When we watch politicians perform, most of us focus on the action, on what is said.
But you might also want to focus on what isn’t said, because that’s where you’ll find the story.
It’s in the silence.
“Chi tace acconsente,” says my excellent barber, Raffaele Raia, born in Naples (not Florida). “He who is silent says yes. The silence is the consent.”
It’s what’s missing that intrigues profilers and intelligence analysts. In visual terms, you might think of it as the negative space between two dancers on stage or the distance between two prizefighters in the ring.
It is, technically, empty, on the edge of the outlines of the bodies. But it is full of essence of the dance, or the fight. And that tells you the story too.
It isn’t easy to look for what isn’t there or the sound that you don’t hear, like that dog that didn’t bark in the Sherlock Holmes story.
Or like the silence of Democrats Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris on their party’s threats to pack the Supreme Court.
Biden and Harris are able politicians. They’ve dodged questions about it in debates. And as long as they are allowed to deflect, they will.
It’s subtle, a vacuum, and TV news abhors a vacuum. And politics is so loud now, louder than ever, peppered with diversions, like that fly on Vice President Mike Pence’s white hair in his debate with Harris the other night.
And those Democrats who may have thought that Pence edged Harris in their debate will try to keep that fly alive. The buzzing makes them feel better.
Biden on Thursday continued deflecting. “You’ll know my opinion on court packing when the election is over,” Biden said during a campaign stop in Phoenix.
“It’s a great question, and I don’t blame you for asking. But you know, the moment I answer that question, the headline in every one of your papers will be on the answer to that question,” he said.
Yes it would be a headline, and it should be. You’re running for president, Mr. Biden. And you’re toying with the idea of reshaping the Supreme Court for your own politics.
Why are threats about packing the Supreme Court important? The number of justices has been set at nine for more than 150 years. Adding more would turn the justices into a gathering of party functionaries and delegitimize the court at a most politically volatile, uncertain time.
Even the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thought it was a bad idea. She liked nine.
But Democrats have been extremely angry since Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg. And so, they’re playing politics and threatening if Barret is confirmed.
“Everything is on the table,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
“We must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court,” declared the left’s Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in a tweet after Trump made his move.
Biden was able to dodge the court-packing issue in his last debate with Trump. And Harris dodged the issue in her only debate with Pence.
I thought that wise Democrats were just placating the hard and angry left that now dominates their party. The left sees the utility of force, on the streets and in politics. But by dangling the court issue out there again on Thursday in Phoenix, by not ruling it off the table, publicly, clearly, explicitly, Biden keeps it as a pulsating threat, suggesting imminent force is at hand.
And if Democrats win control of the Senate and the White House in November, it’s reasonable to assume that Biden may insist on showing the country many things. Like fundamentally changing the Republic.
In their debate Wednesday night in Salt Lake City, Pence tried to push Harris on the issue.
“Your party is actually openly advocating adding seats to the Supreme Court, which has had nine seats for 150 years, if you don’t get your way,” Pence said.
“I’m so glad we went through a little history lesson,” Harris responded. “Let’s do that a little more.”
Harris then played storyteller and unleashed Abraham Lincoln on the Republicans. In a well delivered and rather involved but questionable tale, Harris insisted that Lincoln didn’t fill an open Supreme Court seat in 1864 before an election because “Honest Abe said, ‘it’s not the right thing to do.’ ”
Gillian Brockell, writer for the Washington Post’s history blog posted under the headline “Kamala Harris’s ‘little history lesson’ about Lincoln’s Supreme Court vacancy wasn’t exactly true.”
“Lincoln didn’t nominate anyone until after he won,” Brockwell wrote. “But there is no evidence he thought the seat should be filled by the winner of the election.”
In their debate, Pence pressed her again, noting the use of Honest Abe wasn’t really an answer, which it wasn’t.
“You once again gave a non-answer. Joe Biden gave a non-answer. The American people deserve a straight answer,” Pence said.
“And if you haven’t figured it out yet,” he said, directly addressing the TV audience, “the straight answer is they are going to pack the Supreme Court if they somehow win this election.”
Harris again sidestepped and pivoted, where else, to race.
“Do you know that of the 50 people who President Trump appointed to the Court of Appeals for lifetime appointments, not one is black? You want to talk about packing a court? Let’s have that discussion.”
But she didn’t want to have that discussion on packing the Supreme Court or she would have had it.
And neither does Biden.
Chi tace acconsente.
Their silence is their consent.
Listen to “The Chicago Way” podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — at www.wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/thechicagoway.
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