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Sarah Silverman Fumbles Her Moment at the DNC

During her speech, the comedian called Bernie supporters ‘ridiculous.’ Her comment is emblematic of the rifts that exist within a Democratic Party that’s force-feeding a message of unity

Jesse Bernstein
July 26, 2016

Sarah Silverman and Al Franken spoke at the DNC last night. Franken, a staunch Hillary supporter, and Silverman, who was previously for Bernie before his campaign petered out, were supposed to add some laughs to what’s been an already frustrating convention cycle: Before the DNC even began, an email leak complicated matters because they “clearly showed the committee’s posture of neutrality in the Democratic primary to have been a hollow pretense, just as Bernie Sanders and his supporters long contended,” reported The Atlantic.

Silverman was there to declare that she was voting for Hillary as a show of support for “the only person ever to be overqualified for a job—as the president.” But what ended up happening instead was sort of emblematic of the struggles of the Democratic Party right now: Silverman went off script. As she struggled to make herself heard over her newly declared support for Hillary, Silverman admonished the crowd: “To the ‘Bernie of Bust’ people, you’re being ridiculous.”

Enormous cheers from the Hillary supporters, a downpour of boos from the Bernie supporters big enough rival the actual storm last night. She and Franken both looked flustered before her ad-lib, but now they truly seemed lost. Comedians learn to deal with drunken hecklers, but rarely do they contend with a crowd that’s so personally invested in their words. It showed.

After that, the two comedians fumbled through some clumsy repartee that focused on instructions to “stretch.” Finally, Franken clunkily introduced Paul Simon, and the segment came, mercifully, to a close. You can watch the whole ordeal below, which was not without its witty Jewish humor.

There are a few takeaways from this. First of all, the Democrats had more star-power in one shakily constructed segment than the Republicans had in their entire lineup. It’s baffling that the GOP couldn’t get one significant Hollywood conservative. (You’re telling me Sly Stallone was too busy?)

More importantly, what Silverman said was yet another example of the Clinton campaign antagonizing a group of voters they’re so desperately appealing to for unity this week. What Silverman said was the message that lay at the heart of everyone’s speeches, from Elizabeth Warren to Cory Booker: agree with her or not, get behind Clinton, unless you think Donald Trump is a viable alternative. Silverman’s made a career out of refusing to mince her words, and last night was no different.

But it’s not the message that was so out of touch; it was Silverman’s disbelief. She and Franken seemed stunned—just as Debbie Wasserman Schultz did at her disastrous speech to Florida delegates—that revelations brought by the DNC email leak are enough to turn a voter off of Hillary. Could it be that Sanders supporters have significant policy differences than those of Hillary? Or perhaps that Clinton, supposedly the champion of common sense progressives, chose a VP whose politics are, at best, moderately liberal? How about the fact that Clinton had just hired Wasserman Schultz, who many Sanders supporters see as the architect of collusion against Bernie?

There’s credence to the unity message. Even conservatives know that Clinton is the best bet to beat Trump, whether they agree with all of her policies or not. And to see pictures like these at the convention—of weeping, hysterical Sanders supporters—you have to question the “take my ball and go home,” uncompromising-to-a-fault mentality at play here.

Still, for Silverman to broadly brush away legitimate reasons for concern as “ridiculous” verges on ignorance: Sanders won over 40 percent of the popular vote in the Democratic primary. Presumably, a better way to bring some of those voters into the fold is to acknowledge legitimate concerns.

Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.