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By TJ Sullivan
Published 07/26/2016

Sarah Silverman could have said the wrong thing a thousand different ways last night, during the first prime-time hour of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

But she didn't.

Standing at the podium alongside Sen. Al Franken, Silverman found herself competing to be heard above the shouts and taunts of hundreds of self-described "Bernie or Bust" people, who'd made it their mission to torment anyone and everyone who took the convention stage.

The hecklers had worthy opponents in Franken and Silverman, both of whom are professional comics and therefore no strangers to being harassed during a performance, albeit never before a live television audience on all the major networks and a few minor ones. Regardless, no matter how adept the performer, no one is immune to mistakes. Some of America's most experienced comedians have responded to barbs from the audience with fury and indignation. This is one of the reasons YouTube was invented. And in those situations, no one but the comic suffers.

Of course, the source of this derisive behavior wasn't an intoxicated audience member, or some twisted celebrity stalker. This was a group of fellow Democrats expressing their heartfelt disappointment over the outcome of the primary, and venting their frustrations with the unfair treatment their candidate received from his own party. These Democrats didn't just vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders, they invested time and money and affection and admiration. Some of them have been involved in politics for decades. Others are young adults inspired by Sanders to become actively involved for the first time.

They aren't adversaries, they're allies with whom Silverman stood shoulder to shoulder for months.

Indeed, it's quite possible that one of the young voters among them could be a future president of the United States.

For those reasons, and many others, Silverman's word choice in that moment mattered a great deal.

It's also important to understand "that moment." Standing on the main stage in front of all those bright lights, surrounded by booing and hissing. Add to that the gravity of the situation, the knowledge that a single unscripted misstep can have disastrous consequences.

This is yet another reason why strength of character matters.

Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect when Silverman, obviously exasperated, knitted her brow and spread the fingers of her right hand and pushed her palm toward the audience.

"Can I just say to the 'Bernie or Bust' people … You're being …"

This was the point of no return and that next word could've been ruinous. It could've tainted the tone of the entire convention and damaged the Clinton-Kaine campaign.

Confrontation has a way of muddling the human brain. Sometimes it freezes and no words come. Other times it’s overcome by a flash flood of words, the majority of which only serve to provoke and intensify animosity.

"Can I just say to the 'Bernie or Bust' people … You're being …"

A lesser person would've loaded the end of that sentence with malice by selecting a word that disparaged, belittled, mocked, or denigrated the 'Bernie or Bust' people. All those words would've been inaccurate. All counterproductive.

Spitefulness is an inefficient means of winning hearts and minds.

Instead, Silverman knitted her brow, and spread her fingers and pushed her palm forward and said: "Can I just say to the 'Bernie or Bust' people — you're being ridiculous."

Ridiculous, as in absurd, and unreasonable, and illogical, and inappropriate.

Right now, the Democratic Party is aboard a bus on a desert highway, halfway to Election Day on the far side. Yes, the bench seats are in various states of disrepair. No, the air conditioning doesn't always work. And I'm not happy about the noisy tailpipe, or any of the other problems either. But the fact is, this is not the time to stop and argue about all the things we should've fixed before we started down this road. The delay would not only cost us the election, it would ensure the undoing of much of the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve, and it’s doubtful even the young, first-time voters would live long enough to see it restored.

We must choose our words, and our battles, carefully.

 

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