PHILADELPHIA ― Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) walked into the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night with a tough assignment he never wanted: bringing his passionate but frustrated supporters under the banner of Hillary Clinton, a politician he had sharply criticized for the past six months.
Until Sanders spoke, the first day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention had been dominated by conflict, with Sanders supporters leading anti-Clinton protests around Philadelphia’s city hall and haranguing delegates as they entered the arena ― named, some noted, for a bank that Sanders wants to break up. Chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” broke out during the event’s opening prayer, and even Sanders’ closest ideological ally in the Senate, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, had to speak through sporadic protest chants during her speech just moments before Sanders’ own moment in the limelight.
Sanders quickly transformed the evening into a final, fevered hurrah for the political revolution that had not quite proved strong enough to win him the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The tension that had permeated the arena for much of the evening morphed into a celebration as Sanders heralded his supporters and detailed the policy changes his team had won in the Democratic Party’s platform.
“This election is about ending the 40-year decline of our middle class, the reality that 47 million men, women and children live in poverty,” Sanders said. “It is about understanding that if we do not transform our economy, our younger generation will likely have a lower standard of living than their parents. … This election is about ending the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in our country.”
He praised his supporters and the “unprecedented” 8 million individual contributors to his campaign. “Anyone know what that average contribution was?”
Primed for the line, the audience eagerly roared back in unison: “Twenty-seven dollars!”
But after hitting on the standard themes he had wooed his supports with over the previous year, Sanders shifted his approach, describing Clinton as a committed champion of those very issues. He went item by item through issues he and Clinton have both elevated and Republicans have avoided addressing: college debt, the criminal justice system, raising the minimum wage, climate change.
Both candidates, he said, believe in coming together “to create the kind of country we all know we can become.” Sanders promised Clinton would fight to make sure every working American had a living wage, and said she would appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn the Supreme Court’s unpopular Citizen’s United decision.
“Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” Sanders said. “The choice is not even close.”
After throwing his weight behind Clinton, Sanders acknowledged their differences.
“It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues,” Sanders said. “But I am happy to tell you that at the Democratic Platform Committee there was a significant coming together between the two campaigns and we produced, by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party. Among many other strong provisions, the Democratic Party now calls for breaking up the major financial institutions on Wall Street and the passage of a 21st century Glass-Steagall Act. It also calls for strong opposition to job-killing free trade agreements like the TPP.”
The crowd burst into chants of “No TPP! No TPP!” at the line, and Sanders ad-libbed an addition, calling for the crowd to ensure that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact negotiated by President Barack Obama, does not receive a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress.
“Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House and a Hillary Clinton presidency ― and I am going to do everything I can to make that happen,” he added.
It was all the Democratic National Committee could have asked for.