Clinton’s DNC Speech Lays Out a Progressive Agenda; Is It Too Little, Too Late?

Hillary Clinton made history in more ways than one in Philadelphia.

By Tuesday, she was the first woman nominated by a major political party. On Wednesday, President Obama wholeheartedly passed her the leadership baton. Before she took the stage Thursday, mainstream media was calling the Democratic National Convention a great success, while the TV ratings at the DNC have exceeded the GOP’s overall. And then Clinton gave a poised and clear-eyed speech accepting the nomination and presenting a very progressive agenda.

And, in a manner unmatched by any previous speaker on the previous three nights, Clinton thanked Sanders for his campaign, thanked his supporters for their energy, and invited them to join her to win the White House and make their agenda a reality.

“I want to thank Bernie Sanders,” she said. “Bernie, your campaign inspired millions of Americans, particularly the young people who threw their hearts and souls into our primary. You’ve put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong.”

“And to all of your supporters here and around the country: I want you to know, I’ve heard you,” she continued. “Your cause is our cause. Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That’s the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America. We wrote it together — now let’s go out there and make it happen together.”

Sanders supporters did not respond with wild cheers. But that’s to be expected, not just because the leader of the revolution they believed in didn’t win. But because even as she laid out an agenda that shared many of their goals, one far more progressive than what Obama campaigned on or hoped for, many weren’t ready to take her at her word.

That’s because the convention was not welcoming for the representatives of the largest grassroots insurgency in the party’s history since Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 bid — and this one is quite a bit bigger. It may seem small to step back from Clinton’s agenda spanning the social and economic justice spectrum, her trashing Donald Trump with poise and wit and barbs, and her sincere-sounding an invitation for all to join her revolution.

But for most of the 1,900 Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, the convention was a turbulent and trying affair. It began with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz being forced to resign a day before it opened, after WikiLeaks posted emails of aides plotting against Sanders, but then she was rewarded with a top appointment to the Clinton campaign. That didn’t just affirm their suspicions about DNC bias, but it more ominously signaled that the party and Clinton campaign didn’t care about them. And it set a tone that many Sanders delegates felt all week here.

All week long there were petty slights, from turning off the lights above their California delegation when they vocally protested, to yanking a Sanders delegate’s credentials after she apparently refused to read a nominating script they drafted for her. “It’s just stupid as hell. What the DNC is doing is sabotaging this election,” said Danny Fetonte, a retired union organizer and delegate from Austin, Texas. “It makes it harder for us who are trying to convince those Bernie people to come along [and support Clinton].”

But it wasn’t just the DNC that was squandering the chance to turn a page with Sanders delegates, who are the messengers to the party’s progressive base. Clinton delegates, beyond the party apparatus, could have reached out but mostly did not. As state after state announced it delegate counts, the speeches — in some states Sanders won big — did not mention that. “It didn’t reflect the voters on the ground whatsoever,” said Karen Bernal, a California delegation leader. “It spat in their faces. There was no reflection of their voices whatsoever.”

That smoldering attitude was part of the backdrop to Clinton’s speech Thursday, which was the last opportunity in the convention to change hearts and minds inside the party and across America. On TV, Clinton delegates waved “stronger together” posters, but on the floor their delegations more often than not were like ships in the night passing at uncomfortably close range. It was a strange dichotomy that lasted for days, creating a mood that didn’t really break until Clinton herself spoke on Thursday.

“Democrats are the party of working people,” she said at one point, then raising many issues that Sanders campaign on. “I believe that our economy isn’t working the way it should because our democracy isn’t working the way it should. That’s why we need to appoint Supreme Court justices who will get money out of politics and expand voting rights, not restrict them. And we’ll pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United!”

She didn’t stop there. “And I believe Wall Street can never, ever be allowed to wreck Main Street again,” she said. “I believe in science,” she continued, to laughs. “I believe that climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying clean energy jobs… Whatever party you belong to, or if you belong to no party at all, if you share these beliefs, this is your campaign.”

“If you believe that we should say ‘no’ to unfair trade deals,” Clinton continued, citing perhaps the hottest-button issue for Sanders delegates, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, “join us.” And then she mentioned Sanders again by name and a key issue, college affordability.

“Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all! We will also liberate millions of people who already have student debt,” she said. “It’s just not right that Donald Trump can ignore his debts, but students and families can’t refinance theirs.”

And as she closed, she once again implored everyone who shares these goals to join her campaign. “I know that at a time when so much seems to be pulling us apart, it can be hard to imagine how we’ll ever pull together again. But I’m here to tell you tonight — progress is possible.”

Those were some of the most forward and direct appeals during the convention to the people who responded to Sanders’ call for a political revolution. Before the speech, it was common to hear delegates say they planned to go home and get involved in local politics. Whether Clinton’s invitation is too little, too late, remains to be seen.

It was, however, the most appreciated words spoken to the Sanders delegation all week.

Watch Clinton’s nomination acceptance speech: