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Full Text Transcript of Vice-President Joe Biden’s Speech

Delivered July 03, 2011 at the NEA Annual Meeting & Representative Assembly


Hello NEA!

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Joe Biden and I'm in love with an educator!  And I'm in love with education!  I sure need it. 

Where is Delaware?  Hello, Delaware!  Frederica, congratulations.  Congratulations.  On being President‑elect.  And Mary Joe, take care of her, will you, like you take care of me.  Folks, it's a great honor.  It's a great honor to be here, and I mean that sincerely. 

You know, it's interesting.  You all know this.  When you are an educator or you are married to an educator or you dip your toe in the water like I did teaching a course in law school for 20 years, you find that you hang out with, you're friends with, you go to the movies with, you raise your children with, you eat with, a whole lot of other people involved in education. 

And there is one thing that I found over the last 40 years.  That there is something special about all of you who believe in what I call possibilities.  You don't go into education unless you believe in the possibility of making things better.  Just part of your DNA, part of your makeup.

When I was a young man in law school, I was married--when I got elected to the Senate, I was married to a beautiful woman who was also a teacher and was killed in an automobile accident right after I was elected.  And no man deserves one great love let alone two.  And five years later when I found Jill ‑‑ and, by the way, like all educators, she has a healthy degree of skepticism.  I literally had to ask her five times to marry me. 

Best decision I ever made, and she's still wondering whether she gave the right answer the fifth time.  But, folks, all kidding aside, you're a different breed of cat.  Thank God for all of you.  Thank God for your unyielding belief that in the toughest of circumstances, every child, every child deserves a chance.  And ladies and gentlemen, I just wish those folks who are attacking you now, I wish those folks who are trying to ascribe the blame for the worst recession America has had since the great depression, knew you a little better. 

Look, all of us in this room, all of us on this stage, we have something in common.  You, Dennis, me, Jill, Barack, Michelle, none of us, none of us would be in the positions we're in today were it literally not for the inspiration and love and guidance of at least one or two of our teachers. 

We would not be here.  Used to say in the United States Senate, if you'll excuse a point of personal privilege, were it not for the teachers I had in grade school, when I stuttered so badly, I could ‑‑ could ‑‑ couldn't ‑‑ say ‑‑ say my name --  Were it not for those teachers who told me how smart I was, what a good boy I was, how capable I was.  I would have never overcome that impediment. 

So I want to thank you.  I want to thank all of you for inspiring the young kid in your class who stutters, the young girl who is overweight, the beautiful young child who just doesn't have any notion about the possibilities that lie before her. 

Look, I know you have a lot more business to conduct before this assembly ends, so let me get right to the point and I'll try to be brief.  Dennis ‑‑ and I mean this sincerely, I told him ‑‑ I read your speech on the plane from Nevada to here.  Not only was it rhetorically inspiring, more importantly, it contained real insight that is not reflected much in the public debate about what this debate is ‑‑ what it's really about. 

I mean it.  And Dennis, it's not just because your mom is sitting there. 

Literally, I can say and I'll go on record with the press here, there's not a single solitary assertion you made in that speech that I don't wholeheartedly agree with, particularly one.  Yesterday ‑‑ yesterday you said ‑‑ and I want to quote you ‑‑ I know of no family of means in America who would deny their own children preschool, child care, good nutrition, health care, and other opportunities from soccer to music to dance to art.  Well, I say to you ‑‑ if this nation wants to remain strong and prosperous, why would we perpetuate a system that denies these opportunities to every child?  That is the question before this body.  That is the question before the United States of America.  That is the most fundamental question we can be asking as a people today!  None is more consequential! 

That's the question.  Look, the answer ‑‑ the answer, Dennis, is that the other team doesn't think we can either afford it or that it should be the priority.  This new Republican Party ‑‑ and I emphasize ‑‑ this new Republican Party has a different philosophy.  This is not your father's Republican Party.  This is a different breed of cat.  They are decent people, but they have a fundamentally different view, a fundamentally different view than even the previous Republican Party had, let alone others.  I think the crux of this is, they really don't believe in public education as we do. 

It's not that they don't care.  They care.  But they do not think the past 150 years public education is the vehicle.  They seem to think something different.  Public education is as much about poverty, lack of health care, unemployment as it is about what goes on in the classroom.  Ask any teacher. 

Dennis, I don't quote Barack as much as I'm quoting you.  But Dennis went on to say, part of the madness of this country is an economy that is out of balance, end of quote.  Well, folks, to the new Republican Party, this madness is madness by design.  They don't think —- literally -- listen to me now.  I'm being deadly earnest.  These are not intended to be applause lines.  They really don't think it's out of balance.  They think finally we are re‑establishing balance in America.  That's what they honestly and truly believe.  They believe that a CEO making 260 times what their workers makes is an honest reflection of the respective value of the CEO and their workers.  Think about it.  Listen for a second.  I really mean this.  I'm not trying to be pejorative.  I think it's important that we understand what the other team thinks so we understand what this is about.  It's not just about rewarding rich folks and their friends and all that sort of popular slogans.  They really believe this.  It is not illegitimate.  I fundamentally disagree, but they believe it.  They believe that 1 percent of the wage earners controlling 24 percent of the wealth in this country is a vehicle by which you can spur economic growth because those with the wealth know the most and will know best to do with that wealth. 

They believe that a hedge fund manager ‑‑ and I might add, in 2010 ‑‑ and these aren't bad guys, but 25 hedge fund managers made among themselves $22 billion.  Essentially a billion dollars apiece.  Their income.  They believe that income should be taxed at a 15 percent tax rate while most of you sitting out here teaching and driving a bus and working in the cafeterias, you pay at a 25 percent tax rate. 

They don't do that to reward the rich and punish the poor.  They believe it will encourage investors to take risks on economic growth.  That's what they think. 

Ladies and gentlemen, as Dennis said yesterday, you — we -- everything I believe in is under attack.  The new Republican Party has undertaken the most direct assault on labor, not just in my lifetime, but, without any hyperbole, literally since the 1920s. 

Our differences with the governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and over and over again, run much deeper than our differing philosophies on public education and educators. 

Fundamentally, it's a debate about the importance of community and the appropriate role of government.  So it should be no surprise that the same people who are pushing vouchers for schools are pushing vouchers for Medicare.  It should be no surprise, literally, it is intellectually and philosophically consistent. 

It should be no surprise that the same people who want to amend the middle class tax cut of $10,000 tax credit to send your kid to college also want to lower taxes for the top 1 percent of the millionaires in America.  It is not inconsistent to them. 

It should be no surprise that the same people who opposed our efforts to fund reconstruction of schools opposed our intention to build a major infrastructure investment in highways, bridges, and ports.  They don't think it's government's business. 

It should be no surprise that the same people are against aid to states which we put in the Recovery Act, allowing them to keep 300,000 of you educators employed last year. 

It should be no surprise that they have had no problem giving aid to investment bankers on Wall Street who drove us into this dilemma. 

Folks, we've got to wake up. 

It should be no surprise that the same people who oppose funding community colleges so that they can retrain workers for specific companies in their communities, are for incentives for the same companies who want to ship jobs overseas.  It is consistent from their perspective. 

It should be no surprise that those who oppose subsidizing after‑school programs are for subsidizing oil companies to drill for oil when they made just, this last quarter, $25 billion in profits. 

Ladies and gentlemen, to average people, to well‑educated people, it seems like some of the things they are suggesting are totally out of the blue, but it is a consistent philosophy. 

It should be no surprise that the folks who want to cut school lunch and nutrition programs are the same people who vote against extending unemployment insurance and food stamps for the jobless.  It is consistent. 

It should be no surprise that the same people who want to slash funding from medical and scientific research at our great universities also want to slash funding for innovation in solar, in biomass fuels, in dealing with new technologies for wind, new investments in lithium ion batteries.  It's consistent. 

My fellow Americans, this debate is about whether or not, for America to succeed, we need to provide the best education for all our children or just for some of our children, for just enough of our children, that's the crux of the debate. 

Folks, I could go on, but in the end, it's much more than about education.  It's about social equality, economic opportunity, concentration of wealth, about the belief and the possibilities of every child in America. 

As I said, these are not bad guys.  They just have a very different view.  Their America is an America different from the one I see.  You know, it's about not only what we're doing in education, but what we're doing to our country.  Just take a look around the country.  Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, on and on, the new majority in the House of Representatives all over our country, they have rejected good‑faith offers by teachers and other public employees to sacrifice, to do their part to help balance state budgets, which they were not responsible for putting out of balance. 

And instead of doing what former governors, even former Republican governors would have done, sat down with you, embraced your offer, talked to you about the changes, be willing to acknowledge the sacrifice you've already made and the sacrifices you're making, instead, these governors use the budget process to systematically erode the rights of public employees to collectively bargain. 

Look, slashes in education funding, reneging on teachers' contracts -- these guys talk about the sanctity of contracts in the business world.  I mean, think about it.  Think about it.  Mandating, decertification for any union involved in a teacher strike action, limiting the issues public school employees can bargain over.  Paycheck deception.  Benefits slashed.  Wages cut. 

You know, all states are struggling from the impacts of this brutal recession that we inherited, yet there is an organized effort to place the blame for the budget shortfall squarely on educators and other public workers.  It is one of the biggest scams in modern American history. 

And guess what ‑‑ the American people are figuring it out.  This debate is about a fundamental ‑‑ it's a legitimate debate ‑‑ about a fundamental difference in vision.  Our vision and their vision.   Look, folks, in these times of change, I know you haven't agreed with everything we have done in this administration.  Believe me, I know.

And as I think, everyone in my home state will tell you, and Dennis will tell you, I respect the disagreement we have, and not all of it are you wrong about. 

Some of it you are.  But one thing, this is more a fight within the family.  One thing you should not have any doubt in your mind about is that Barack Obama, he is on your side.  Make no mistake about it. 

He will and I will and we will, we will ‑‑ we will fight alongside you.  We will fight for you.  And occasionally in the privacy of the family, we'll fight with you.  But this is about the same fundamental vision for this country.

Look, this administration stands for education and it stands with labor.  It's about your fundamental right to collectively bargain, not just about your wages and benefits, but about the environment in which you work: the size of your classrooms, the mix of special education students in the classroom, the competency of the administrators in your schools, after‑school programs. 

Look, folks, it's about working conditions, but unlike almost any other organization, your fight is our children's fight.  Your fight is about our children.  Your fight is about giving them the best chance.  And it's also about whether or not we'll provide things like adequate preschool education. 

Folks, how many more studies do we need?  I'm here in Chicago with my co‑grandparent, Dr. Roberta Buhl who works for the Chicago school system, former NEA member.  Roberta, where are you?  We are co‑grandparents.  And she is here with me today.  She'll tell ya.  She will tell ya about the studies.  You all know.  How many more studies do we need to find out that if you give any kid, no matter what their circumstance, a preschool head start, their chances of graduating are incredible better.  How many studies do we need to know that?  How much more do we have to debate?

It's about whether or not we have classroom sizes that allow a child to be recognized. 

It's about whether or not we offer courses in math and science, introduce our children to art and music.  It's about whether or not we'll have adequate sports programs.  It's about whether or not we provide educational and financial capability for students who are able to go to college.  That's what it's about!  It's about giving kids a chance! 

Ultimately it's about America.  It's about whether or not America will succeed.  Look, folks, it's a fact.  It's a fact that more than half the jobs in the next decade will require post secondary education. 

Where are these guys living?  You know that ad about, are they living under a rock?  You know, they come up and see that Geico. I think some of our friends are down there with those guys.  Where have they been? 

How can you expect to compete for the future without the best educated, best prepared?  Ladies and gentlemen, how can we lead the world into the 21st century when we are tied for ninth with five other nations?  In the neighborhood I come from, that means you're 14.  How can you lead the world when you're 14th in the world in the percent of children of population you graduate from college?  How?  How?  How can we expect to do any of that, to remedy any of that without you?  We should be working with you, not against you. 

We should be listening to you, not lecturing to you.  We should be embracing you, not pushing you aside! 

You are not the problem.

And like you, people in Madison, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and all over America, they are standing up.  They're standing up on the front lines to do battle for you!  For our children!  Against these policies! 

It's so often said, Dennis, it's almost lost its meaning, but you are teaching the next great engineers who can't get there without learning in preschool and kindergarten and first and second grade to begin to do arithmetic. 

You're teaching the next generation of novelists how to write a simple sentence in a paragraph. 

You're uncovering the next Mozart.  You're unleashing the next Steve Jobs.  You are building generation after generation of hardworking Americans in all walks of life.  Doctors, lawyers, architects, computer programmers, welders, business owners, artists, soldiers, and, yes, educators. 

Your classrooms are literally the incubators of new technology, of future scientific breakthroughs, a medical discovery -- in your classroom is the future President of the United States.  And, ladies and gentlemen ‑‑ and all of you know what my wife knows, what anybody who spent their life  in a classroom ‑‑ and God love her, she's still teaching 15 credits full time while being second lady. 

Look, folks, you know, you know you never know where that next scientist, president, Mozart -- you know you don't have any idea where that child has come from.  You just know when you see it, you recognize it.  You don't know where that child is going to come from, a row house or a mansion on the hill, from the inner city or farm, but you know it when you see it.  You can smell it.  You can taste it, and you want to nurture it.  You know that they will come, though, all of them will come from our children. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the way some people talk about our children as if they are from somewhere else, some other place.  Ladies and gentlemen, these are our children.  These are not someone else's children.  These are America's children! 

These children are the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft and in the end, we will be judged by whether or not we've honored our obligation to our children. 

My favorite poet, William Butler Yates once wrote, "Education is not about filling a bucket, it's about lighting a fire."  So light those fires!  We will stand with you!  Light those fires and light them greatly!  Everywhere in America, every generation has relied upon you.  We stand with the NEA because of you. Because of you, the American dream will grow faster and go further than ever before. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we stand ‑‑ because you stand with the people who are struggling to get into the middle class as well as stay in the middle class. We stand with you, the NEA, because with you, we can and will literally ‑‑ it sounds trite, but restore the American dream. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my word. I thank you.  Thank you for what you do.

Look, just so I don't leave here with the press saying all this was a love fest. Not all teachers are created equal.  Not all vice presidents or presidents are created equal.  Not all doctors are created equal.

I know what you know in your private conversations. You want your profession to be the best, the most competent and capable it can be.  It's your obligation.  It's your obligation. 

It's your obligation to tell us how we make sure we have the best and we only count as the best. 

I am confident, I am confident you want that as much as any citizen in this country wants it, because, folks, at the end of the day, incompetence in my profession and in yours reflects upon each and every one of us. 

So I don't have any doubt about your sincerity.  And I don't have any doubt about your capacity.  You should have no doubt about my affection for you and the President's commitment to you.  Thank you for what you do.  May God bless you all and may God protect our troops.  Thank you so very much.