Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
Los Angeles, California
1:36 P.M. PDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all. That’s so sweet. You’re so sweet! (Applause.) But rest yourselves, because we’re going to work you hard. (Laughter.) So I don’t want you to get tired or anything. But thank you. I am delighted to be here in this beautiful home, in this beautiful neighborhood.
I want to start by thanking John for that very kind introduction, and also the entire Clark family -- Melanie, Mariah, Imani, and Amara -- I didn’t forget you. (Laughter.) Thank you for letting us invade and opening up your home to us.
I also want to thank Representative Howard Berman, who is here as well. (Applause.) There you are. And the other co-chairs of the events -- my dear, dear friends, people who have been with us through thick and thin, always, always -- Clarence, Candace, Steve, Danielle, Carol. You guys, thank you. Well done, once again. This has been a fabulous trip for me here; very productive coming here and you guys have played just, as usual, a tremendous role. So let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to thank everybody here for taking the time. I do that because I’m always impressed and amazed when people take time out -- it is Monday, right? (Laughter.) Right, I get confused. It’s a Monday afternoon -- it’s afternoon, right? (Laughter.) Just, it takes a little while -- you’ve been on the road, you forget what day it is, what time it is. But the fact that you all have taken time out of your busy lives and away from your jobs and your classes and your families to be here, it means a great deal, so much. You can’t imagine. People always tell me how much I inspire them, but let me tell you, you all keep me and Barack standing straight and tall and steady, so don’t underestimate the power of the love and support and prayers you all are sending our way.
But I know that there’s a reason that you all do what you do, a reason why you’re here today. And it’s not just because you support me and Barack, our phenomenal, outstanding, very cute President of the United States. Yes. (Applause.) He’s still cute, gray hair and all. (Laughter.) And you’re not just here because you want to win an election -- which we all do, and we absolutely are going to win this election. Absolutely. (Applause.)
What I try to remind people, one of the jobs that I think I have in this is to remind all of us about why we’re really here. And it’s really because of our values. And it’s important to stay focused. We’re here because of our values. We’re here because of the vision for this country that we all share. It’s about values and vision. We’re here because we believe that everyone in this country should have a fait shot. What does that mean? For example, it means that all kids in this country -- all of them, not some of them -- all of them should have good schools to go to. They should be able to go to college without a mountain of debt -- all of our kids. A fair shot -- we believe that everyone in this country should do their fair share, which means that firefighters and teachers shouldn’t pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires in the richest country on Earth. (Applause.) We believe that if you work hard, you shouldn’t go bankrupt because someone gets sick. You shouldn’t lose your home because someone loses a job. Not in America. And after a lifetime of hard work, the folks that we love -- our grandparents and great-grandparents -- should be able to retire with some dignity and security.
And what I want everyone to remember as we have these discussions is that these are basic American values. This isn’t anything new. These are the values upon which this country was built. They were the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. The other thing I do is I share my story, because it’s a story -- my story is the story of so many people in this country. My father was a pump operator at the city water plant. We didn’t come from means. This was the only job I knew my father to have his whole life. And neither of my parents had the chance to get a college degree. But what I remind young people -- because many young people can see this in their lives -- what my parents did do for us is that they saved and sacrificed and poured every drop of anything they had into me and my brother so that we could get the kind of education and opportunities they only dreamed of.
And education was everything in our family. Quite frankly, it was our ticket to the middle class -- education. It was our pathway to the American Dream. So when my brother and I finally made it to college, pretty much all of our tuition came from student loans and grants. And I know people can relate to that story. That’s how most young people go to college -- on loans. But my dad still had to pay a small portion of that tuition himself.
And let me tell you, every semester my father did everything in his power to make sure that his portion of that bill was paid on time. Because he was so proud to be playing a small part in being able to get his kids through Princeton that he made sure that we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late. Like so many people in this country, my father took great pride in being able to earn that simple living that allowed him to handle his responsibilities to his family. That’s all he wanted. That’s all he wanted. He didn’t need money or riches or stuff; he just wanted to be able to pay his bills, and pay them on time. That’s all he wanted.
And my father’s life is a testament to that basic American promise that no matter who you are in this country, no matter how you started out, if you work hard you can build a decent life for yourself and, yes, an even better life for your kids. And one thing I try to share with people in this country is to remember that your President understands that promise because that’s his story as well. And as quiet as it’s kept, that’s why I married him -- because of who he was and where he came from.
He’s the son of a single mother who struggled to pay the bills, put herself through school. He’s the grandson of a woman who woke up before dawn every day to catch a bus to her job at a bank. And even though Barack’s grandmother worked hard to support his family, she was good at her job, like so many women she hit that glass ceiling, watched women -- men no more qualified than she was -- some she had actually trained -- be promoted up the ladder ahead of her. But the thing that Barack saw, that I saw -- he saw a woman who never complained. Never complained -- like my father, never complained. They just kept getting up every day, just kept giving their best every single day to support their families.
So Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. This is not a hypothetical for him. He knows what it means to want something better for your kids and your grandkids. And like me, and like so many people in this country, Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it. And the one thing I know he understands is that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. Not in America. You reach back and you help other people achieve those same successes. That’s what we do in America.
And more than anything else, that’s what’s at stake in this election. And hopefully that’s why we’re here. We’re working on that dream, that fundamental American promise. And what I want to focus you all on is that from now until November -- we’re down to, like, 80-something days -- we need all of you to be out there passionately and actively, telling everyone you know about your President. Tell them about his values. Tell them about our vision. But most importantly, remind them about the choices that we face in this election, because this is an election about choices -- choices.
This is an election that’s a choice about our economy. It’s about whether we build a strong and growing middle class. So I want you to remind people that your President has cut taxes for working families by $3,600. He’s cut taxes for small businesses in this country 18 times as President. Because he understands that rebuilding our economy, it starts with the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs in this economy.
And I also want you to remind people that, back when Barack first took office, he inherited an economy that was losing an average of 750,000 jobs a month, okay? That’s what welcomed him after that freezing inauguration -- (laughter) -- 750,000 jobs a month. But also remind them that for the past 29 straight months, we’ve actually been gaining private sector jobs -- a total of 4.5 million jobs under this President. Absolutely. (Applause.)
So, yes, we still have more work to do. We have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, but today millions of people are collecting a paycheck again; millions of people like my dad are able to pay their bills again.
But this election is also a choice about the health of our families. Now, the fact is that over the past century -- all right, 100 years -- there have been so many Presidents who have tried and failed to meet the challenge of health care reform. But fortunately your President was determined. Fortunately he was driven by the stories of people he’d met. We all know these stories -- the grandparents who couldn’t afford their medications; the families going broke because a child got sick; the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company wouldn’t cover her care. And let me tell you something, that’s what kept Barack going day after day. That’s why he fought so hard for this historic reform.
And today, because of that reform, things are different for so many Americans. Our parents and grandparents are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs. Our kids can stay on our insurance until they’re 26 years old. You know what that means for our young people? That when they graduate from college, and they’re out there looking for a job, trying to get themselves settled, they don’t have to go without health care. Because of this reform, insurance companies have to cover basic preventative things like contraception, cancer screenings, prenatal care, with no extra cost. Because of this reform, insurance companies can’t discriminate you because you have an illness that they call a preexisting condition. And if you get really sick, a real serious illness -- something like breast cancer -- and you need expensive treatment, you really need your insurance to work for you, no longer can your insurance company tell you, sorry, you’ve hit your lifetime limit and we’re not paying a penny more. Today, because of health care reform, that is now illegal. (Applause.)
But make no mistake about it, this November we’re going to get to decide: Do we want these reforms to be repealed? Because there are those who do. Or do we want the people we love to have the care they need? That’s the choice we face.
This election is a choice about whether our kids can attend college without a mountain of debt. And what I share with a lot of young people -- because in the rallies that I attend, thousands of people, there are always young people struggling to get through school -- I remind them that when Barack and I first started out, we were building our lives together -- so in love, but so broke -- (laughter) -- our combined student loan debt, that bill we got each month was actually higher than our mortgage. And that is not unusual. There are so many young people who are burdened with their educational debt, so many adults who are dealing with it for the rest of their lives. So what I tell people is that when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we’ve been there.
And that’s why Barack was so clear about the need to double funding for Pell Grants. That’s why he fought so hard to stop student loan interest rates from rising this year, because he knows that all of our young people -- all of them have to get the education they need for the jobs and the opportunities of the future. It can’t be just a select few whose families can afford education. It’s got to be all of our kids.
He wants all of our kids to fulfill their promise -- all of them. And that’s why he’s been fighting so hard for the DREAM Act. We can’t forget these kids. He’s fighting for responsible young people who came to this country as children, through no fault of their own, were raised as Americans; they know no other country but this one. And Barack believes that, yes, these young people also deserve the chance to go to college, to contribute to our economy, to serve the country they know and love. That’s what the DREAM Act is about; that’s what that fight is about.
But this election is also a choice about keeping our country safe. So please remind people that after 10 long years of war -- 10 years we’ve been in war, with thousands of young men and women in uniform serving and sacrificing; so many of them gave their lives -- today Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to this country. And people need to remember that fight -- that accomplishment. (Applause.)
Remind people that Barack kept his promise and brought our troops home from Iraq, and he’s working hard to make sure they get the support and benefits that they’ve earned.
And, yes, today our troops do not have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love because Barack finally ended “don’t ask, don’t tell.” (Applause.)
And, ladies, this election is a choice about supporting women and families in this country. So be sure to tell people that Barack is a President who believes that women should be able to make our own choices about our health care. (Applause.) It’s now easier for us to get equal pay for equal work because of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the very first bill he signed into law.
And we now know the importance of those two brilliant Supreme Court appointments that he made -- Justice Elena Kagan; Justice Sonia Sotomayor -- and for the first time in history, because of those appointments, our sons and daughters watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. The first time in history. (Applause.)
So when you’re out there working for your President, helping people understand what’s at stake, getting people focused, and somebody asks you, well, what has this President done for our country? Here’s what I want you to tell them: Tell them how many jobs he’s created. Tell them how much money he’s put back in the pockets of American families. Tell them that more of our kids can afford college, and more of our seniors can afford their medicine. Remind folks how Barack ended the war in Iraq, passed historic health reform, and stood up for our most fundamental rights again and again and again. That’s what I want you to tell them.
But I also want you to remind them that all of that -- all of that and so much more -- all of it’s at stake, can all be gone. The choice that we face: Are we going to continue the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made? Or are we going to just sit back and watch everything we’ve worked so hard for just slip away? What are we going to do? Who are we? Look, we can’t turn back now. We will not turn back now. We need to keep moving this country forward. That’s what we do in America -- we keep moving forward.
And more than anything else, that’s what we’re working for. That’s why we’re here -- for the chance to finish what we started; the chance to keep fighting for the values we believe in and the vision that we all share. And that’s what my husband has been doing every single day as President.
And I remind people that as First Lady, over the last three and a half years I’ve had the chance to see up close and personal what being President really looks like, you know what I’m saying? I’ve seen some things; I’ve learned some things -- some really valuable things, I believe. Because I have seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones -- always; the problems with no easy solutions, no matter what people think at home on their couch -- well, you should do this -- no easy solutions; the judgment calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error. I’ve also seen that as President, you’re going to get all kinds of advice and opinions from all kinds of people, all of the time, but at the end of the day, when it comes time to actually make that decision, the truth is as President all you have to guide you are your life experiences. Truly, all you have to lead you in the right direction are you values. The only thing that keeps you focused and not wavering from left to right is the vision that you have for this country.
Because in the end, it all boils down to who you are as President. Who are you, and what do you stand for? That matters. And I know that we all know who my husband is, don’t we? We all know what he stands for. (Applause.) And we’ve seen again and again just how hard he’s willing to fight for us.
Remember when folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under? Remember that? With more than a million jobs on the line, folks were like, let it go. But fortunately Barack had the backs of American workers. He put his faith in the American people, and thankfully he did because the auto industry is back on its feet again, and folks are back to work collecting a job [paycheck].
And then there were folks telling Barack not to take on health care. I don’t know if you remember that; I do. (Laughter.) There were a lot of folks who were telling him, this isn’t good for you; leave it for another day, another President. Just keep kicking that can down the road -- and we wonder why it’s taken 100 years. But fortunately for us, Barack had the backs of American families, and as a result today millions -- millions of people in this country can finally see a doctor when they’re sick, can finally get the care they need to stay well. Thank goodness for our President. (Applause.)
So when it comes time to stand up for the middle class -- we’ve got to ask ourselves, when it’s time to make sure our kids can go to college and our families can make a decent living and save for retirement, you know what your President is going to do. You know what this President is going to do, right? When we need a President to protect our most basic rights, no matter who we are or where we’re from or what we look like or who we love, you know you can count on my husband because that’s what he’s been doing every single day as President of the United States -- three and a half years’ worth of consistency.
But I have said this before and I will say it again: He can’t do it alone. This isn’t about Barack just holding it down. (Laughter.) He needs your help. We need you all. Because as Barack said, the only guarantee this time around is this election will be closer than the last one. That is the only thing you can count on.
And in the end, this election, like so many, could come down to those last few thousand votes, because we’ve seen that before -- just a couple of thousand votes. And I just try to help people just understand what a few thousand votes means when it’s spread across an entire state, across hundreds of cities and thousands of precincts. That means the power of your individual activity becomes even more important. So that one new voter you register in your precinct, understand that one neighbor that you get to the polls on November the 6th, that could be the one that makes the difference when you’re talking about that small of a number. That one conversation that you have, that one person in your life who doesn’t understand what veterans benefits means, and what’s going to happen with certain changes, that one conversation could be the one that puts this election over the top. That could be the difference between waking up on November the 7th and thinking, “Lord, could I have done more?”, or feeling the promise of four more years -- that margin.
And that’s one of the reasons why we started this new effort that we’re calling It Takes One. Just to bring it home for people -- it just takes one. It’s simple: Every time you take an action on behalf of this campaign, think about multiplying yourself. Ask someone you know, inspire them to step up and do the same as well. That one more person -- because we all have that one person.
So if you’re making phone calls or knocking on doors, bring a friend. And hopefully you are knocking on doors and making phone calls. Bring somebody with you. If you're coming to an event, bring that neighbor that’s never been involved, doesn’t understand this candidate and what he’s done. Bring them. When you’re voting early or on Election Day, get that one person you know that might not make it to the polls, might not actually get it done. Bring them with you. Find one friend, one colleague, one person in your life -- just one. We all have one. They don’t even have to come out of their house -- send them to barackobama.com/one. We’ve made it really easy for people to find ways to get involved and get the information they need.
Because it's like Barack has always said: It just takes one voice to change a room. And if a voice can change a room, it can change a city. And if it can change a city, it can change a state. And if it can change a state, it can change a nation. And that is what our democracy is about. That is the power of one person stepping forward to keep this country moving forward.
And I’m not going to kid you, it’s going to be hard. I say this everywhere I go -- expect hard; expect long; expect drama; twists and turns along the way; nail-biting moments; moments you’ll want to just throw the TV over the cliff. Expect that.
But also understand that that’s how change always happens in this country. Real change is hard. Real change requires patience and tenacity. But what I remind everyone is that if we keep showing up and fighting the good fight, we eventually get there. Because we always have in this country; we have never gone backwards. Never. But maybe not in our lifetimes. What I remind everyone: Why we’re here is we’re doing this because it might happen in our children’s lifetimes, our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Because in the end, that's why we’re here. We’re not here for us; we’re here for our children. Because there have been thousands of people who gave so much so that we are standing here. It is not our turn to lay that foundation for them.
And in the end, that’s what elections are always about. Don't let anybody tell you anything differently. Elections are always about hope. They're about our hopes for our children. They’re about the world that we want to leave behind for them, the next generation. And that’s what I think about every night before I have to leave my kids and come on the road, and I wonder, what am I doing now? I think about that. I think about how I want to do for them what my father and mother did for me, what Barack’s grandmother and mother did for him. That’s the least I can do.
I want to give my daughters and all our sons and daughters a foundation for their dream, opportunities that are worthy of their promise. I want to give all of our kids that sense of limitless possibility, the belief that in a country as great as ours there’s always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it.
So what I tell myself when I get a little tired and frustrated is that we can’t turn back now. Not now. We have come so far, but we have so much more to do. And we’re going to need your help to do it. So are you with us? (Applause.) Can you get it done? Are you in? (Applause.) We need you to be passionately in and actively in, that it-takes-one kind of in, rolling up your sleeves, really moving this country forward. Because if we do that, we will win and we will have four more years to get it done.
Thank you all. God bless. Thank you.
2:05 P.M. PDT