Big Tent on Display, Convention Day 1 & 2

Update 465: Broad Progressive Message,
Party’s Big Tent on Display at Convention

Democrats are gathering this week, albeit virtually, for the Democratic National Convention “hosted” in Milwaukee. Though unconventional, the program for the first two nights has showcased a breadth of support and degree of unity of purpose rarely seen among Democrats. 

The Party’s platform, which delegates approved yesterday, is not as bipartisan as the pitch. The 2020 edition is probably the most progressive ever put forward by the Party. But platforms are more prognostic than promissory and the question remains which will be policies and which just promises. 




The Democratic Party is hosting a virtual convention for the first time in history. These first two nights have focused less on policy specifics and more on uniting people across the country and aisle behind Vice President Joe Biden. Yesterday, the Democratic Party formally nominated Biden for president and adopted its official platform. 

Biden’s policies had a significant influence on the 2020 Democratic platform, but progressives have won victories in economic policy. Below, we examine notable economic provisions of the 2020 Democratic platform and the events of the first half of the Democratic National Convention. 

A Progressively More Progressive Platform

Despite its exclusion of Medicare-for-All, the platform has been hailed as the most progressive to date and largely sailed through passage. The 92-page policy document offers a vision for how Democrats will govern if they take back the White House and Congress this fall. Here are some areas of note:

  • Wages and Benefits: Like in 2016, this year’s Democratic platform advocates for a universal $15/hour minimum wage. It explicitly supports Rep. Bobby Scott’s Protecting the Right to Organize Act and declares Democrats’ intent to repeal state right-to-work laws that have gutted unions. The platform also repeats its 2016 endorsement of universal 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. 
  • Tax Reform: Much of the 2020 platform’s discussion of taxation is devoted to attacking the Trump tax cuts for their disastrous effects on the agriculture industry, encouraging corporations to shift operations overseas, and economic inequality. The 2016 Democratic platform hiked the tax rate for millionaires but made no mention of capital gains taxes or any specific policies. Today’s platform explicitly mentions equalizing tax rates for investors and workers and closing the carried interest loophole — a win for progressives. It also seeks to restore the estate tax to its historical norm. This would likely include both raising the rate and lowering the basic exclusion amount. 
  • Dodd-Frank and Beyond: Similar to 2016, this year’s platform reaffirms the Party’s commitment to strengthening Dodd-Frank, reinstating Glass-Steagall, and creating a public banking option through postal banking. The platform also includes a new provision that calls for “making racial equity part of the mandate of the Federal Reserve.” Earlier this month, Sens. Warren and Gillibrand and Rep. Waters introduced the Federal Reserve Racial and Economic Equity Act that would codify this change.

    Other notable additions to the 2020 platform include calls to create a public credit reporting agency and bolster the Community Reinvestment Act, which the Trump Administration has weakened.
  • A COVID Plan: Democrats now have an opportunity to display Republicans’ inability to lead during crises. Beyond laying out long-term policy goals, this year’s platform includes a vision for how a Biden administration would address the recession. Many of the provisions in the plan align with the HEROES Act and other Democratic relief bills. Highlights of the plan include providing payroll support and expanding work-sharing, continuing unemployment coverage for gig workers, and extending grants to small businesses.

Bernie (I-VT), Kasich (R-OH), Abrams (D-GA) All Aboard

Day one of the convention featured voters and politicians from across the political spectrum united in their support for Biden and opposition to Trump. Former Republican voters and several politicians, including former Ohio Governor John Kasich, spoke on why Biden was the best candidate. 

Senator Bernie Sanders asked his supporters to consider the impact of a second Trump term on the progressive movement and highlighted Biden’s progressive economic plans. Sanders pointed to Biden’s support for a $15/hour minimum wage, protection of workers’ right to organize, 12 weeks of paid leave, lowering the Medicare eligibility age, and eliminating cash bail.

The virtual convention affords the opportunity to feature individuals who normally would not be able to speak. To start the night, the convention called attention to the plight of small business owners, farmers, frontline medical workers, and parents during COVID. The speakers voiced fears about the virus and the economy and their disappointment with the Trump administration.

Other speakers criticized Trump’s attempts to hinder mail-in voting. With the virus still raging, millions plan to vote by mail in November. Sen. Sanders spoke about Trump’s attempts to defund and dismantle the USPS and how these budget cuts would disenfranchise millions. Sen. Cortez-Masto echoed this sentiment and spoke about Trump’s legal challenge against the Nevada vote-by-mail system. While Postmaster General DeJoy has since said he will delay his intended budget cuts until after the election, such attempts to dismantle our democratic infrastructure emphasize the importance of a Democratic president and majority in the Senate next Congress. 

Recovery Rx: Building Back Better

Night two of the convention featured the formal nomination of Joe Biden as the party’s 2020 presidential nominee. The night’s policy message centered in part around jobs and Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan.

The economic downturn has made job creation a key pillar of the Democrats’ campaign message. In his speech, former President Bill Clinton noted that the U.S. unemployment rate has tripled during this crisis, unlike those of other industrial economies. Other advanced economies have been able to maintain a lower unemployment rate by keeping workers on payrolls and directly replacing their wages. The 2020 platform and Biden’s economic plan include expanding work-sharing programs, allowing employers to keep workers on payrolls by subsidizing their wages with unemployment benefits.

Many of the speakers pointed to Biden’s leadership during the 2009 recovery as much-needed experience for our current crisis. In a nod to the must-win state of Michigan, Democrats elevated the Obama-Biden administration’s efforts to save the auto industry. Biden’s Build Back Better plan includes a plank for investing in infrastructure and clean energy as a way to create new manufacturing jobs.

Battleground and Suburban Pitch

With the convention halfway over, Democrats have established their strategy for beating Trump in November: a broad appeal to decency and unity. Speeches have generally been light on policy specifics and heavy on emphasizing the vast differences between Trump and Biden. 

This appeal to decency and unity — pitched at the purple suburbs — worked well for Democrats in 2018. Democrats picked up dozens of seats in suburban House districts across the nation, and the Biden campaign is doing well in betting on this message. Now that Americans are confronting a serious economic crisis, a stable and credible older hand in charge provides reassurance to voters on all sides. 

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