News & Politics

Anthony Kennedy’s Resignation Cast a Shadow Over a DC Party. Then Bernie Sanders Showed Up

“In many ways, we did win the election," the Vermont senator told people at Baby Wale.

Sanders in 2016. Photograph by Gage Skidmore.

The energy at Jeff Weaver’s book party was supposed to be exhilarating. Weaver’s new book, How Bernie Won: Inside the Revolution That’s Taking Back Our Country—and Where We Go From Here was out, and it was less than 24 hours since the Democratic primaries. Approximately a hundred guests were expected to be bubbling over after two notable progressive victories: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset in New York’s 14th district and Ben Jealous claiming the Maryland gubernatorial nomination.

But by the time evening rolled around, the news of Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s resignation  had knocked the wind out of most attendees’ sails. Liberals had lost their swing vote. And as partygoers trickled into the mezzanine of Shaw’s trendy Baby Wale, many made a beeline straight for the open bar, where one bartender was told “keep [the tab] open until we say otherwise.”

The crowd was noticeably older than the punchy youngsters who you might think of as Bernie Sanders’s supporters in the last Democratic presidential primary. Gaggles of middle-aged men, mostly white, sipped Narragansett and Kronenbourg 1664 beers and chatted about their days working for Sanders, his allies, and their upcoming weekend plans. Democratic strategists and campaign aides talked about their favorite sushi restaurants, the humid summers, and how “it’s so hard to go to these things when you don’t know anyone.”

So, yes, a standard DC book party, with perhaps a little more commiseration than usual. But suddenly, an hour into the passed appetizers portion of the evening, there was Sanders himself. He injected much-missing spirit into the room, declaring: “In many ways, we did win the election.” With an evangelist’s moxie, Sanders drummed up hollers of “yes we did!” and “all right” from fans. Weaver, a long-time friend and former campaign manager to Sanders, smiled along as the Vermont senator explained that his once-radical ideas were becoming mainstream.

“What’s really going on is below the radar. Last night you saw it in NYC with Alexandria, and you saw it in Maryland with Ben. Both of those candidates ran on progressive agendas, they ran on grassroots campaigns,” Sanders said. “That is what a political revolution is all about.”

Just like that, progressives got their groove back.

Sanders continued to build in intensity and received room-wide applause when he mentioned that 28-year-old  Ocasio-Cortez worked as a waitress only a year ago. Sanders’ grassroots optimism was infectious to partygoers who munched on potato-wrapped goat cheese and avocado rolls, as the lawmaker continued to pitch the notion that the progressive left was transforming the United States.

“Some may say it’s a wave. A blue wave,” a staffer from Democratic consulting firm Devine Mulvey Longabaugh mentioned to Washingtonian as he helped sell books at the door.

Staff Writer

Brittany Shepherd covers the societal and cultural scene in political Washington. Before joining Washingtonian as a staff writer in 2018, Brittany was a White House Correspondent for Independent Journal Review. While she has lived in DC for a number of years now, she still yearns for the fresh Long Island bagels of home. Find her on Twitter, often prattling on about Frasier.