California's DNC Delegation Needs a Lesson in Manners

The reason why the California DNC delegation's behavior matters isn't what you think.
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s.e. smith
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The reason why the California DNC delegation's behavior matters isn't what you think.

Ah, California — birthplace of the free-speech movement, home of protest tourism, and proud host of the largest DNC delegation. The 475 pledged delegates and 73 superdelegates from the Golden State made their way to Philadelphia last week, and of them, a small handful decided to express their opinion of the political process in what I'd call a wave of misguided, irritating, and disrespectful "protests" that disrupted the entire DNC. 

Let's be clear here: The California delegation didn't do anything illegal, though it was out of order and is most definitely entitled to free speech under the Constitution. However, the cool thing about free speech is that you can use it judiciously as a reasonable member of society, and at times, there's a pretty compelling argument for doing just that. But apparently, the minority of hardcore Sanders delegates from California didn't get that message. 

We all knew there would be trouble at the DNC thanks to the incredibly tense electoral politics between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton. Many of the senator's supporters felt hard done by, cheated, and left out by the natural course of the election, in which one candidate got more votes than the other and therefore was deemed the winner, both by popular vote and via the byzantine system of delegates that the major parties use to select their candidates. 

Secretary Clinton had enough pledged delegates coming into the convention to clinch her nomination. It was very apparent after Super Tuesday that while the race had been closer than expected, she was going to take it. No, the DNC didn't rig it for her. No, state Democratic parties didn't pull some kind of fast one. If anything, Senator Sanders may have ended up with more of the vote than he would have otherwise courtesy of the caucus states, where he performed very well because caucuses inherently depress voter turnout, and his aggressive supporters were doing things like intimidating other voters to pressure them into supporting their candidate. 

The goose was cooked long before the opening gavel in Philadelphia, but a couple of things collided with the basic math and facts of life to cause uproar at the convention. The first was the sheer level of enthusiasm among the senator's supporters, many of whom wishfully believed that something magical would happen to give him the nomination. That level of political engagement was really exciting and heartening to see, in an era when politics feels really jaded, but it also became grating and at times dangerous. They were so committed to getting their candidate elected at any cost that some of their number repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to cut corners, behave abusively, and then act like petulant whiners when it became clear that things weren't going to go their way. 

The second issue was poor communication from the Sanders campaign, which really struggled with this from the start. The campaign didn't do aggressive get out the vote outreach that included information on how to vote for the Senator in states with closed primaries, or when to register to vote in states with long voter registration deadlines. When it came to the convention, some delegates complained that they didn't know what to expect, and some apparently genuinely thought that neither candidate had enough delegates to take the nomination, and that this would be a contested convention. 

The third issue is that, like Sanders himself, many of the delegates were new to the Democratic party, and they'd never been to the convention before. The rules of the convention aren't that terribly complex, but there are rules, and it can take a convention or two to get familiar with their nuances. So many of the Sanders delegates came angry and woefully unprepared for what awaited. 

Let's be clear about another thing: There are lots of great Sanders supporters who were enthusiastically committed to his campaign, but were able to behave like reasonable people. Even as they cast their votes for the senator and were sad that he didn't take the nomination, they could be pragmatic. However, some members of the California delegation really demonstrated the ugliest part of the worst of his supporters, and it was not a credit to the Golden State. 

Problems started on Monday, during the delegation breakfast, when Sanders supporters kept chanting over speakers. That kind of faded to the back of the news cycle thanks to what happened with the Florida delegation, but it was a warning sign of things to come. On the opening day of the convention, people were genuinely starting to worry that the entire thing would be a catastrophe thanks to the sustained protesting, including from members of the California delegation. 

The thing is that California is large, and diverse, and a delegation that large is challenging to control under the best of circumstances, but even more difficult to wrangle when some of them are fractious. So sore losers from California repeatedly distinguished themselves by chanting over various speakers, leading other delegations to start chanting and moving signs to drown them out and hide their protest signs (I saw you, dude with a Jill Stein sign). 

Hillary Clinton, Tim Paine, and Bill Clinton playing with balloons at the DNC.

Remember how outbursts of "Hill-a-ry" and "U-S-A" kept breaking out at weird, random moments? There's a reason for that: People were trying to silence the handful of delegates from California who decided to make nuisances of themselves. Honestly, they probably did the rest of the convention a favor on the multiple occasions when they walked out, including when Secretary Clinton was formally nominated and during her speech. 

They even booed their own former darling when he spoke in support of Secretary Clinton. How the mighty hath fallen, eh?

Whether you respect the rules of order or not, there's an entirely separate reason to not behave like a twerp at the convention. No, it's not about party unity — I get that people are upset and aren't interested in playing nice with the Democratic party, and that's their right. 

It's about the fact that the Senator has tremendous organizing power, and could have a really immense impact on downticket races. But that's only true if his supporters can demonstrate that they are willing to organize in a way that will do the most good. Showing that you're unable to work with that you've got and channel your power into doing something great shows that you don't have the staying power to channel your organizing strengths into making a difference downticket. 

There are a lot of Congressional seats up for grabs. There are state senates and assemblies. Governors. City council members. These are all races that tend to get downplayed in a presidential election year, despite their vital importance. Sanders supporters have already showed that they can bring the thunder — instead of fizzling out in a fog of boos and catchy protest signs, why not go back to their states with their heads held high, pick a candidate, and get organizing? Why not motivate that disillusioned voter base by pointing out that the way to fix the political system, which is definitely broken, is by electing people sympathetic to your cause?

Don't want to support Secretary Clinton? Fine. But what about Misty Snow, a Senate candidate from Utah who's a huge Bernie supporter and needs a lot of help to get elected, going up against an incumbent with a highly liberal platform in a conservative state? Why not cruise on over to Open Secrets and see where the money's going in California's congressional races?

Petulance is a real turnoff, I'm not going to lie. It taints candidates with ties to the senator, and it suggests that people are taking their balls and going home instead of accepting that while the slide is taken, the monkey bars are wide open.