At long last, it appears Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has found his groove.
A glide path directly from Wilmington to the White House has opened with the election less than four weeks away… his lead in the national polling average increased to nearly 10 percentage points (landslide territory)…he holds an edge or is within the margin of error in battleground states…his campaign is flush with cash and raising more…he’s seriously competitive in states swept by President Trump four years ago.
He survived largely unscratched from the debate with the president and he’s ventured out from his basement more often.
He’s benefitted enormously from the undisciplined and erratic behavior of the president as the Administration careened from one public relations disaster to another.
Republicans — vulnerable U. S. Senators in particular — looked on in horror as the president quarreled in public with his White House staff, each contradicting the other while portraying an Administration in chaos and incapable of providing any sort of leadership.
The events surrounding the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis, hospitalization, treatment protocol and subsequent release were bungled by a dysfunctional and inept staff whose main goal seemed to be attempting to discern the demands of an increasingly mercurial chief executive.
In the midst of all of this, Trump berated his chief of staff and attacked members of his cabinet for what he considered was a failure to expeditiously carry out his wishes.
The stars, it seemed, were in perfect alignment for Biden who, after 47 years in public life and three failed attempts at the presidency, stood on the cusp of achieving his lifelong dream.
Until the Democratic Party leftists drove their demands for increasing the membership of the U. S. Supreme Court into the middle of the Biden strategy, undermining his message and boxing him in on an issue he hoped would remain dormant.
Suddenly faced with choosing between risking bringing the wrath of the left down on his head or upsetting the moderate centrists crucial to his success, Biden chose to stonewall, to dismiss the issue as a distraction from where the genuine focus of the campaign should be — the Administration’s failure to deal effectively with the economically destructive pandemic.
When the question of expanding the court was put to him, he replied that he’d reveal his position after the election.
He followed with the rather astonishing rationale: “The moment I answer that question, the headline in every one of your papers will be about that.”
But, that’s the point of it all, is it not?
A candidate for president — any candidate — seeks the support of the American people by offering a vision for the country and outlining a framework for achieving that vision.
Saying, in effect, “I’ll tell you after the election” or “I don’t want to make headlines” is jarringly at odds with the concept of a campaign’s role and responsibility for holding an open, honest dialogue with voters rather than evading an issue because it may be uncomfortable or may offend a politically active segment of the party.
It was clear that Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, was given strict instructions prior to her debate with Vice President Michael Pence to avoid the issue at all costs, even if it proved embarrassing.
When asked, Harris went into a defensive bob and weave crouch, refused to respond and instead offered a rambling history of the court.
Even the description “court packing” carries a rather sinister connotation, implying that additional justices would be appointed to the nine-member tribunal based on their fealty to the political desires of the Administration rather than on intellect, integrity and allegiance to the Constitution.
The issue of expanding the court was forced into the conversation by the president’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Without waiting for Judiciary Committee hearings or floor debate, Democrats still angry over the Republican leadership’s refusal to conduct a hearing for Merrick Garland nominated for the court by President Obama in 2016 immediately announced their opposition to her, arguing that her confirmation would tip the court to a 6-3 conservative majority, endangering the Affordable Care Act and the Roe v. Wade decision on protecting abortion rights.
Several Democratic Senators, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in an unseemly childish snit refused to even meet with Barrett.
Conceding they are unable to block Barrett’s nomination and eventual confirmation, a bloc of left wing Democrats pledged to pursue expanding the court by four justices who would be placed on the court specifically to carry out the party’s legislative agenda.
It is a shameless and unworthy effort to remake the highest court in the land into an arm of a political party, willing to trade away the fundamental responsibility of the judiciary to interpret the constitution for a body committed to partisan hackery.
By obstinately refusing to reveal his view, Biden has opened the door to speculation that he’s signaling to the left that he secretly supports it but can’t say it out loud yet while mollifying his centrist pragmatic supporters that he’s really on their side.
While the issue is an unwanted distraction for him, one he would have preferred remained out of the campaign, his reaction borders on the cowardly.
Moreover, it introduces a high degree of turbulence into his glide path by playing into Trump’s hands, giving the president a gift opportunity to portray Biden as an out of the mainstream socialist, captured by the radical left and terrified of offending it.
It is late in the campaign and whether the issue will gain and maintain sufficient traction to cut into Biden’s lead is problematic at best.
It would be in is best interest, though, the next time he’s in Washington, D. C., to glance at the motto etched into the marble above the main entrance to the Supreme Court — “Equal Justice Under Law.”
It might help him make up his mind.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.