirring speech– really, one of the best most of us have ever heard. She sliced and diced the Trump campaign, but also the childishness of #BernieorBust. There are real stakes here. Her optimism, and her story of America’s arc, brought the night in focus. The White House was built by slaves. But now her daughters (“two beautiful, intelligent black young women”, in the proudest and most touching line of the night) played on it. It was a great way of showing that things can be truly and genuinely awful, but that the people can make a difference.

That set the stage for Warren and Sanders. They didn’t shy away from the problems of America, and didn’t build a sunny backdrop. They weren’t triumphant. They were fighters, and most importantly, they were partisans. They were saying, listen, sometimes the Dems can be be bad, but the Republican basically always are. If you care about this, you’ll kick the Democrats in the ass by pushing them to to left, but fighting and agitating, and by voting so that the Republican will lose. That’s the only way to continue any progress. That’s the way to make the marches and the energy and the tears and the hopes and frustrations mean something. It was a Woody Guthrie song. It was angry and determined, and it was what I think the majority of the holdouts needed.

It is sad that the Bernie Sanders campaign is over. The America ad, which they cannily played, reminded me of why I voted for him. He had a vision for America. What’s amazing is that his vision is winning. It is in a flawed vessel, but think of what he accomplished. Almost no one was at his announcement last year. He moved from that to controlling the platform, moving the party, and getting a 5-minute standing ovation at the DNC. The fighter may be done, but the fight continues.

They’ll have one last shot at catharsis today with the roll call. And I think they’ll be fine. The blade is sharpened, and the real enemy is known. Hillary might not be inspiring, but the cause is. I think through the final three speakers, they accomplished the difficult task of showing that they weren’t rose-tinted, but saw the problems clearly, and unlike the lipservice blowdried phonies in Cleveland, they actually have a plan to fight it.

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