Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
The Pinnacle at Symphony Place
12:36 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. (Applause.) Wow. Well, thank you all so much. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. I cannot tell you all -- oh, please, rest yourselves. (Applause.) Rest yourselves. That is so kind.
I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be here with all of you. And this beautiful view -- we should just turn around and look outside for a little bit. (Laughter.)
Of course, I want to start by thanking Nicole. Words cannot express -- (applause) -- just a powerful statement. And as a child with a dad with MS, I can only imagine, which is why this work is so important, and there is so much at stake. So we have to give her another round of applause. And William! Yay for William for having an amazing mom. (Applause.)
I want to recognize a few other people who are here as well -- Representative Steve Cohen; Mayor Dean is here. (Applause.) I want to thank the both of you for your service and for taking the time to join us here today.
I want to give a wonderful hello to my dear friend, Bishop Vashti McKenzie; she's one of our national co-chairs. (Applause.) And she has just been amazing, just a wonderful ally on so many things that I have done. And to all of the members of the Host Committee for organizing this magnificent event -- thank you all for your tremendous work. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to thank the one and only Emmylou Harris for not just her wonderful performance -- (applause) -- but she has been an advocate, a fighter, a friend, and we are thrilled that she could join us again, as she has so many other times. Thank you, Emmylou. (Applause.)
And finally -- yeah, I got -- you, fanning, you see, I took my sweater off. (Laughter.) Finally, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to be here with us today.
And I know that there’s a reason why you all took the time out to be here today. You’re here because you know that next November, we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come -- I cannot say that enough. (Applause.) And I know that you’re here because you know that choice won’t just affect all of us; as Nicole said, it's going to affect our children and our grandchildren, and it's going to impact the world we leave behind for them long after we’re gone.
And that’s why I’m here today as well. That's why I am going to be out there on the campaign trail like nobody has ever seen. (Laughter and applause.)
As First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this great country, and I get to meet folks from all different backgrounds and I get to hear what’s going on in their daily lives. And let me tell you, every day, I hear about people's challenges and struggles, what they're doing to try to keep it together -- the bills they’re trying to pay, the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat, the home they love but are struggling to afford.
But no matter what they’re going through, no matter what the challenges they face, they keep working and sacrificing because they desperately want something better for their kids. That's what people in America do: They believe in that fundamental vision for our economy that we all share -- the idea, as your President says, that hard work should pay off, that responsibility should be rewarded, and more importantly, that everyone should get a fair shot, and do their fair share, and play by the same rules. (Applause.)
We all know that those values are the foundation for an economy that's built to last. They are basic American values -- the values that all of us were raised with -- all of us, including myself.
You know my story: My father, he had MS, was a blue-collar city worker all his life; worked for the city water plant. And my family lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. My mother still lives in that house. My room still looks the same -- same sheets, same pictures. (Laughter.) Neither of my parents got the chance to attend college, but let me tell you what they did do, because you all know this story -- they saved for us, they sacrificed everything for us, why? Because they wanted something more for me and my brother. That's why.
And more than anything else, that is what’s at stake. That's what's at stake. The 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 an even better life for your kids.
And let me tell you, on just about every single issue, that is the choice that we face.
Since today is tax day, let’s start with -- (laughter) -- sorry to bring it up. (Laughter.) Let's start with all those tax cuts my husband passed for middle-class families. (Applause.)
See, those cuts are about whether people can heat their homes, right; it's about whether people can send their kids to college, maybe retire with some dignity, a little security. That's what that's about. It's about putting more money in the people’s pockets, which means more money in our entire economy, which means more jobs. That's what that's about. (Applause.)
And those kind of cuts for working-class people are about making sure that everyone pays their fair share. That's why my husband proposed the Buffett Rule, to close the tax loopholes so that millionaires and billionaires -- (applause) -- aren't paying lower tax rates than firefighters and teachers. (Applause.) But that’s what’s at stake in this election. That’s what we’re fighting for.
And how about everything my husband has done to create jobs in this economy? 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. Remember that? But you’ll also remember that Barack had the backs of American workers. He put his faith in the American people, and today, as a result of that persistence, the auto industry is back on its feet. And as a result, people are back at work, providing for their families. (Applause.) That’s something we can never forget.
And think back to when Barack first took office, what he came into. We were losing in this economy an average of 750,000 jobs a month. That’s what he walked into; that’s what he inherited. But for the past 25 straight months, we’ve actually been gaining private sector jobs -– a total of more than 4 million jobs in two years. That’s the math. (Applause.) Those are the facts.
So yes, while we have a long way to go, we have more work to do to rebuild our economy -- yes, we are not finished, but today, millions of folks are collecting a paycheck again. That’s what’s happening. That is what’s at stake. That’s the choice we face. (Applause.)
And what about all that has been done for small businesses -– the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year -- small businesses? I’m talking about the mother who opens up a drycleaner to provide for her kids. That’s who we’re talking about. Or the family that’s been running that neighborhood diner for generations. See, for these folks, the small business tax cuts this administration has passed, that means the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; the difference between keeping their doors open or perhaps closing shop for good. So that’s the choice we face.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law? The very first thing he did as President -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work. That’s the first thing your President did. (Applause.) He did this because he knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly 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-bitty community bank. She worked hard. She was good at her job. But she watched as she hit that glass ceiling, and watched men no more qualified than she was climb that corporate ladder -- men she had actually trained move ahead of her.
So believe me, for Barack, this issue is not an abstraction. This isn’t a hypothetical for him. He signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap, that can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from every paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and school clothes for their kids. He did it because when so many women are now breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families, women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. Your President knows that. (Applause.) And he did it because, as he put it, he believes that here in America there should be no second-class citizens in our workplaces. That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
And let’s talk just a minute about health care. Nicole brought it up. Two years ago, we made history together by finally passing health reform -- something that no one had been able to do before. And because we passed this law, insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care -- things like mammograms, prenatal care -- at no extra cost. And insurance companies can now no longer deny our children coverage because they have preexisting conditions -- things like asthma, diabetes, right? Kids can now stay on their parents' insurance until they’re 26 years old. That’s what we accomplished. (Applause.) So that when they graduate from college, our young people are just starting out, they don’t have to worry about whether they’ll get health care while they’re trying to look for a job or build a career, build a family. And that’s how 2.5 million of our young people in this country are getting their coverage.
And since we passed this law, millions of our senior citizens have saved an average of more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. (Applause.)
So the question has to be: Are we going to take all those savings away from our parents and our grandparents? Are we going to allow insurance companies to refuse to cover our children? Or will we say that here in America, no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can’t afford a doctor? But that is the choice we face.
And think, for a moment, about all that we’re doing to give our kids a good education. Think about the investments this President has made to raise standards and reform our public schools. (Applause.) Think about how my husband has been fighting for the DREAM Act, so that talented, hardworking young people -- (applause) -- young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own, so they 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 is time that we gave them a chance. It’s time. (Applause.)
And think about how my husband took billions of dollars in taxpayer money that used to go to middleman banks and lenders and sent it where it belongs -- to help millions of young people go to college. That’s what he did. (Applause.)
But we have to remember that these kind of investments won’t just determine our children’s success, they will determine nothing less than the success of our entire economy. They will determine whether we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will allow us to compete with any country, anywhere in the world. But that’s what’s at stake.
And let’s not forget how my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices. (Applause.) Let’s not forget how, for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest courts. (Applause.) And we cannot forget the impact the Court’s decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -- on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose. But that’s what’s at stake. Those are the choices that we are facing in this election.
And finally, let us not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. (Applause.) 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.)
My husband kept his promise -- he ended the war in Iraq. He brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.) And we are working hard to give them and their families the benefits they’ve earned.
And finally, because my husband ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) I could go on and on and on. But that’s what’s at stake.
So make no mistake about it, whether it’s health care, our economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but more importantly, it will determine who we want to be. Who do we want to be for our kids? Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just a few at the top? Is that who we are? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are, no matter how you started out? Who are we? Who do we want to be? Will we tell folks who’ve done everything right, but are still 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 we are all in this together, and we are strongest when we’re all better off? (Applause.)
Will we continue all the change we’ve begun? All the progress we’ve made? Are we going to allow everything we’ve fought for to just slip away?
But those are the choices we face. Those are the stakes. And believe me, Barack knows this. He understands these issues because he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school, pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped up -- his grandmother, waking up every morning before dawn to take that bus to that job at the bank. And even though she was passed over again and again for all those promotions, she never complained. How many people do we know like that in our lives? Never complained; she just kept showing up, just kept doing her best.
So believe me, your President knows what it means when a family struggles. This is not a hypothetical. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential, how painful that is. Because those are the experiences that have made him the man, and more importantly, the President he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.) We are so blessed. (Applause.)
And what I share with everyone is that that is what I hear in my husband’s voice when he comes home after a long day traveling the country, and he tells me about the people that he meets. And that’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he’s up late at night going over the letters 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 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 the determination in his voice. And he says, "Michelle, you won’t believe what people in this country are still going through." That’s what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, this is not right. This is not who we are. We’ve got to fix this. We have so much more work to do."
See, when it comes to the people Barack meets, he has a memory like a steel trap. He might not remember your name, but if he’s had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted in his heart. And that is what he carries with him every single day –- our collection of struggles, our hopes and our dreams. That is where Barack Obama gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that’s why even in the hardest moments -- and there have been hard moments over the last few years -- when it seems like all is lost, your President never loses sight of the end goal -- never. He never lets himself get distracted by that chatter and that noise, right? You all can see him -- he’s calm. See, because he just keeps moving forward, just like his grandmother -- just keeps moving forward. (Applause.) That is the kind of President this country deserves.
But I have said this before, and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. He needs your help, all of you here. He needs you to get out there and make those calls. He needs you to register those voters. He needs you to take those “I’m In” cards, right, and sign them. (Laughter.) Get your friends and your neighbors and your colleagues -- sign them up. Convince them to join in giving just a little part of themselves each week to this campaign because we all know that this not just about one extraordinary man, even though I think my husband is awesome. (Applause.) I’m a little biased. (Laughter.) But this has always been about us, all of us. Regardless of party or race or background, it’s about all of us coming together for the values we all believe in and the country we want to be.
Now, I’m not going to kid you. This next phase of our journey, it is going to be long, and it is going to be hard, and there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is -- and you have to remember, because I have to remind myself every day -- that is how change always happens in this country. It always does. (Applause.) The reality is that real change does take time, and it never happens all at once -- never does. But if we keep showing up, which we always do, if we keep fighting the good fight, fighting for the values we believe in, then we always get there. We always do. We have never gone backwards, not in this country. (Applause.) Maybe not in our lifetimes. It may not happen right now, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes. Maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because as Nicole said, in the end, that is really what this is all about. In the end, like so many who came before us, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves. This is not about us. We are fighting them for our sons and our daughters, for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We’re fighting for the world we want to leave for them. This is about them. But that's what’s at stake.
So I think, Nashville, it’s time, right? It is time for us to get to work. It’s time for us to get moving. (Applause.) It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves.
So I have one last question for you: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Wait, wait, wait, I couldn’t hear you. Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Because I am so in. I am so in. I am going to be working so hard. We have an amazing story to tell. This President has brought us out of the dark and into the light. (Applause.)
But we need each and every one of you as fired up as you’ve been. You need to find 10 other people just like you, shake them up, right? (Applause.) Remind them what’s at stake. Don't let them get confused. Have them understand what we are trying to do for our children.
And if you are out there right by our sides, we need you. We cannot do this alone. Barack and I will do our parts. We will be right there.
So I hope you all are fired up and ready to go, right? (Applause.) I look forward to seeing you all out on the campaign trail.
Thank you all. God bless.
1:01 P.M. CDT