Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
Walker Art Center
5:50 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, you guys are just happy because it’s warm. (Laughter.) Thank you so much. I can’t tell you what a pleasure and an honor it is to be here with all of you.
It is warm in here. (Laughter.) So if anybody needs to sit down and take a rest -- because I know sometimes -- please, feel free. I know you guys aren’t used to this kind of weather at this time of year. (Laughter.)
But I am just thrilled to be here. And I want to start by thanking Kelly for that very powerful introduction. Absolutely. (Applause.) And for sharing her story. And I got to meet Elliott. Elliott is handsome. (Laughter.) And he has this wonderful, increasingly deep voice. So they are blessed. And it is because of stories like these that my husband worked so hard to get health reform passed. And it’s because of people like Kelly and like all of you that we got it done. (Applause.) So congratulations to all of you.
I also want to recognize a few people -- Governor Dayton, who was here. I know he’s probably not here, but he was here. He was there to greet me at the airport. I want to thank him and Senator Klobuchar. Amy was here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah, Amy!
MRS. OBAMA: Amy! (Applause.) Senator Franken and his
wife are here. Yes! (Applause.) And one of our favorite mayors, Mayor Rybak and his family are here. (Applause.) As well as Mayor Coleman and his family. We’re so delighted to have you all here. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, all, for your leadership. Thank you for your service. Thank you for taking the time to be here today.
And I also want to give a special shout-out to some of our Host Committee people -- Sam Hines, Stacy, Amy, Andy, you guys and the rest of the Host Committee. Yes! (Applause.) Not only did you create a successful event but you got folks fired up, even before I got here. So this is great.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ready to go!
MRS. OBAMA: (Laughter.) Fired up and ready to go.
And finally, I want to thank you all of you. Truly, thank you for your support. Thank you for being with us this evening. And I know that there is a reason why you all are here. And it’s not just because it’s a nice day, you’re here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country.
You know that in less than a year from now, we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And I know you’re here because you know that choice won’t just affect all of us, but it’s going to affect our children, it’s going to affect our grandchildren, and it’s going to affect the world that we leave for them long after we’re gone.
And believe me, that is why I am here this evening. That’s why I’m going to be out on the campaign trail really hard. (Applause.)
One of the greatest things about being First Lady is that I have had the privilege of traveling across this great country, and our country is great. Meeting folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what’s going on in their daily lives. And every day, I hear about how people are struggling to keep it together -- how they’re paying their bills, trying to keep their businesses afloat. I hear about how people are doing everything in their power to keep it together, taking that extra shift, working that extra job. How people are saving and sacrificing, many never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The cost of things like gas, groceries, tuition have continued to go up, but people’s paychecks haven’t kept pace. So when the economic crisis hit, for far too many families, the bottom completely fell out.
Now, over the past three years, your President has worked very hard to dig ourselves out of this mess. (Applause.) And we have made some excellent progress -- excellent. You may remember that when my husband took office, we were losing on average more than 750,000 jobs a month. That’s when he came into office. Bur recently, we learned that we’ve now had 24 straight months of private sector job growth. (Applause.) Just to do the math, two years. (Applause.) Two straight years we have been adding private sector jobs for a total of more than 3.9 million jobs. (Applause.)
So let me tell you, I am proud of everything my husband has done to get our economy moving, and I know you all are, too. I know that. We are all proud of everything he’s done to get this economy back on track. But we also know that we still have a long way to go. We still have a long way to rebuild our country on an economy that is built to last -- a vision that we all share. The belief that, as my husband says, and as Kelly mentioned, that hard work should pay off; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone in this country should get a fair shot, they should do their fair share, but more importantly, they should play by the same rules.
Those values are the foundation for an economy built to last, and they are basic American values. They are the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. You all know my story by now. My father was a blue-collar worker -- city water plant. My family lived in a little bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Neither of my parents went to college, but let me tell you what they did do. They worked for us. They saved for us. They sacrificed everything so that my brother and I could have things they only imagined.
And more than anything else, that’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re working for. (Applause.) That fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, that if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and yes, an even better life for your kids.
And let me tell you, on just about every single issue -– from health care to education to the economy -– that is the choice that we face in this election.
For example, when we talk about tax cuts for middle-class families, or you hear the President talking about unemployment insurance for folks out of work, that’s about whether people can heat their homes. That’s what those conversations are about. It’s about whether people can put gas in their car so that they can even look for a job. It’s about whether folks can send their kids to college; retire with a little dignity and security. And it’s about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. That’s what’s at stake.
And when it comes to jobs, just think back to when all those folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under, with more than a million jobs on the line. But Barack had the backs of American workers. He put his faith in the American people. (Applause.) And as a result, today, the auto industry is back, and more importantly, people are back at work, able to provide for their families. But that’s what’s at stake. That’s the choice we face.
And think for a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for American consumers. I’m talking about families getting hit with all those hidden credit card fees. I’m talking about students drowning in debt, our seniors losing their homes and savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford, probably couldn’t understand.
And that’s why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission -– that is to protect folks from exactly these kinds of abuses. Because when you’ve worked and you’ve saved and you’ve followed the rules, you shouldn’t lose it all to someone trying to make a little easy money. Your President knows that is not fair, it’s not right. (Applause.) And he is working to do something about it. (Applause.) Absolutely.
And what about all that this administration has done for our small businesses? These are the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year -- two-thirds. And when you’re talking about these small businesses you’re talking about the mother who opens up the drycleaner to take care of her kids. That’s what you’re talking about. You’re talking about the family that’s been running that neighborhood diner for generations. Or the veteran who starts -- launches a startup and pursues the American Dream he fought so hard for. See, this is who we’re talking about. These are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, then head home and pore over the books late into the night, determined to make the numbers add up.
And for these folks, that small business tax cut that this administration has passed, that means the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips. It means the difference between keeping their doors open or closing shop for good. But that’s the choice that we face.
And what about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? (Applause.) And Barack did this because he knows what it means when women are treated unfairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother -– a woman with a high school education -– work her way up to become a vice president at a little community bank. And she worked hard, and she was good at what she did. But like so many women, she hit that glass ceiling, and watched women -- men, no more qualified than she was –- men she had actually trained –- be promoted up the ladder right ahead of her. So believe me, for Barack, this issue is not abstract. This isn’t hypothetical.
He signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap for so many women can mean the difference of losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries, and put clothes on the back of their children. (Applause.) He did it because when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. (Applause.)
And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. But that’s what’s at stake.
And let’s talk for a minute, as Kelly did, about health care. She reminded us two years ago we made history together by finally passing health reform. But now there are folks actually talking about repealing that reform. And today, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and just let that happen?
MRS. OBAMA: And since we passed this law, millions of our senior citizens have saved on average more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. (Applause.) So are we going to take that savings away from them? Or will we make sure that our parents and grandparents can afford to stay healthy into their golden years? Are we going back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage of pre-existing conditions, things like diabetes, cancer, asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, as Kelly said, no one -- no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can’t afford a doctor.
And then when those kids grow up and they graduate from school, we know how hard it is for them to find a job that provides insurance. That’s why, as part of health reform, kids can now stay on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 years old. (Applause.) And today, that is how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage. So are we going to take that insurance away from our children? Or will we say that we don’t want our sons and our daughters going without health care when they’re just starting out in life, trying to build families and careers of their own? But that’s the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And think, for a moment, about what’s been done on education. Think about all the investments to raise standards and reform our public schools. This is about improving the circumstances for millions of children in this country. These are our children -- children we know today that are sitting in crumbling classrooms, children that we know have so much promise, could be anything they wanted if we just gave them the chance.
And think about how my husband has been fighting for the DREAM Act -- (applause) -- so that talented, hardworking young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own can have a chance to earn their citizenship. This is about responsible young men and women who want to go to college,
they want to defend our country, they want to contribute to our economy. And it's time that we gave them the chance. It’s time. (Applause.)
And think about how we tripled in investments and job training at community colleges. This is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking people who are determined to get the skills they need for the jobs they need for better wages. These are the people doing everything we ask of them. They’re working a full-time job, trying to raise their kids, but still making it to class in the evenings, working late into the night, because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, this investment that we make in our students, in our workers will determine nothing less than the future of this economy. It’s going to determine whether we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will allow us compete with any country anywhere in the world. That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
And let us not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices -- (applause) -- and for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) And let us not forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -– on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and yes, love whomever we choose. But that’s what’s at stake. (Applause.) That is the choice we’re facing.
And finally, let us not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. Thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.)
As he promised, my husband ended the war in Iraq, brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.) And I know that members of the Minnesota National Guard, the Red Bulls, have played a key role in that effort. And we are all so proud of them -- (applause) -- all of the men and women in this state who have served our country so bravely. And we are working hard to give them and their families the education, the employment and the benefits they’ve earned.
And finally, because my husband ended "don’t ask, don’t tell," -- (applause) -- our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) But that’s what’s at stake. Those are the choices that we face.
So make no mistake about it, whether it’s health care or the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make in this election will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but more importantly, it will determine who we want to be. Who are we?
Will we be the country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? Who are we? This is what we have to decide. Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or how you started out? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we tell folks who have done everything right, but are struggling a little bit, are we going to tell them, “tough luck, you’re on your own”? Who are we? Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we’re all better off? Who are we going to be? (Applause.) Will we continue all the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made, or are we just going to allow everything we fought for to just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: But that is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, everywhere I go I remind people, your President, Barack Obama, knows this all too well. He understands these issues because he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills, and when she couldn’t keep it together, who stepped up? His grandmother -- waking up every morning to catch that bus before dawn to that job at the bank. And even though she was passed over all those years for promotion, she never once complained. She just kept showing up, kept doing her best. How many people in our lives do we know like that? Just keep moving forward.
So believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential. Those are the experiences that have made him the man, and, more importantly, the President that he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And that is what I hear in his voice when he returns home from a long day of travel or working at the Oval Office and he tells me about the people he’s met. And that’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he’s still up, poring over briefings and reading the letters that people have sent him. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care. The letter from the father still struggling to pay his family’s bills. The letters from far too many young people with so much promise, but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and determination in his voice. He says, “Michelle, you won’t believe what folks are still going through.” That’s what he -- he says, “Michelle, this isn’t right. We have got to fix this. There is so much more to do.”
What you have to remember about your President is that he never forgets a story -- never forgets it. If he’s had a minute and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries with him all day, every day -– it is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams. And believe me, that is where Barack gets his passion, that’s where he gets his toughness and his fight.
And let me tell you, that’s why, even in the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal -- never. (Applause.) He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. Like his grandmother, he just keeps moving forward. See, because the important thing you have to know about your President is that he has a vision for this country. And it is a vision that we all share. I don’t care where you’re from, what party you are from. We do share this vision. We do know that.
But let me tell you, I have said it before and I will say it again: Barack can’t do this alone. He cannot to do this alone -- that was never the promise. He needs your help. He needs your faith. He needs your hard work. He needs you to make those calls. More importantly, register those voters today. He needs you to take those “I’m In” cards -- if you haven’t gotten one, get one -- sign it. And get your friends and your neighbors, your colleagues, your church members, go to the synagogue -- get people to sign up. Convince them just to give a little bit of their time each week to fight for what’s at stake. (Applause.)
Because we all know that this has never, ever been about just one extraordinary man –- I think my husband is awesome -- (applause) -- but this journey has never been about him. It has always been about us -- all of us coming together for the values we believe in and the country we want to be. That’s what we fought for four years ago -- three years ago, how long has it been? (Laughter.)
Now, I am not going to kid you, this next phase of the journey, it is going to be long, that I guarantee you. It is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. So be prepared for that. But the truth is, that is how change always happens in this country. It always does. The reality is, is that change is slow. Real change never happens all at once.
But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, working for that vision that we know and believe in, then eventually we get there. We always do. We always do. We never go backward, we never have. (Applause.) Maybe not in our lifetime, maybe not in our children’s lifetime, maybe in our children or our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Because in the end, we have to remember that’s what this is all about.
We can never lose sight of the fact that we are fighting these battles not for ourselves. We are fighting them for our sons and daughters. We are fighting them for our grandsons and our granddaughters. (Applause.) We are fighting for the world we want to leave for them. This is not about us. We’ve had so many people who have fought for us already -- it’s our turn.
And believe me, I am in this fight not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for her daughters. I’m in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. Because the truth of the matter is, is that my girls will be fine. Malia and Sasha are blessed -- I remind them of that every day. (Laughter.) And that’s probably true for so many of the young people in this room.
But I think the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said: that if any child in this country falls behind, then that matters to all of us, even if he is not our son, even if she is not our daughter. It matters to all of us. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune -- because in the end, that’s not who we are. We cannot separate our own individual stories from the broader American story. Because we know that in this country, we rise and we fall together. (Applause.) And if we make the right choices, and have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone in this country gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead. That’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re working for.
So it is time for us to get moving. No, now is the time. No, I’m serious. Now is the time. We don’t have days to ponder or wonder. If we know who we want to be then now is the time to work. There is one person who will be working this presidential race who can get us there.
So I have to ask you just one last question: Are you in? (Applause.) No, no, I need to really hear this. Are you in? Are you in? (Applause.) Because let me tell you, I am so fired up. And I hope you all know we are going to be working hard every minute of the day. We need you by our sides. We can make this happen. I know we can. We have so much more work to do.
I will see you out on the campaign trail.
You all, thank you. God bless. (Applause.)
6:17 P.M. CDT