Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
New York, New York
6:22 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, thank you so much. (Applause.) I am so thrilled to be here -- truly, truly thrilled. Thank you. You all are so sweet. You all have been just amazing.
I want to start by -- although I miss this because I miss all the fun stuff. (Laughter.) They just pull me in. If we’ve got a great singer, I never get to hear him sing. (Laughter.) We had some of the -- so everybody goes, “You’ve got a great event. This person is going to be there!” And I’m like, am I going to be there? (Laughter.) “No, actually, you’re going to miss everything.” So was the case tonight.
But I want to thank the brilliant and inspiring trailblazing men and women who have graced us -- or graced you all with their performances here tonight. We are so grateful for them for taking the time to join us. (Applause.) And one day, maybe in four more years, I’ll be able to sit out there and watch them perform. (Applause.)
I also want to give a very huge and warm thank you, hello to Mike Nichols and John Guare for organizing this extraordinary evening. (Applause.) It’s amazing.
But most of all, I want to thank all of you for taking the time, not just tonight, but I know so many of you who have been working so hard over the last year or two, or three and a half. But thank you for everything you all are doing and being here, because it feels good. It feels really good.
And I know you all are fired up and ready to go. (Applause.) I know that. I can tell; I can feel it. And I will tell you that after hearing my husband talk about his values, his vision that he has for this country in last night’s debate -- (applause) -- yes -- I am not only very proud, as I always am, but I am fired up and ready to go myself. Absolutely. (Applause.) Twenty more days. Twenty more days.
But another reason why I like to campaign for my husband is that I get to do one of my favorite things -- I get to talk about this guy, this man I have loved and admired since I first met him 23 years ago. I can only talk like this behind his back. (Laughter.) Because when we get home it’s usually, pick up your socks -- do something. (Laughter.) But when he’s not here, I can say all these wonderful things, but don’t tell him. (Laughter.) Don’t let him know. I got to keep that upper hand -- you know what I’m saying?
But as you know, although my husband is handsome, charming and incredibly smart, what I tell people -- and especially young people -- because I get to travel around to a lot of college campuses -- and I tell young people that that is not why I married him. It is not. What truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama is what you all saw last night, what you all have seen for three and a half years -- you have seen his character, his decency and honesty. (Applause.) You’ve see his compassion and his conviction. And that’s the man I married.
When I first met him, I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others. He was always committed to serving others that when started out his career, he turned down high-paying jobs, and instead began his career fighting to get folks back to work in struggling communities. That’s where he started, and I know that’s where he’s going to finish.
And I loved that Barack was so devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. And I tell this to young men all over -- you’ve got to love your mother. (Laughter and applause.) That’s it. I saw the respect that Barack had for his mother and how proud he was that she was able to put herself through school while still supporting him and his sister as a single mother.
Before she passed, I saw the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother. He called her “Tutu.” I saw how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning to catch that bus to her job at the bank. And as he said last night, she did everything she could to support his family. But he also watched how she was passed over year after year for promotions simply because she was a woman, but he also saw how she kept getting up year after year, doing that same job without complaint and without regret.
And when I saw these things in Barack, when we first met and I learned his story, I realized that with Barack I found a real connection, because in his life story, I saw so much of my own.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, a working-class kid, I watched my own father make that exact uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant. That’s the very job my father had his entire life until the day he died. And 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 one day, with all this hard work he was doing, that one day his kids could have opportunities he never dreamed of for himself.
And like so many families in this country -- the families that our President is fighting for -- our families just weren’t asking for much. That’s the beauty -- they didn’t want much. And they didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success. No, in fact, they didn’t mind if others had much more than they did -- they admired it. And that is exactly why they pushed us to be the very best we could be.
But they did believe in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard in this country, if you 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 grandkids. That’s what kept them going. That’s what they believed.
But they also believed that when you’ve worked hard and you’ve done well, and you’ve finally walked through that doorway of opportunity, they believed you don't slam that door shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the exact same chances that helped you succeed. Absolutely. (Applause.)
And that is how Barack and I and so many of you were raised. Those are the values we were taught. And more than anything else, what has kept me going so long, year after year, is that that's what this election is really about. It’s a choice about our hopes. It’s a choice about our values. It’s a choice about your aspirations. It’s a choice about the America we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids.
And let’s talk a bit about that America. I know it. We believe in an America where every child -- no matter where they're born or how much money their parents make -- every child in this country should have access to good schools -- the kind of schools that push them and inspire them and prepare them for college and jobs of the future. (Applause.)
We believe in an America where no one goes broke because someone gets sick, no one loses their home because someone loses a job -- not in the America we’re working to build. (Applause.)
We believe in an America where we all understand that none of us gets where we are on our own -- none of us; that there is always a community of people lifting us up, where we treat everyone with dignity and respect from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean. (Applause.)
And in this America that we are working so hard to build, when one of us stumbles -- which so many of us do -- when one of us falls on hard times, we don't turn our backs and tell them, "tough luck, you’re on your own." No, in this America, we reach out. We extend a helping hand until they can get back on their feet. We believe that the truth matters in this America. (Applause.) You don't take shortcuts, game the system. You don't play by your own set of rules. Instead, we reward success that's earned fair and square.
And finally, we believe in keeping our priorities straight. And we all know good and well that cutting “Sesame Street” is no way to balance our budget. (Applause.) No. Shortchanging our kids is not how we tackle our deficit.
If we truly want to build opportunities for all Americans, we know we need to cut wasteful spending. But we also know we have to make smart investments in our future -- in education, infrastructure for an economy that's built to last. And that's what my husband stands for. That's the country he has been working to build for the last three and a half years. Those are his values.
And over the past three and a half years as First Lady, I’ve seen up close and personal what being President really looks like and how critical those values are for leading this country.
As I’ve said again and again, I have 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 they're about laying a foundation for the next generation. And I’ve seen how important it is -- oh, so important -- 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 around you is urging you to do what’s easy, what polls best, what gets good headlines, as President, you have to be guided by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all of the people you serve. And that is how you make the right decisions for this country. That's what it takes to be President of the United States. That's what it takes. (Applause.)
And why I am so proud of our President: Since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that is exactly what we have seen in this man.
Think back to when Barack first took office. This economy was on the brink of collapse -- you of all people remember where we were. Don't take my word for it. Newspapers were using words like "meltdown," "calamity;" declaring, “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock”
For years people had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford, so for many people, their mortgages were underwater. Then banks weren’t lending; companies weren’t hiring. As you recall, the auto industry was in crisis. This economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month, and a lot of people wondered whether we were heading for another Great Depression. And this is what Barack faced on day one as President of the United States. He inherited an economy in rapid decline.
See, but your President, he didn't point fingers. He didn't place blame. Instead, he got to work, because he was thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother. See, and that's why he cut taxes for small businesses and for working families because he believes that in America, teachers and firefighters should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. That's just not right. (Applause.)
And that's why, if you recall, while there were some folks out there who were willing to let the auto industry go under -- you recall? (Laughter.) With more than a million jobs that would have been lost -- you want to talk about job creation -- Barack had the backs of American workers. He fought hard to protect jobs for American families across this country, and that is why today the auto industry is back, and new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM today. (Applause.)
And, yes, I remind people, yes, we still have a long way to go to completely rebuild our economy. Today, there are more and more signs every day that we're heading in the right direction. The stock market has doubled. Exports have grown by 45 percent. Manufacturers have added 500,000 jobs. We've had 31 straight months -- most of this presidency -- of private-sector job growth. A total of 5.2 million new jobs have been created under this President, under this administration -- good jobs right here in the United States of America, something we should celebrate. (Applause.)
But here's the thing about being President. You've got to be able to do a few things at one time. So while your President was focusing on creating jobs, he was also fortunately focusing on improving access to health care for millions of Americans. (Applause.)
And I am so proud and grateful that Barack did not care whether health reform was the easy thing to do politically --because that is not who he is. He cared that it was the right thing to do. He was fighting and thinking -- fighting for and thinking about all those folks that he had met all across the country with so many heartbreaking stories -- the woman diagnosed with breast cancer who couldn't find an insurance company to cover her care, the many seniors pinching pennies to save for the medicines they need, the parents who couldn't get life-saving treatment for a child because someone lost a job. We hear those stories. Every day we heard them.
And now we're hearing about how their lives have changed, because today, because of health reform, a lot has changed for so many people. Our parents and our grandparents on Medicare today are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs -- because of health reform. Because of health reform, our kids can stay on our insurance until they're 26 years old -- because of health reform. (Applause.) Insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care, things like contraception and cancer screenings, with no out-of-pocket costs. (Applause.) Today, because of health care, they cannot discriminate against us because we have a preexisting condition like diabetes or asthma. (Applause.)
And here's one that really gets me. Now, if you get a real serious illness, something really expensive and life threatening and you need expensive care, no longer can insurance companies tell you, "sorry, you've reached your lifetime limit and we're not paying a penny more." (Applause.) Because of health reform, that is now illegal. (Applause.) So thank goodness we had a President willing to fight for those reforms. (Applause.)
Now, when it comes to giving our young people the education they deserve, Barack knows like me and like so many young people in this country, we never could have attended college without financial aid. We would not be standing here today if it weren't for financial aid. In fact, when we were first married, our combined student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. So when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we have been there. This is not a hypothetical situation.
And that's why Barack doubled funding for Pell grants. That's why he fought so hard to keep student interest rates down four our students. (Applause.) Because fortunately, we have a President that wants all of our young people to be prepared for good jobs for the future.
And then, finally, when it comes to standing up and understanding the lives of women, when it comes to making sure that we have rights and opportunities, we know good and well that this President will always have our backs. We know that. (Applause.) And why do we know this? Because Barack knows from personal experience. He has seen what it means for a family when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. He's seen that. And believe me, as a father of two beautiful girls, he knows what it means to want our daughters to have the same rights and freedoms and opportunities as our sons.
And that is why the very first bill, the very first thing he did as President of the United States was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make sure women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And let me tell you this -- that is why my husband will always, always fight to ensure that we as women make our own decisions about our bodies and about our health care. That is what my husband stands for. (Applause.)
So this election is important. It is big. So for the next 20 days, I know you all are going to be out there, right? (Applause.) You're going to be out there, and you're going to come across people who are going to say, well, what has this President done for this country? When you run into people who are trying to decide between these two individuals to determine which of them will keep this country moving forward for four more years, here's just a few things, just a few that I want you to tell them.
Tell them about the millions of jobs this President has created. Tell them about all the kids in this country who can finally afford college. Tell them about the millions of lives that will be changed forever because of health reform.
Tell them how this President kept his promise and ended the war in Iraq, took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Remind them how this President is fighting to make sure that veterans and military families have the benefits that they have earned. (Applause.)
Tell them about all the young immigrants who will no longer live in fear of being deported from the only country they have ever called home. (Applause.) You tell them how our brave servicemembers will no longer ever 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 really want you to tell people. You remind them that our President knows the American Dream because he’s lived it, and he is fighting every day so that every one of us in this country can have that same opportunity no matter who we are or what we look like or where we’re from or who we love. (Applause.)
Let’s be clear, let us be very clear, while Barack is so proud of all that we have achieved -- and we have achieved this together -- he is nowhere near satisfied. Of all the people on this planet, Barack knows that too many people are still hurting. He knows good and well that there is still plenty of work to be done.
But as President Clinton said, it’s going to take a lot longer than four years to finish rebuilding an economy from the brink of collapse. (Applause.) But here's the thing -- thankfully, in Barack, we have a leader with a deep and unyielding faith in the American people; a leader who understands that this country was built by men and women who wake up every day and work hard for their families, and they do it without complaint and regret.
And as President, that’s what my husband has been fighting for every day. As President, he has been fighting for us. And that is why, when the stakes are so high, we can always trust this man. We can trust that he will always have our backs.
And over these past four years, know this -- together, we have slowly but surely been pulling ourselves out of that hole we started in. We are steadily moving this country forward and making real and important change.
So now in this time, these last few weeks, we have to ask ourselves: Are we going to turn around after all of this and go back to the same policies that got us into the hole in the first place? Really?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to just sit back and watch everything that we have worked for and we have fought for, not just over the last three and a half years but over the last decade -- are we going to watch that just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to keep moving this country forward? What are we going to do? Who are we? (Applause.) What are we going to do? We got 20 days. 20 days. (Applause.) But here's what we have to remember -- in the end, the answers to these questions, it's on us right now. It's up to us. Because all of our hard work, all the progress that we have made for so long -- it is all on the line. You can see it in these two candidates. It is all at stake this November.
But I want you all to know that your support, the checks that you all have written -- oh, goodness, that has made the difference every step of the way on this journey. Please know that because of all of you and so many people like you around this country, we have got the best ground game on the planet. (Applause.)
We've got hundreds of field offices and thousands of staff and volunteers in those key battleground states. They are working so hard; we are on the airwaves. We set up phone banks across the country. We're reaching millions of voters every single day, and you all made that possible. And I cannot begin to tell you how grateful we are for everything you all have done.
But as my husband has said, this election is going to be even closer than the last one -- and that last one was pretty close, if you recall. (Laughter.) So let me put it in perspective, because I’ve been doing this everywhere I go. Because when I learned these statistics, it really set me back.
Back in 2008 -- let’s take North Carolina -- Barack won that state by just 14,000 votes. And when you break that 14,000 across the state and throughout precincts, that’s just five votes per precinct. That was the margin of difference in one state. Take Ohio -- won that state by about 262,000, but that is still just 24 votes per precinct -- breathtaking.
So make no mistake about it, what we do over these next 20 days could make the difference between waking up on November the 7th and thinking to ourselves, “Could I have done more?”, or feeling that promise of four more years. That’s the difference.
So we’re going to need you all more than ever before. We need you to keep on writing those checks. (Laughter.) If you haven’t maxed out, max out! (Laughter.) If you’ve got friends who haven’t maxed out, get them to max out. (Applause.) Get them. Find them. We still have time.
That’s one of the most important things all of you can do to keep our grassroots operations running strong across this country. And for those of you who want to get out there and make a difference on the ground -- because we know people are antsy -- some of the best ways to relieve the stress -- (laughter) -- trust me, is to get out on the road, get out there. Because watching the TV can drive you nuts. (Laughter.)
So if you feel so moved to get out there, you can sign up at barackobama.com. And one of the places we love -- many of the places we’d love you to go: Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, swing states. Go out there. Knock on some doors. Shake some people up. And if you can take off a couple of weeks -- we’ve only got a couple of weeks. Some people have it like that. Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you’re tired. (Laughter.) Got a little time on your hands. Join our Vote Corps program to get out the vote in Ohio. We are really targeting Ohio as one of the key states.
And if you’re free those last four or five days before Election Day, we need you to get in your car, drive to Ohio; you can stop in Pennsylvania -- (laughter) -- do a little stuff there. And if you’re not able to leave New York, one of the things that you can also do is sign up to make phone banks right in your own home. One of our young friends, a high school -- young person, she’s -- lives in Chicago. For every debate, she has coordinated a group of high school friends. They got their little phones. They made the call, and they were sitting there, making phone calls into battleground states as part of a watch party. And to do that, all you have to do is go to dashboard.barackobama.com.
And we have one of our field organizers, Tyler, who is here. Tyler, where are you? Tyler is over there -- handsome young man with the clipboard. (Applause.) After I’m done, you find Tyler and he can answer any questions that you have about ways to get started if you are so inspired.
And let me just share one story with you before I close. I was in -- I think it was Ohio. I’m confused about where I go from day to day. (Laughter.) But I think this was in Ohio. It was in Cleveland, and I met a woman who was 101, and she was sharp, boy. She was brought -- she came with her son, who was probably 80-something. (Laughter.) And she was very sweet, and she made her way to the front, and she’s still moving and talking, so the staff brought her back behind stage so that I could meet her. And she squeezed my hand and gave me the biggest hug, and she said, I just love you and the President and I’m praying for you and I’m working hard for you -- 101, all right? (Laughter.)
And she leaned out and she said, come here. She said, I was alive when Teddy Roosevelt was President. And she said, let me tell you something -- you tell the President that they gave him a heck of a time, too. (Laughter and applause.) They gave him the worst time, because times were hard then -- that’s what she said -- so a lot of people weren’t ready for what he wanted to do.
So she told me to tell the President to go into that debate and give him something. (Laughter and applause.) But she also did her part. She said, I have called several people. She said, I believe that I’ve got two Republicans in Virginia who committed to me that they will vote for the President. (Applause.) And I said, see, this is why we’re here: 101 years old and she was getting out the vote, calling battleground states. She knew exactly which state. She said, now, I’m not sure if they were telling me the truth. (Laughter.) But she said, they told me they were going to vote for Barack Obama. So that’s the kind of supporters we have out there all over the country. It was truly, truly a heartfelt exchange.
But as we move into this last phase of this journey, understand that it is going to be hard and there are going to be ups and downs over the next 20 days. I think I say this everywhere I go. I said it a year ago; I said it three months ago. Ups and downs -- this stuff is so fluid. And fortunately I’ve gotten used to that ride. (Laughter.)
But no matter what, from now until November the 6th, we need you to keep on working and struggling and pushing forward. Because as I tell our young people -- and this is beyond this election -- the message that I try to get to our young people, particularly those in college -- just reminding them that that’s how change always happens in this country. We know from our history that change is hard, just like that 101-year-old supporter knew. And real change requires patience and tenacity.
But what I also tell them is that if we keep showing up -- see, because this is what life is about. Life is about getting up and showing up, even on your worst days. (Applause.) If we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know in our hearts is the right thing to do -- that’s what we’re teaching our kids to do. But what I want them and you and all of us to understand is that eventually we get there. We always do. Our history has shown us that.
So we cannot let anyone talk down our dreams or our aspirations, especially for our young people. We cannot let anyone talk down this country or this country’s future. We have every reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead, because here in America we always move forward -- always. We always make progress. We never turn back. We never have. I’ve never seen us move backwards.
And in the end, that’s what this is about. That is what elections are always about. Don’t let anybody tell you any differently. Elections are always about hope.
The hope that I saw in my father’s beaming face as I walked across that stage to get my college diploma -- the diploma he took out loans to help me get. The hope that Barack’s grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she had loved and raised. That’s the kind of hope I’m talking about -- the hope of all those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could have more, so that we could be something better. The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the eyes of those precious children of ours -- our sons and daughters, our grandchildren.
And hopefully, that is why we’re here today -- because we want to give our children -- all of them -- a real foundation for their dreams. We want to give all of our children opportunities worthy of their promise. Because the one thing -- I don’t care what party you’re from, what -- who you believe in -- we all want our kids to have those opportunities. They all deserve them. We want to give every child that sense of limitless possibility -- the belief that here in America, the greatest country on the planet still today, that there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it.
See, so here’s what I tell myself, is that we cannot turn back now. Not now. We will not turn back now. We have come too far. And there is no way we are going to stop now. But I do know that we have so much more to do.
So my last question for you all before I leave you is: Are you ready for this? (Applause.) Twenty days -- are you ready to do whatever it takes? Max out. Roll up your sleeves. Go to a battleground state. Pick up the phone. Talk to people in your lives who are not decided. Let them know that the future is at stake in this election. Are you ready for that? (Applause.) Because we have a President who is ready to get us there, but we have got to have his back. I know I’m going to be out there. I will have his back for the next 20 days and beyond. We need you.
Thanks so much. God bless.
6:58 P.M. EDT