Teaching Profession

‘A Fight Within the Family': VP Biden’s Speech to the NEA

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 03, 2011 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In a speech to the National Education Association’s delegate assembly, Vice President Joe Biden sought to downplay areas of disagreement with the union, using the metaphor of a squabble in an otherwise tightly knit family.

“In these times of change, I know you don’t agree with everything we’ve done in this administration. Believe me, I know,” Biden said to laughter from delegates. “I respect the disagreement we have. And not all of it, are you wrong about. Some of it you are. But ... this is more a fight within the family.”

In rhetorical structure, the speech had some striking parallels with NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s keynote yesterday, in which he described such disagreements as “a fight over how to achieve a shared vision.”

And just as Van Roekel emphasized Obama’s legislative successes, so too did Biden emphasize that the White House and the union agree about things such as the right for public employees to bargain collectively, progressive tax policies, early-childhood education, affordable health care, etc.

Coincidence? Probably not. Biden said he read Van Roekel’s’ speech on the plane ride over to Chicago.

“Not only was it rhetorically inspiring, more importantly, it conveyed real insight that is not reflected much in the public debate about what this debate is really about,” Biden said about Van Roekel’s speech. “I mean it. Literally, I can say there’s not a single, solitary assertion you made in that speech that I don’t wholeheartedly agree with.”

Here’s another key section of Biden’s address, basically the Why You Should Endorse Obama part:

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 fight alongside you, and 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."

There was the obligatory knock against what Biden called the “new” Republican politicians: “They’re decent people, [but] they have a fundamentally different view than even the previous Republican Party had. I don’t think, I really don’t think they fundamentally believe in public education as we do.”

And in a line that was a bit surprising, Biden said that addressing poverty is an important part of education reform, a point that the NEA and some of the critics of the Obama administration policies have been hammering on lately: “Public education is as much about poverty, lack of heath care, unemployment, as it is about what goes on in the classroom. Ask any teacher.”

No mention at all of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is truly being made a scapegoat by some delegates. On top of yesterday’s New Business Item C, delegates have submitted a new one for consideration that would call for Duncan’s removal from office.

Photo: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden embraces NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, while NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen looks on. (Kevin Lock/Courtesy of the National Education Association)

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.