Joe and Me: Chicago, 2011

Sometimes you hear that there’s a lack of enthusiasm for the candidacy of Joe Biden. Not for me: I’ve been waiting for this opportunity since 2011. That’s the year we met.

To be fair, he probably doesn’t remember me: there were about 10,000 other people in the room, and I never got closer than a hundred feet or so. But it was a memorable experience,1 and I became a Biden fan that day.

Northeast Ohio friends Jim and Sarah wait patiently in line to see VP Biden in July 2011.

Like most Democrats, I admire Barack Obama personally and politically. But just as sometimes a beloved family member disappoints us, I was disappointed with his education policies.2 In 2011, he sent Joe Biden to the NEA Representative Assembly in Chicago on a fence-mending visit, and I thought Biden was terrific.3

You can see some of the reason why in the condensed YouTube video NEA published. I blogged about it at the time in my position at NEOEA. The passion we’ve seen on the campaign trail this year is evident there, along with the commitment to public education.

But what also comes through is this, and I recall it even more strongly from the speech as a whole: Biden spoke of policy issues as disagreements. It didn’t make the recording, but I recall him saying explicitly: the people on the other side believe what they believe. They’re not bad people, they’re just wrong. You can, and should, disagree strongly with your opponents without showing contempt for them. You need to win the argument, not give in or give up.

Most Americans would like to feel like one nation again, but we all know that won’t happen without conscious effort. Honest, passionate disagreement is legitimate, and American. I am enthusiastic for Joe Biden because he understands that. I know, because he told me so nine years ago.


  1. I’ve heard a few past, present, and future Presidents speak live, and it’s remarkable how much more powerful the in-person experience is from the mediated experiences we’re all exposed to from ads and news coverage. Maybe it’s the fact that you have to invest time and energy in hearing them speak live; maybe it’s the enthusiasm of the crowd; maybe it’s the feeling that the experience is something you can tell your children.
  2. We shouldn’t have been surprised: in Philadelphia in 2007, he told NEA delegates that he thought merit pay was worth considering. And although his education policies were better than the alternative, by 2011 a lot of educators I know were furious with his Race to the Top initiative.
  3. As I wrote at the time, it was the first time since 2000 that a sitting President or Vice President appeared at NEA in person.

Author: StgCoach

Retired teacher and public education leader. Pastoral musician, community activist, parliamentarian, and photographer.