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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

On DNC's first night, Democrats come together

Sen. Bernie Sanders delivers remarks on the first

Sen. Bernie Sanders delivers remarks on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa. Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

PHILADELPHIA – Give it to the Democrats – they know how to do drama.

They thrash around in self-inflicted torture for a couple days on the eve of their convention, reaching some kind of nadir just hours before the gavel drops with the fallout from another email scandal, the resignation of the party chair, the sight of Bernie Sanders getting booed for telling supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton, and hopes for the unity they desperately wanted to project seemingly lying in tatters in the streets of Philadelphia.

And from that aura of disarray they conjure an extraordinary evening of soaring and searing oratory, eviscerating Republican candidate Donald Trump and, yes, finding some kind words for Clinton.

It’s not like the party’s problems disappeared Monday night. It wasn’t some magic act.

Some Sanders’ supporters were still rumbling at some of his pro-Clinton lines. Some were chanting anti-Clinton sentiments as they left Wells Fargo Arena when it all was over. But it’s also true that one of the evening’s biggest bursts of applause came when Sanders flatly proclaimed that Clinton must become the next president of the United States.

Debbie who?

The party arranged the evening’s roster of Democratic rock stars to maximum effect, like a four-person Olympic relay team, with Sanders bringing it home.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker took the crowd to church with a riff on “we will rise.” First lady Michelle Obama followed with an intensely personal address that positioned Clinton and Trump at opposite ends of almost every spectrum. And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren delivered another epic Trump troll, showing why the Manhattan billionaire took time out Monday to tweet that Warren had a “fresh mouth.”

But it was Sanders himself who most strongly extolled Clinton.

A jaded observer might say that it basically was his stump speech delivered in the context of “Hillary Clinton understands that…” and he kept filling in the blanks. And by the end, most of the crowd was with him. That’s why convention organizers monkeyed around with the published order of speakers and put Sanders last. He needed to put the exclamation point on what he’d started.

It was a day and night of great theater.

Earlier on Monday, the party tried to rein in the growing chaos. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who already had resigned as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee over hacked emails showing her staff had worked against Sanders, relinquished her gaveling duties. Then the DNC apologized to Sanders. 

Clinton and Sanders staffers huddled to discuss how to tamp down the anticipated disruptions. And Sanders himself sent out texts and emails to supporters asking them as a “courtesy” to him not to engage in any protests on the floor.

But the truth is that for some of Sanders’ supporters, it’s not about Bernie anymore. It’s about the revolution, and that’s going to go on even without him. That’s why they left the building chanting their intention never to vote for Clinton.

Marcia Fudge, who took over as convention chairwoman, tried to speak over the warring factions, but that was a hopeless task. “I will be respectful of you, and I want you to be respectful of me,” she said.

And the crowd did settle down a little for a while, worn down perhaps by an endless parade of less-accomplished speakers yin-yanging between Clinton and Trump. They even ignored the admonition from noted Sander supporter comedian Sarah Silverman, who scolded them: “You’re being ridiculous.”

It surely was no accident that from his vast repertoire Paul Simon chose to sing “Bridge over Troubled Water.” Too bad it just didn’t sound the same without Art Garfunkel.

Talk about unity.