Critic's Notebook: Bernie and Hillary Hug It Out, Awkwardly

Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders H 2016
Taylor Hill/WireImage

Bernie finally uttered the magic words, and Hillary nodded vigorously, in a joint appearance that played like a show of unity between divorced parents at their son's bar mitzvah.

In her introductory remarks at the Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders rally, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan declared, "Our party is united and strong." Well, yes, but talk about getting in just under the wire.

Pop the cork — it was the official coming out party for Hillary and Bernie, with the latter finally granting his support after a seemingly endless game of political extortion that threatened to disrupt the upcoming Democratic convention. Her relief was palpable as she stood alongside him onstage and he finally uttered the magic word, "endorse," that brought cheers from the crowd.

Coming onstage to the strains of Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own" (any rumors that Bernie was pushing for "The Internationale" are grossly exaggerated), the political odd couple made as unlikely a pair now as they did when they began their campaigns. But having won significant policy concessions — he crowed about having been involved in crafting "the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic party" — Bernie was clearly in a mood to be gracious. At least, up to a point.

He began his remarks by thanking the 13 million Americans who voted for him and the state of New Hampshire, where the event was, not so coincidentally, being held. It was, of course, where he enjoyed a major victory over Clinton back in February that helped propel his campaign. He admitted that she had amassed significantly more delegates, although not without puckishly adding, "and a lot more superdelegates" (cue the booing by his supporters in the crowd).

But he made his position clear when he declared, "I intend to do everything I can to make certain she will be the next president of the United States!"

His speech, featuring such familiar themes as the rigged economy, wealth and income inequality, and rebuilding infrastructure, was basically recycled from his own campaign, except with the additional mentions of his former opponent. It was as if he had taken his usual speech and simply added "Insert Hillary Clinton's name here" at key points. Meanwhile, she stood right alongside him, seemingly prepared to grab him if he tried to make a run for it. She often nodded vigorously and clapped enthusiastically and, most important, you could barely see her lips move while he spoke.

"It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues," Sanders conceded, seemingly pausing for the audience to respond with a collective, "Well, duh!" But the one thing they can clearly agree on is a mutual disdain for Donald Trump, with Bernie launching into a fiery attack on the presumptive GOP nominee.

Bernie waxed nostalgic as he wound down his remarks, commenting that he and Hillary have known each other for 25 years. "We were a bit younger then," he admitted, and for a second you thought that the pair was going to launch into a duet of "I Remember It Well" from Gigi. He went on to describe her as "one of the most intelligent people we have ever met" (which, more cynical observers might point out, is a far cry from, say, "brilliant").

When Bernie finished, he and Hillary engaged in the sort of forced embrace you see between divorced parents at their son's bar mitzvah. But she was clearly happy to put their conflicts behind her, pointing out "how much more enjoyable the election will be now that we're on the same side." (Sure, maybe for her, but we political writers enjoyed the hell out of it.)

Her biggest passive/aggressive barb came when she described Bernie as being "not always the most popular person in Washington," although she quickly added that it was unpopular people who often got the most done. She began her remarks in sober fashion, addressing the epidemic of gun violence and the recent tragedy in Dallas. She affirmed her strong support for law enforcement, even while calling for national guidelines for police officers.

She went on to deliver a forceful recitation of her policy agenda, displaying the sort of rhetorical polish honed by many long months of campaigning. Her tone was deadly serious, save for her frequent jabs at Trump, which she obviously savors.

"Sorry, Donald, if you're watching," she taunted, with a big grin on her face. "But we're not cutting the minimum wage…we're raising the minimum wage." She later pointed out, "He uses a lot of adjectives to avoid telling you any specifics," and also mused, "I can just envision the tweets Donald is putting together." 

She made a strong bid for Sanders' supporters by offering an enthusiastic thank you to "everyone who poured their heart and soul" into his campaign. The bitterness and rancor between them seemed a thing of the past, even if her attempts at humor felt a bit forced. Asking people to donate to her campaign, she pointed out, "We accept $27 donations too, you know." You could practically feel Bernie stifling himself from launching an attack on her Wall Street speeches.