Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event -- Hampton, VA
3:07 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness! (Applause.) Wow. Thank you. You know what? It’s about time I came to Hampton, right? (Applause.) I’m really thrilled to be here, and it’s great to see you all. You all look so good. This is beautiful. (Applause.)
But before I get started, in light of what’s been going on around the country, along the East Coast, I wanted to take a moment to just talk about the devastating storm that’s affected so many of our communities, including so many right here in the state of Virginia. And like all of you, Barack and I, we are heartbroken for all those who have lost loved ones in this storm. And of course our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected.
And as you all have seen, Barack has been working tirelessly to ensure that our governors, our mayors and our outstanding first responders have everything they need to do their jobs.
But the thing in times of crisis that we have to remember, what I talk to my kids about -- what we see is that we always keep coming together and working together to help our fellow citizens as they begin to recover and rebuild. And we do this as one American family. And I know that we will all continue to keep them in our prayers and hope for people to be able to get back to their lives as normal. So, wanted to say that, because even in light of all this we can’t forget what’s happening on the ground, right? (Applause.)
But I also want to thank Ambur. We didn’t get a complete introduction of Ambur. But Ambur, who just came out and did that very kind introduction, she is working so hard for this campaign. So let’s give Ambur a round of applause -- proud of her. (Applause.)
And I want to thank Hampton’s president, President Harvey -- (applause) -- for his leadership, and your first lady as well, Mrs. Harvey. I want to thank them for hosting us here today. (Applause.) That you so much. As I said, I’m hoping to be back here for -- one day for a commencement or something like that. (Applause.)
Now, my whole staff is probably really mad at me for saying that. (Laughter.) But I know you had the President here or something. (Applause.) Didn’t he come? Barack Obama, he came. I think it’s my turn, right? (Applause.) But before we do that we’ve got to get four more years, right? (Applause.)
But I also want to thank Congressman Scott, who is here; Mayor Ward -- thank them for their outstanding leadership and service, their support throughout, not just in this campaign but over the last four years.
I want to recognize your fabulous former First Lady, and my dear friend, Anne Holton, who we know. (Applause.) Her husband, Governor Tim Kaine, is going to make an outstanding senator for this state, so we’ve got to get to the polls and make sure that happens. (Applause.)
But most of all, I want to thank all of you. All of you, thank you for coming. Thank you for being here. (Applause.) I love that you all sound pretty fired up and ready to go. (Applause.) That’s a good thing, because I’m feeling pretty fired up myself. Because in four days -- whoo, four days -- (applause) -- four days! -- we have the opportunity to reelect such a decent, honest man. (Applause.) A man whose courage and integrity -- did you hear me? Courage and integrity -- we have seen every day for the last four years. The man that I have known and loved for 23 years -- my husband, our President, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
And let me tell you something, all of that I just talked about, I love him for that, but I really -- what really made me fall in love with my husband all those years ago, it was his character. And I want all the fellas to hear that -- it was his -- it was what was in here. (Applause.) It was compassion, his conviction, his commitment throughout his career to helping others.
But I also loved that Barack was also so devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. (Applause.) Do you hear me, fellas? (Applause.) How you treat the women in your life is important. (Applause.) See, I saw the respect that he had for his mother. I saw how proud he was that she’d put herself through school and still did what she had to do support him and his sister as a single mom.
I saw the tenderness he felt for his grandmother, and how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still getting up every day, catching that bus to her job at the bank, waking up every morning. And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman, but he also saw how she kept on getting up every day, doing that same job year after year without complaint or regret.
See, with Barack, I found a real connection because in his life story, I saw so much of my own. See, because growing up on the South Side of Chicago -- and I know we have some South Siders here -- (applause) -- I watched my father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant. And I saw my father, who had MS, get up every day on crutches and carry himself with that same pride, that same dignity that you get when you can provide for your family, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of.
See, and the beauty about our families and so many families in this country is that they just weren’t asking for much. They didn’t want much. And they didn’t mind if others had much more than they did -– in fact, they admired it, which is why they pushed us to be the best that we could be.
But they simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard, 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 your grandkids. (Applause.)
And here’s something they believed and they taught us: that when you’ve worked hard -- and I know we’ve got a lot of young people out there working hard -- (applause) -- and when you’ve done well, and you’ve finally walked through that doorway of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut behind you. No, you reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed. (Applause.)
And that is how Barack and I, and I know so many of you, were raised. And more than anything else, that is what this election is all about –- it’s a choice. It’s a choice about our values, our hopes and our aspirations. It’s a choice about the America we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids. What does that America look like?
Well, we believe in an America where every child has the opportunity to go to good schools that push them, and inspire them, and prepare them for jobs of the future. We believe in an America where no one goes broke or loses their home because someone gets sick or loses their job. We believe in an America where we all understand that none of us gets where we are on our own; 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 have been building together, we believe that the truth matters, and you don’t take shortcuts or game the system.
And finally, we believe in keeping our priorities straight. See, because everybody in here knows good and well that cutting Sesame Street is no way to balance our budget. (Applause.) We know better than that. Instead, we know that we have to cut wasteful spending, but we also have to make smart investments in things like education and infrastructure for an economy that’s built to last.
And that’s exactly what my husband stands for. That’s the country he’s been working to build for the last four years. And since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis -- I’ve been there -- that’s what we’ve seen in our President.
Think back to when Barack first took office. Our economy was on the brink of collapse. And you don’t have to take my word for it: Newspapers were using words like “meltdown,” “calamity,” declaring “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock.” See, because the auto industry was in crisis, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month, and a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression.
See, and this is what Barack faced on day one as President. But instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, your President got to work. (Applause.) Because he was thinking of folks like my dad, like his grandmother. And that’s why he cut taxes for small businesses and working families, because he believes that here in America, teachers and firefighters should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. Not in America. That’s not right. (Applause.)
And that’s why, while some folks were willing to let the auto industry go under, with more than a million jobs that would have been lost, Barack had the backs of American workers. And that’s why, today, the American auto industry is back on its feet again. (Applause.)
And yes, while we still have a long way to go to completely rebuild this economy, there are more and more clear signs every day that we are on the road to recovery. Exports have grown by 45 percent. This morning, we learned that companies hired more workers in October than at any time in the last eight months. (Applause.) We have now had 32 straight months of private sector job growth -– nearly five and a half million new jobs created under this President, right here in the United States of America.
And here, for our young people here in Hampton, when it comes to giving all of you and so many other young people the education they deserve, understand that Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, we never could have attended college without financial aid. Never. Never. (Applause.) I don’t know about you, but we didn’t have parents that could pay our tuition, give us money. (Laughter.)
So when it comes to student debt, Barack and I have been there. And that’s why Barack doubled funding for Pell Grants and fought so hard to keep interest rates down -- (applause) -- because he knows how important it is for all of our young people to be able to attend college without a mountain of debt. (Applause.)
And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women -– look, we know that my husband will always have our backs. (Applause.) Because Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. And that’s why the very first bill he signed as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.)
And he will always, always fight to ensure that we, as women, can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care. (Applause.)
And let us not forget that because of the health reform he passed, insurance companies can no longer charge women more than men for the same coverage. (Applause.) Also because of health reform, they won’t be able to discriminate against any of us because we have a preexisting condition like diabetes or asthma. Young people can stay on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 years old -- (applause) -- because of health reform.
And here’s one that gets me. If you get a life-threatening illness and you need expensive treatment, insurance companies can no longer tell you, sorry, you’ve hit your lifetime limit and we’re not paying a penny more. That is now illegal because of health reform. (Applause.)
So here we are, four days out. Four days out. And I know you all are going to be out there talking to people. (Applause.) I know you are. And when you are talking to folks who are trying to decide who is the best person in this race to keep America moving forward, I want you to tell them a few things.
Tell them what Barack has done for our economy, our health care, our education, but also tell them about how Barack ended the war in Iraq. (Applause.) Remind them how we all took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how Barack is fighting hard for veterans and military families to make sure they get the benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.)
Tell them about all the young immigrants in this country who will never again have to lie about who they are or be deported from the only country they’ve ever called home. (Applause.)
And our servicemembers -- (applause) -- make sure they understand that they can be who they are to serve the country they love because of this President. (Applause.)
But I also want you to send them to barackobama.com/plans because there, on that website, they can learn about everything this man is going to do for the next four years to create more jobs, reduce our deficit, and do so much more.
See, but here’s what I think is really important for people to understand in this race, what they need to know about Barack Obama. They need to know that he understands 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.
But I want you all to be clear that while he is very proud of all that we’ve achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied. He, of all people, knows that there are still too many people hurting. But as President Clinton said, it is going to take a lot longer than four years to finish rebuilding an economy from the brink of collapse. (Applause.)
But here’s what I do know: Over these past four years, together, slowly but surely, we’ve been pulling ourselves out of that hole we started in. We have been moving forward and making real and meaningful change.
So the question that everyone has to ask themselves is: Are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us into that hole in the first place?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to sit back and watch everything we’ve worked for and fought for to just slip away.
MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to keep moving this country forward? (Applause.) What are we going to do? What are we going to do? I want to keep moving this country forward.
But in the end, the answers to these questions is on all of us now. It’s all up to us. Because, believe me, all of our hard work --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I love you, Michelle!
MRS. OBAMA: I love you, too. (Applause.) And that’s why -- that is exactly why this election is so important. Because all our hard work, all of the progress that we have made, understand that it is all at stake. The choices could not be clearer.
And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. That’s the only guarantee. And it could all come down to what happens in just a few key battleground states like right here in Virginia. Right here. (Applause.) It all counts right here.
And I want to put it in perspective for you, especially our young people. Because anybody who is not voting or has not voted, understand that back in 2008, Barack won Virginia by about 235,000 votes. (Applause.) But that might sound like a lot, but when you break that number down across precincts, that is just 100 votes per precinct. That was the margin of victory. And trust me, in other states like North Carolina the margin was five votes per precinct.
So that could mean just one vote in your neighborhood could make the difference. Understand that a single vote in an apartment building or on a college campus -- (applause) -- could make the difference.
So here’s the thing: If there is anyone out here or anyone in your lives that you know who might somehow be thinking that their vote doesn’t matter; if anybody you know thinks that their involvement doesn’t count, that in this complex political process that ordinary folks, young people can’t possibly make a difference, I just want you to think about that number: 100 votes. There are 100 people that are not voting that we all know in this room. We know that.
So I want you to think about how with just a few more hours knocking on doors or making calls, with just a few hours, we’re going to get people to the polls on Election Day. Just a few of you in this building could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama. And when we win enough precincts, we will win this state. And when we win this state, we’ll be well on our way to putting Barack back in the White House for four more years. (Applause.)
So here’s the plan. Four days -- everybody in here has four days. And we’re coming on a weekend so, Hampton students, whatever you were planning to do this weekend -- (laughter) -- that doesn’t involve getting the vote out, postpone that to next weekend. Just postpone it. (Applause.) Just postpone it. A weekend out of your lives could make the difference about your future, this country’s future.
So before you leave today, go find one of our folks with a clipboard. Sign up to -- you see them? They’re back there. They’ve got clipboards. Sign up to volunteer for the campaign.
But better yet, for the next four days, talk to everyone you know -- everyone you know. You should be asking, have you voted? Are you voting? Did you vote early? Everybody you know, in every cafeteria, at every meal, every time you’re picking up a French fry -- (laughter) -- ask the person with you are they going to vote. And talk to everyone you know -- your friends, your neighbors, that cousin that you haven’t seen in a while. Text them. What do you all do? You text them. Call them. That classmate that’s sitting next to you that you know is not going to vote -- shake him. (Laughter.) Shake him up! Send them to vote.barackobama.com for any information they need on how and where to cast their votes.
And then, once you’ve done that, do everything you can to make sure that you and the folks you know get to the polls on November the 6th. I mean, it’s as simple as that. That is our secret plan, our deep strategy. It is you. The President of the United States is counting on you. And you will absolutely make the difference, because if we do over the -- what we do over the next four days could absolutely make the difference between waking up the day after Election Day and asking ourselves, “Could I have done more? What happened? Could I have done more?” Or feeling the promise of four more years.
So from now until the 6th, we need you to keep on working and struggling and pushing forward. Because here’s the thing: That’s how change always happens in this country. And some of us more seasoned people in life, we can tell you young people that we know from our history that change is hard. Shoot, life is hard. And there will be so many ups and downs and bumps and bruises and people who are going to tell you what you can’t do, who you can’t be. But if you’re going to change anything and build a life for yourself, it requires patience and tenacity. Do you see your President, how patient and calm he is under all kinds of storms? (Applause.) That’s what it takes!
Because what he knows, and what I know, and what all these folks who have lived lives know -- that if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, then we know in our hearts -- we know that what we do is right; then eventually we get there. I want our young people to know that: Eventually you get there. Because we always do. That is the reason why we all have every reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead. You have to be optimistic. You have to believe in your future. Because we know that here in America, we always move forward. We don’t go back. We always make progress.
And in the end, that’s what this is about. Hopefully, that’s why you came today. That’s what elections are always about. Elections are always about hope. Do you hear me? Don’t let anybody tell you differently. Elections are always about hope.
The hope that I saw on my father’s face as I crossed the stage to get my college diploma -- the diploma that he took out loans to help me get. The hope Barack’s grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised. That’s the kind of hope I’m talking about. (Applause.) The hope of all those men and women I know are in our lives, are in your lives, who worked that extra shift, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that you could be standing here. Barack and I would not be here if it weren’t for those people. The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the eyes of our kids and our grandkids -- it’s that kind of hope.
And that is why all of us are here, ultimately, today -- because of our kids. Because we want to give all of our kids a foundation for their dreams. We want to give all of our kids opportunity worthy of their promise, because we all in this room -- I don’t care what color you are, what party you are -- we know that all of our kids are worthy. We want to give them that sense of limitless possibility, the 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.
So here’s what I tell myself, and I hope that everyone here at Hampton, you tell yourself this every day: We cannot turn back now. We will not turn back now. Not now. Not now! (Applause.) We have come so far, but understand we have so much more work to do.
So let me ask you one final question. You ready for this? (Applause.) Four more days for four more years! Are you ready for this? Are you fired up? (Applause.) Are you ready to go? (Applause.) Work like never before.
We love you. God bless.
3:34 P.M. EDT