Stephen Silbiger was the chief legislative aide to Congressman Stephen J. Solarz of Brooklyn. He also was the lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and was the Washington Representative for the American Jewish Congress. He currently is practicing law in Washington, D.C.
In the article below, which he submitted to Power Line, Stephen recounts his interaction, as a lobbyist, with Joe Biden. The article documents some of Biden’s well known flaws, and reveals some that, I believe, are less known.
Michael Kinsley, who is one of the most perceptive observers of American politics, once said that a gaffe occurs in Washington when a politician reveals a truth that the politician did not intend to admit. When Joe Biden said “if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” he accidentally revealed a truth. The truth he revealed had little to do with Black voters. The truth he revealed was his contempt for all Americans. He vividly proclaimed that contempt to me in a meeting that he summoned me to when I was lobbying for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in opposition to the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment.
I met with the then Senator from Delaware in 1982. At that time, Democrats on Capitol Hill were in full retreat. Ronald Reagan had won the last presidential election by a substantial margin, the Senate had turned Republican for the first time in nearly thirty years, and Tip O’Neal was rolled over when the House of Representatives voted for the Reagan budget and tax cuts.
Sensing that their time had come, the libertarian National Tax Payers Union launched a campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution to require that the annual U.S. budget be balanced. The measure would have hamstrung future Congresses from dealing with national emergencies, such as the one we are currently experiencing, and would have immediately forced substantial cuts in federal spending.
The threat posed by the constitutional amendment to a union representing public employees was obvious. Gerald McEntee, the new AFSCME President, made defeating the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment a major priority for his union and convinced the then President of the AFL-CIO to make it a high priority for the union movement. It was in the context of the lobbying campaign to defeat the Amendment that I met with then Senator Biden.
Biden had co-sponsored the Constitutional Amendment and it is my recollection that he was the only non-Dixiecrat Senator to do so. I met with him and tried to explain the damaging effect that the Amendment would have on the economy. I specifically remember emphasizing the effect it would have on Social Security, which as the largest Federal domestic spending, would be subject to massive cuts.
During the meeting Biden seemed not to comprehend the consequences of requiring federal expenditures not to exceed federal revenues. He seemed not to comprehend that large spending cuts would occur because large tax increases were not politically possible or economically prudent. I assumed he was feigning a lack of comprehension, but given his academic record which later was revealed when he ran for President, his lack of intelligence may have been a factor.
At the end of my unproductive meeting with Biden, I went directly to his long-time administrative assistant, Ted Kaufman, and told him that this was an important issue to the entire labor movement and that he would be hearing from the Delaware AFL-CIO. I remember telling him that this was not a personal matter, but neither AFSCME nor the AFL-CIO could sit by and let a non-Dixiecrat support legislation that would cost millions of workers their jobs and cut Social Security. I told him that the state leaders of the AFL-CIO would ask to meet with him in Delaware to make their views known.
Several weeks after my meeting I was told that a meeting did take place in Delaware, and soon thereafter, I was informed that the Senator had removed his name from the list of sponsors. I assumed that was the end of the matter.
However, that was not the case with Biden. I soon received a phone call that the Senator wanted to see me. I went to his office and witnessed something I had not seen in my nearly two decades on Capitol Hill.
Once I sat down, Biden got up and started to yell at me. He bellowed “you are going to lose this issue. You are going to lose this issue because the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment sounds good and the American people are stupid and will support anything that sounds good.”
I remember sitting there in partial amusement. For close to two years I worked for Jerry Wurf, the then recently deceased President of AFSCME who built a million member union. While Wurf was brilliant, tenacious, and shrewd, he also had a volcanic temper and would yell so loudly that you could almost feel the walls shake. As I sat through Biden’s tirade, I kept thinking that Joe Biden was no Jerry Wurf in any way. When I walked out I remember thinking what an arrogant buffoon he must be for supposing that by bellowing at me could bully someone who was born in a refugee camp, and whose parents were Holocaust survivors.
After that I had very little to do with Biden. In fact, in 1988 when a host of Democratic candidates for President tried to get the support of AFSCME, which was then the largest union in the AFL-CIO, one of the few candidates who did not was Joe Biden. He was running a campaign which tried to capture the white backlash vote. He had a Southern strategy in which he bragged about receiving an award from George Wallace and claimed the “[w]e Delawareans were on the side of the South in the Civil War.”
Jerry Wurf, who built AFSCME was very active in the civil rights movement. He fought tenaciously against Jim Crow and his commitment to civil rights was evidenced by the Reverend Martin Luther King coming to Memphis to support a strike of sanitation men that AFSCME had organized. Martin Luther King was killed helping AFSCME get dignity for African-American workers, and the AFSCME that still remembered Jerry Wurf was never going to support a candidate who bragged about an award from George Wallace and that his state supported slavery.
Joe Biden has publicly come a long way since then. Barack Obama selected him to be his running mate in one of the oddest pairings in American history. I believe the only reason why someone as ideological as Barack Obama would select Joe Biden is that he had the same opinion of him that I had.
Barack Obama knew, as I did, that even the most high-powered MRI could not detect an honest or principled bone in Biden’s body. Barack Obama knew that with Joe Biden, there would be no honest disagreements or principled dissents from his policies. All you had to do was feed his arrogant sense of entitlement and you could get him to support any position. In fact, the man who bragged about getting an award from George Wallace, and that many in his state sided with those who enslaved Black people, could tell an African-American audience that Mitt Romney would put them in chains.
When you are not very bright and have no scruples and you think the American people are stupid, you can say anything.