If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then booing isn’t such an alarming way to express significant political disagreement. Once upon a time, party conventions were places where people fought out differences. In recent decades, however, they have been a stage-managed public relations exercise. Amidst the financial crisis’ wreckage, at the twilight of empire, the contradictions embedded within decades of immiserating policy have exploded the center of American politics. Booing is the least of my concerns.
Another thing I’m not concerned about: Whether the horde of young people who poured everything into the Sanders campaign will vote for Clinton, though I think it’s the right thing to do since the lesser of two evils is by definition less evil. What really troubles me is that the boos might portend disillusionment. Whomever they decide to vote for in November, Sanders activists should be proud of the fact that they came out of nowhere to revolutionize American politics and nearly took over the Democratic Party.
Hillary Clinton would make a significantly better president than Donald Trump. In reality, the vast majority of Sanders voters will vote for Clinton. But a hardcore of outspoken people who refuse to, and criticize Clinton at every turn, provide the critical service of helping to keep her honest. The great mass of people who Clinton must win over—and who she will likely have a much harder time winning over than Sanders would—are people who are considering voting for Donald Trump. Party establishment types know this. But they beat up on Sanders supporters because they, one, dislike the left; two, declaim responsibility for the mess they have made of the party; and three, will likely blame the left if Clinton loses.
Winning in November isn’t up to Sanders or his supporters. That job belongs to Clinton and, given her track record, will be a challenge for her to pull off. Clinton only seems to partially get what's happening. While embracing Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is wise, she has chosen as a running mate a white guy named Tim Kaine to reach out to disaffected white guys instead of the economic populism that disaffected white guys are actually looking for. As Andrew O'Hehir writes, if the Democrats’ image “is so fragile that Hillary Clinton’s prospects of victory over the most cartoonish and least qualified candidate in history can be damaged by a little booing, then the entire party is in deep trouble.”
Many Sanders supporters are experiencing the first big loss of their political lives. Truly, they have a lot to celebrate. The media mocked them and treated their candidate like a fringe curiosity. And that candidate won 46-percent of pledged delegates. They have organized young people, the American demographic that matters most politically because it will be the country's political future, into a historic campaign for democratic socialism. The booing represents precisely the fresh, militant energy needed to fight the right—energy that the Democratic Party would be wise to welcome and win over. The familiar activity of hectoring and shaming Sanders supporters underway is unwise, smug, and will only push them away.
Sanders’ forceful endorsement of Clinton on Monday night disappointed many. He also used his bully pulpit, however, to publicly warn President Obama against pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership through a lame-duck Congress. Monday’s populist speeches weren’t what the Democratic Party elites likely had in mind at first. Those speeches happened, and platform changes were executed, because Sanders voters made them do it. It’s healthy to be cynical about the Democratic establishment. But it’s a mistake to be pessimistic about the power of activists to shape its actions. This DNC is a reminder that, amidst a tidal wave of corporate money and entanglements, a very large arena packed with everyday people calls the shots.
When Sanders spoke Monday night, young delegates had tears in their eyes. Trump is terrifying, and Clinton is at best utterly underwhelming. But Sanders activists should leave Philadelphia knowing that they can transform American politics — and that they already have. If the left can’t identify and celebrate victories it will be hard to keep winning them. And with either Clinton or Trump soon to take office, there are a great many fights yet to come.