Democratic Convention: Light on Policy, Heavy on Ideology

August 21, 2020 Updated: August 24, 2020

News Analysis

The four nights of the Democratic National Convention devoted a sliver of time to specific policy proposals while focusing heavily on appeals to progressive ideology and emotion.

Delivered in a condensed format due to concerns about COVID-19, the Democratic National Convention served as an eight-hour summary of the state of the Democratic party and the presidential campaign of Joe Biden.

Even though Biden was presented as a moderate Democrat during the primary elections, his policy platform shifted far to the left as he sought to appeal to progressives heavily courted by the socialist agendas pitched by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Any doubt about Biden’s far-left shift dissipated with his campaign’s decision to create a so-called unity platform in cooperation with the campaign of Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist. The Biden campaign stopped short of adopting Sanders’s major universal welfare programs like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

With the general election arriving in two-and-a-half months, the Democrats have to reconcile the new platform with the views of moderate American voters who are averse to the high taxes needed to pay for these welfare programs, environmental policies, and social justice projects. This could be a reason why both the convention and Biden’s capstone speech steered clear of policy specifics.

The convention instead focused on appeals to emotion, ideology, and—as is usual for political conventions—attacks on the opposing candidate.

“Here and now I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. l’ll be an ally of the light, not the darkness,” Biden said. “Make no mistake, united we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America.”

Biden spoke of his personal family suffering, alluded to dark forces driving the nation, and highlighted his government experience. But the policy portion of his speech stood out for its brevity and lack of specifics.

The clearest proposal in the speech called for rolling back Trump’s $1.3 trillion tax cut. Biden also promised to build on Obamacare and protect Medicare. The former vice president’s plan to address the COVID-19 pandemic did not differ much from the one already executed by the Trump administration, with a notable difference being Biden calling for making masks mandatory nationwide.

The Trump campaign, keenly aware of the Democrats’ lack of policy specifics, has hammered away at the point on each night of the convention, with the Trump campaign’s formal responses on each night focused squarely on Biden’s shift leftward in his policy proposals.

“Biden supports raising taxes by $4 trillion and forcing a government takeover of healthcare that will lead to the elimination of your employer-provided health insurance,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020 communications director, said in a statement. “He would kill 10 million energy jobs with the Green New Deal and bow to anti-police activists in cutting funding for law enforcement. He will sacrifice public safety and jobs for Americans by granting amnesty, taxpayer-funded healthcare, and work permits to 11 million illegal aliens.”

Over the course of four nights, the Democratic convention appealed to several issue-based groups, including environmentalists, gun control advocates, and social justice activists. The closing night featured several segments and speeches on faith, which again appealed to emotion but mostly lacked policy specifics, including Biden’s stance on abortion, one of the single biggest motivators for evangelicals, with whom Trump maintains an overwhelming advantage.

Instead of offering a choice between policies, Biden framed the choice as one between “angrier, less hopeful, more divided” nation or a turn toward “hope and light and love.”

“We choose a path of becoming angry, less hopeful, and more divided, a path of shadow and suspicion, or we can choose a different path and together take this chance to heal,” Biden said of his campaign.

The convention’s programming likewise sidelined policy specifics in favor of appeals to emotion and ideology and depictions of Biden as a person over.

On Thursday, it was Brayden Harrington, a 13-year-old who shared his story of bonding with Biden over their shared stutter. Harrington made it, sometimes stuttering, through his own speech, which he’d marked up to show the cadences, just the way he said Biden had taught him when they met.

The night before, there was the Sanchez family of North Carolina talking about how Trump’s immigration policies threaten them.

On Tuesday, Biden’s name was placed in nomination by a New York elevator operator.

On Monday, Kristin Urquiza recounted losing her father to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus and blamed Trump for his death.

Vice President Mike Pence told Fox Business Network that the Democrats painted a grim picture of America. He said most of the convention was “an ad hominem attack on the president of the United States.”

The vice president outlined what would be the main thrust of Republicans at their own national convention next week, offering a policy-centered riff on a line from Biden’s speech which said that character, decency, science, and democracy “are all on the ballot.”

“The economy is on the ballot. Law and order is on the ballot, and the American people know it,” Pence said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov