Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event - Greenville, North Carolina
East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina
5:30 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Fired up! (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. I am beyond thrilled to be with all of you today. (Applause.)
Now, I was told that if I said something I’d get a good response, so I’m going to try it. Purple!
AUDIENCE: Gold! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah! (Applause.) Pirates! All right. We’ve got a few Pirates in the house. (Applause.)
I want to start by thanking Michaela, first of all, for that very kind introduction and for all of her outstanding work on this campaign. Let’s give her a hand. (Applause.)
And I want to recognize two very special people who came here today -- former Governor Jim Hunt and Mrs. Hunt, who are here. Let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
And most of all, I want to thank all of you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you for being here, especially all of the students here from East Carolina University. You all, thank you so much. (Applause.) You all seem pretty fired up and ready to go. (Applause.) And that’s good, because after our convention a couple of weeks ago, I’m feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself. (Applause.)
In Charlotte, a couple of weeks ago, we had a great convention. We heard from wonderful speakers -- people like President Clinton, Vice President Biden. (Applause.) And they reminded us of a few things. They reminded us how much we’ve accomplished together, how much is at stake, and why we need to reelect my husband for four more years. (Applause.) And my job in Charlotte was pretty simple. I had the pleasure and the honor of talking about the man I have loved and admired for more than 23 years -- (applause) -- and why I decided to marry him.
So, ladies, listen to this. See, when I first met Barack, he had everything going for him. He was handsome -- still is. (Applause.) He’s still doing well for himself. He was charming, talented and oh-so smart. But, ladies, that is not why I married him. So, now, fellas, listen up. (Laughter.) What truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama was his character. (Applause.) Truly, it was what was in here. It was his decency, his honesty. It was his compassion and conviction.
Truly, I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs, and instead started his career working to get folks back to work in struggling communities. I loved that Barack was devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. (Applause.)
I saw the respect he had for his mother, and I saw how proud he was that she’d put herself through school while supporting him and his sister as a single mom. Absolutely. (Applause.) I saw the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother. I saw how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning and catching that bus to her job at the community bank to make sure she was doing everything she could to support his family. And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman, but he saw how she kept on getting up, doing what she had to do, that same job year after year, and doing it without complaint or regret.
See, with Barack, I found a real connection because in his life story, I saw my own. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I watched my father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant. I saw how he carried himself with that same dignity, that same pride in being able to provide for his family, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of. How many people here like that have folks like that in their lives? (Applause.)
See, like so many families in this country, our families weren’t asking for much. They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success. They didn’t even mind if others had much more than they did -- in fact, they admired it. They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and your grandkids. (Applause.)
And they also believed that when you’ve worked hard and you’ve done well and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give folks the same chances that helped you succeed. That’s what they taught us. (Applause.) That’s how Barack and I and so many of you were raised. These are the values that we were taught.
We learned that how hard you work matters more than how much you make. We learned that the truth matters, so you don’t take shortcuts or game the system; you don’t play by your own set of rules.
We learned that no one gets where they are on their own, that each of us has a community of people lifting us up, from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean. (Applause.) And we learned to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.
We also learned about citizenship and service -- that we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves; that with our freedoms come obligations, and with our blessings come a duty to give back to others who have less. (Applause.)
See, and these are the values that make Barack such an extraordinary husband to me and a phenomenal father to our girls. (Applause.) But Barack’s values matter to me not just as a wife and a mother, but also as a citizen and a First Lady who has seen up close and personal what being President looks like and just how critical those values are for leading this country. (Applause.)
See, over the past three and a half years, I’ve seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones -- the decisions that aren’t just about the bottom line, but about laying a foundation for the next generation. I’ve seen how important it is to have a President who doesn’t just tell us what we want to hear, but who tells us the truth, even when it’s hard -- especially when it’s hard. (Applause.)
And I’ve also seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls, and everyone is urging you to do what’s easy, or what polls best, or what makes good headlines, I’ve seen that, as President, you have to be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all of the people you serve. You have to have that strong inner compass, a core commitment to your fellow citizens. And that’s how you make the right decisions for this country. That’s what it takes to be a leader.
And since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that’s what we’ve seen in my husband. We have seen his values at work. We have seen his vision unfold. We’ve seen the depths of his character, courage and conviction.
I mean, think back to when Barack first took office and our economy was on the brink of collapse. You hear me? See, newspapers were using words like “meltdown” and “calamity;” declaring “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock.”
For years folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford, and their mortgages were underwater. Banks weren’t lending, companies weren’t hiring. The auto industry was in crisis. The economy was losing 800,000 jobs every single month, and lots of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression. See, and that is what Barack Obama faced on day one as President. That’s what awaited him. (Applause.) That’s where we were as a country.
But instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, Barack Obama got to work. (Applause.) Because he was thinking about folks like my dad. He was thinking about folks like his grandmother. And that’s why he cracked down on lending abuses, so that today, when you apply for a mortgage or a credit card, you know exactly what you’re getting into. (Applause.)
That’s why he cut taxes for small businesses and working families, because he believes that in America, teachers and firefighters shouldn’t pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. Not in America. (Applause.)
He got the auto industry back on its feet again, and today new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM. (Applause.)
And, yes, yes, we still have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, but we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth -- a total of 4.6 million new jobs, good jobs right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)
And when it comes to the health of our families, see, Barack didn’t care whether health reform was the easy thing to do politically, because that’s not who he is; he cared that it was the right thing to do.
And today, because of health reform, our parents and our grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs. (Applause.) Today, our young people, like many of you here, can stay on your parent’s insurance until you’re 26 years old. (Applause.) Today, because of reform insurance companies now have to pay for basic preventative care, things like contraception, cancer screenings, with no out-of-pocket cost -- because of health reform. (Applause.) They won’t be able discriminate against you because you have a preexisting condition like diabetes or even asthma. (Applause.)
And here’s the thing that always gets me. If you get a serious illness, like breast cancer, and you need expensive treatment, no longer can they tell you, sorry, you’ve hit your lifetime limit and we’re not paying a penny more. No longer can they do that. Under health reform that is now illegal. (Applause.)
When it comes to giving our young people the education they deserve -- (applause) -- see, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never could have attended college -- never -- without financial aid. (Applause.)
In fact, what I shared in Charlotte was that when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. So, believe me, when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we’ve been there. And that’s why he’s fought so hard to double funding for Pell grants, fought so hard to keep interest rates down. (Applause.) Because you have a President who wants you all to have the skills you need for the jobs of the future -- those kind of jobs, the good jobs you can raise a family on, jobs that will drive this economy for decades to come. That’s what your President wants. (Applause.)
And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women -- when it comes to standing up for our rights and our opportunities -- we know that my husband will always have our backs. (Applause.)
See, Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. He knows what it means when women struggle to meet the demands of their jobs and the needs of their families. And believe me, today, as a father, he knows what it means to want our daughters to have the same freedoms and opportunities as our sons.
And that’s why the very first bill he signed as President was to help women get equal pay for equal work -- the very first thing he signed. (Applause.) And that is why he will always, always fight to ensure that women can make our own decisions about our bodies and about our health care. That’s what my husband stands for. (Applause.)
So when people ask you what this President has done for our country, when people are deciding who will keep America moving forward for four more years, here’s what I want you to tell them. Listen closely. (Laughter.) Tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created. Tell them about the health reform he’s passed. Tell them about all those kids who can finally attend college.
Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq. (Applause.) Tell them how we, as a country, worked together and took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how Barack fought to get veterans and military families the benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.)
Tell them about young immigrants brought to this country through no fault of their own, and will no longer be deported from the only country they’ve ever called home. Tell them about it. (Applause.)
Tell them how our brave men and women in uniform will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)
Look, I could go on and on and on. But here’s what I also want you to tell them. Tell them that Barack Obama knows the American Dream because he’s lived it. (Applause.) And he is fighting every day so that everyone in this country can have that same opportunity no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love. (Applause.)
But let’s be clear: While he is very proud of what we’ve all achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied. Barack knows that too many people are still hurting. He knows that there’s still plenty of work left to be done. As President Clinton said in his speech in Charlotte, it is going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse. (Applause.)
But here’s what I know for sure.
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years!
MRS. OBAMA: But here’s what I know for sure: Since the day he took office, Barack has been fighting for us. He has been struggling with us. And slowly but surely, together, we have been pulling ourselves out of the hole that we started in. For three and a half years, we have been moving forward, we’ve been making progress, and we are beginning to see that change we all believe in. (Applause.)
So here’s what we have to ask ourselves: Are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us into this hole in the first place?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to just sit back and watch everything that we’ve worked for and fought for to just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to keep moving this country forward? Forward! What are we going to do? What are we going to do? (Applause.)
But here’s the thing. In the end, the real answers to those questions is on us. See, it’s up to us. Because all of the hard work, all of the progress, all that we’ve done -- it’s all on the line this November. It’s all at stake.
And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. And it could all come down to what happens in just a few key battleground states like North Carolina. Yes, indeed. Right here. Right here. (Applause.)
And let me put this in perspective for you, because these numbers impress me. Back in 2008, what happened in this state -- back then, we won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes. All right? (Applause.) Now, for some that might sound like a lot. But when you break it down, that is just five votes per precinct. Did you hear? Five. I mean, think about that. Five. Five votes.
That could mean just one vote in your neighborhood, just one vote in your apartment building, just one vote in your dorm. One -- that’s five people. So let me just say this: If there is anyone here or anyone any of you know who might be thinking that their vote doesn’t matter, if you’re thinking that your involvement doesn’t count, that in this complex political process, if you’re thinking that ordinary folks can’t possibly make a difference, I want you to think about those five votes. Put that in your sights.
I want you to think about how with just a few evenings on a phone bank, just a few weekends knocking on some doors, you could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama. And if we win enough precincts, we will win this state. (Applause.) And if we win North Carolina, we will be on our way to putting Barack Obama back in the White House for four more years. Right here. (Applause.)
So here’s what I want you to do. From now until November, we need every single one of you to work like you’ve never worked before -- especially our young people. So many of you have always driven Barack’s campaigns with your energy, with your passion. So we’re going to need everybody. Look at all of us. If everybody in this arena, if you talk to everyone you know -- your friends, your neighbors, that cousin you haven’t seen in a while, that student sitting next to you at lab. Hey, and for our students, talk to your parents and grandparents. Let them know what this election means for your future. Tell them what’s at stake. Remind them of all the things this President has accomplished. Bring them to events like this one.
But more importantly, make sure that you and they are registered to vote. Got to be registered. Got to be registered. (Applause.) Doesn’t even matter -- if you’re not registered, it doesn’t even count. Especially if you just moved, you might need to reregister. Or maybe if you’ve never voted before, you definitely have to register. Maybe you’ve changed your addresses here at school, right? A lot of students, if you lived somewhere last year, you registered, you moved -- you’ve got to reregister.
So if any of you haven’t registered yet, we have volunteers here today who can help. See, folks have clipboards. There are folks here with clipboards. They can get you registered. And then once you get registered, make sure you get to the polls and cast your ballot on Election Day. (Applause.)
And here in North Carolina, you don't have to wait until November the 6th to start voting. You can start voting early, on October the 18th -- early voting at your county board. Go to your country board -- at other locations in your community.
We want as many of you to vote as early as possible, especially our young people. All right, listen to me, you all. See, because don’t we -- we know students, right? The alarm goes off late on Election Day. (Laughter.) Maybe you forget what day it is. You thought Tuesday was tomorrow, and it’s really today. (Laughter.) You don’t want to count on that, right? So vote early. Vote early. And then, if you vote early, you can spend Election Day working to get others to the polls, right? Yeah, that’s the strategy. (Applause.)
So to find out information about voting, how to register, how to early vote, you can go to the websites GottaRegister.com or GottaVote.com, and you can find out everything you need to know to make your voices heard. All right, we got it? All right. (Applause.)
But with all that said, I’m going to be honest with you, this journey is going to be hard and these next days are going to feel long. But when you start getting tired -- and you will; when you start thinking about taking a day off -- and you will, I want you all to remember that what we do together for the next 48 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up the day after the election and asking ourselves, “Could we have done more?”, or feeling the promise of four more years. That's the difference. (Applause.)
So from now until the November 6th, we need you to keep on working and struggling and pushing forward, because that is how change always happens in this country. See, if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting that good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we get there. We always do in America. We always get there. Maybe not in our lifetimes. See, that’s the trick -- maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because in the end, that's what this is about. Let us not forget that that's what elections are always about. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Elections are always about hope.
Like the hope that I saw on my father’s face as I crossed the stage to get my college diploma. The hope that Barack’s grandmother felt as she cast the ballot for the grandson she’d loved and raised. (Applause.) The hope of all those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift, who saved and who sacrificed and who prayed so that we could have something more. The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the eyes of our own kids and our grandkids today.
That's why we’re here. That’s why we’re here -- because we want to give all of our children a solid foundation for their dreams. We want to give all of our kids in this country opportunities worthy of their promise, see, because all of our kids are worthy. (Applause.) We want to give them that sense of limitless possibility -- that belief that here in America, the greatest country on the planet, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it. (Applause.)
So, look, this is what I tell myself: We cannot turn back now. No.
MRS. OBAMA: We have come so far, but we have so much more work to do.
So let me ask you one last thing. Are you ready for this? (Applause.) Are you fired up? (Applause.) Are you ready to go? (Applause.) All right, then, let’s get to work.
Thank you. God bless you. (Applause.)
5:59 P.M. EDT