Oct 26, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
Excerpted from Politico: Adding another wild-card to the 2012 campaign’s final days, a former aide to Vice President Joe Biden has written a tell-all Washington memoir in which he lacerates the former Delaware senator as an “egomaniacal autocrat” who was “determined to manage his staff through fear.”
Connaughton wrote “The Payoff,” which came out last month, in the fashion of guilt-racked whistle-blower: he was a party to a corrupt system and now wants to blow the lid off the game.
President Obama and Biden, he writes, are “both financially illiterate.”
What’s remarkable about the book is the lengths that Connaughton goes to portray his former boss and political idol in a bad light, piling up embarrassing anecdotes and examples of when Biden couldn’t be bothered to help one of his own aides.
In the prologue, Connaughton recounts the 2008 campaign gaffe when Biden predicted that Obama would be tested soon into his term.
In a meeting with Connaughton and some of his other advisers a few days after the election, Biden revealed that he had been upbraided by an angry Obama.
“Biden told us that Obama had called him and told him sharply that he didn’t need public tutoring: ‘I don’t need you acting like you’re my Henry Higgins,’” Connaughton writes. “Biden said his private reaction was, ‘Whoa. Where did this come from? This is clearly a guy who could restrict my role to attending state funerals or just put me in a closet for four years.”
Biden added: “I’m going to have to earn his trust, but I’m not going to grovel to this guy. My manhood is not negotiable.”
The Biden that Connaughton describes is sharply at odds with the familiar image of a charming, if gaffe-prone, pol who never met a stranger.
To people he didn’t know or his Delaware constituents, Biden was warm and engaging. But to those in his orbit who were not family or close friends, he could be cold.
“Like Napoleon, Biden had captured his personal Toulon at a very young age,” Connaughton writes of the man who was elected to the Senate before his 30th birthday.
He tells of raising money for the senator and getting little in the way of appreciation – not even a thank-you note until he dropped a hint he wanted one – and of Biden treating young aides poorly.
Connaughton recalls a story from the lead-up to Biden’s ill-fated 2008 presidential run.
“Later in the campaign, a twenty-three-year-old fundraising staffer got into a car with Biden with a list of names and phone numbers: ‘Okay, Senator, time to do some fundraising calls,’” Connaughton writes. “Biden looked at him and said, ‘Get the f**k out of the car.’”
By 1988, Connaughton had found his way to Biden and worked as a junior aide for the then-senator’s first presidential foray before landing a job on his Senate staff. After graduating from law school, he explains that he wanted to land a job in the White House Counsel’s office. So Connaughton says he asked Kaufman, then Biden’s chief of staff, if the senator could put a call into Abner Mikva, Bill Clinton’s White House counsel. Kaufman told Connaughton that Biden wouldn’t do it because Biden didn’t like Mikva.
“Ted tried to console me,” Connaughton writes of Kaufman: “ ‘Jeff, don’t take this personally. Biden disappoints everyone. He’s an equal-opportunity disappointer.’ ”
A lobbyist when Biden prepared to run for president once again 5 years ago, Connaughton signed up to serve as the Treasurer of the senator’s PAC.
Mocking Biden’s long-windedness, Connaughton recalls a Houston dinner fundraiser he organized.
“As a longtime staffer, I knew to keep flexing my knees while standing through a Biden speech,” he writes. “After awhile, I noticed that the room was getting uncomfortably warm. Suddenly, a woman fainted. Two men caught her and carried her out a side door. Biden just kept on speaking … As the guests filed into the dining room, I stood in the foyer and asked a couple of them for their impressions. ‘He’s got senatorial disease,’ one said. ‘He talks too much.’ At that moment, the front door opened, and the foyer was bathed in the flashing red lights of the ambulance into which the fainting victim was being loaded.”
Connaughton briefly returned to Bidenworld in the days after the 2008 election, but quickly had to resign his position as chair of the vice-president’s inaugural committee because of the new administration’s tough rules on lobbyists.
“It didn’t seem fair,” he writes. “Biden had never helped me once as a lobbyist, yet I was paying the price.”
So instead of working for the new vice president, Connaughton became the top aide to Kaufman, and, while still admiring of the appointed senator, left at the end of Kaufman’s abbreviated term appalled at how Washington works.
“Money is the basis of almost all relationships in D.C.,” he writes. “And, in a nutshell, this is why our political campaign system and DC’s mushrooming Permanent Class — who alternate between government jobs and lawyering, influence-peddling and finance — mean Wall Street always wins.”
Democrats, he argues, aren’t much different than Republicans when it comes to selling out. Connaughton describes the Washington taxonomy of the lobbyists, consultants and lawyers he calls “Professional Democrats.”
“If the Marine Corps’s hierarchy of allegiance is unit, corps, country, God, then the hierarchy for a Professional Democrat is current firm, former-elected-official boss, the congressional Democratic leadership, and the president (if he or she is a Democrat),” Connaughton writes.
That was the true faith he lived by for about 25 years until he finally left the capital, bought a dog and took refuge in Savannah.
Connaughton recounts the conversation he had with his father upon quitting the political game.
“ ‘I can’t believe after all those years of blood and sweat for Biden he never even gave you a crumb,’ ” he writes of his dad’s reaction. “I didn’t even know how to put any context around that for him, it’s just too complicated. I’d learned the hard way: loyalty for loyalty’s sake is a fraud. I was guilty.”