So they came in and said, “We have a great idea. We’ve figured out a way how to plus up 529s”—that’s that savings account for college tuition, that you can save it now, not pay the tax on it, and you’re able to use it toward college tuition, and they were decimated, like 401(k)s. And I listened and I said, “Well, that’s a good idea, Tim,” but I said, “I don’t know anybody who has a 529.”
And he looked at me, and I looked at my team. I said, “How many of you have 529s?” And they all had them. And I said, “I’ll make you a bet”—and this was after the Washington Post had printed, literally, “It’s probable no man has ever assumed the office of vice president with fewer assets than Joe Biden,” when I did my first financial disclosure. And, I said, “What percentage of people are eligible for 529s in the capital?” And [the guesses ranged] from 40 percent to 25 percent, or 20 percent, among my staff. And I said, “If more than 10 percent of the people eligible have a 529, once a month, lunch is on me any place you all pick in Washington. We’ll all go to lunch—it’s on me.”
So they came back. 7 percent. Nobody has any money to save. They’re of no value to the neighborhood I grew up in. These are people making, married couples with two kids making 100,000 bucks. They don’t have any disposable income.
So there is a disconnect. It’s like the book Coming Apart by the conservative sociologist [Charles Murray]. He points out there’s a new elite in America. And this new elite is a meritocracy. It’s black, it’s white, it’s women, it’s men. But it’s all about the best-educated people. And so, for example, I asked my younger staff, I lay 8 to 5, if you put up 20 neighbors I could tell you what neighborhood they live in.
There’s this test in Murray’s book—and it drove my sons Beau and Hunter crazy. I asked them to take it. Have you ever been on the factory floor? Were you’re raised in a neighborhood where over 60 percent of the people you live with, their parents did not have a college education? Do you know any one of your close friends that is obese? Do any one of them, in their refrigerator, have whole milk? Given a choice to be able to go to Starbucks or McDonalds, where do they go? All of the bright kids, I don’t want to indict anybody in this room, they live in neighborhoods of people who have the same view of art, the same view of culture, the same view of—
Clemons: The people you describe are my relatives in Kansas and Oklahoma and Texas, many uneducated, served in the military, eat mostly at fast-food joints—
Biden: Bingo! But here’s the deal: We don’t talk to them anymore.
Clemons: What do these folks need to hear? On the international stuff?
Biden: [Politicians have to] say, “Look, let me tell you why it’s so important to you that this happens.” The example I give, I say, look, everybody knows we need Europe and their armies, or God forbid if anything happens with Russia or if there’s a major war we have. Because we saw it happen when this great migration crisis occurred. It didn’t have anything to do with war or peace, but it destabilized a lot of these governments. Now, now Europe is doubting itself. The last thing we need, after building up a system for 70 years, of a Europe whole and free and secure, is for this to fall apart.