Despite the early call by news organizations, Hillary Clinton made history Tuesday night when her victories in the Democratic primaries carried her to an overwhelming delegate lead to become the first woman in American history to be nominated for the presidency by a major political party. Amid calls by even his staunchest supporters to suspend his campaign, Bernie Sanders responded with a defiant speech vowing to fight on, which is fine, but which utterly failed to acknowledge his rival’s historic achievement.
Worse than that, though, when Sanders finally did get around to mentioning Hillary, the moment was downright ugly, especially when compared with Hillary’s own 2008 speech the night Barack Obama clinched the nomination:
Tonight I had a very kind call from President Obama and I look forward to working with him to ensure that we move this country forward. And tonight, I had a very gracious call from Secretary Clinton and congratulated her on her victories tonight. (crowd boos and jeers)
Now, in 2008, then-Senator Hillary Clinton didn’t acknowledge Barack Obama’s historic nomination the night he clinched it either, but congratulated him for the race he’d run at the top of her speech, and was greeted with applause, not jeers. It would be several more days before she would finally concede.
I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for the extraordinary campaign he has run. He has spent his long career in public service fighting for progressive causes and principles, and he’s excited millions of voters, especially young people. And let there be no mistake: Senator Sanders, his campaign, and the vigorous debate that we’ve had about how to raise incomes, reduce inequality, increase upward mobility have been very good for the Democratic Party and for America.
This has been a hard-fought, deeply-felt campaign. But whether you supported me, or Senator Sanders, or one of the Republicans, we all need to keep working toward a better, fairer, stronger America.
Almost immediately, Bernie Sanders began to take criticism for the erasure of a big moment in American history for all Americans, not just women. If Bernie’s premise is that he still has a shot at winning the nomination, then he’s necessarily unable to congratulate Hillary for the nomination, of course. That’s a separate issue. He didn’t need to make his mention of Hillary so ugly. He could have even complimented her “historic candidacy” without specifically conceding her victory. His fans will resent him being pilloried for this erasure, given his position as a viable contestant for the nomination.
But if you listen to the rest of Sanders’ speech, and you look at where the race stands, he’s not really gearing up to try and win the nomination, he’s gearing up for a platform fight. Hillary Clinton has reached the mark by which we have recognized every previous male presumptive nominee, and Bernie knows that, and she’s utterly swamped him even in “real” delegates, and Bernie knows that, but maybe he feels forced to deny it because he wants to retain leverage to influence the Democratic platform.
The question then becomes whether or not it was worth it. I think Bernie Sanders and his movement were poorly served by this decision, and if he didn’t want to be remembered as the dude who turned his nose up at our first woman president, he shouldn’t have made it.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.