The White House
Office of the First Lady
Kentucky Center for African American Heritage Museum
5:26 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Yes! (Applause.) Wow. Thank you so much. Oh, you all are already fired up. I can just leave now, right? (Applause.) It is so good to be back. I am just honored to be here with all of you. This is truly amazing.
Let me start by just saying a few thank-yous. First, Representative Yarmuth, thank you for that very kind introduction, and thank you for your leadership and your service in Congress. You are doing an amazing job. (Applause.) Absolutely.
I also want to recognize your governor, Governor Beshear, and Mayor Fischer, who are both here, who have been amazing. (Applause.) Thank you both for being here, for leading the way, for having our backs in so many ways. It means a great deal.
And I’d like to thank our dear friend, Matt Barzun, who is our national finance chair. (Applause.) He is terrific. He is so on point. We love him to death, as well as our wonderful hosts who have made this event such a tremendous success — Christy Brown, Brooke Pardue, and Carolyn Tandy as well. Let’s give them a big round of applause. Thank you all for your hard work. (Applause.) This is amazing. Amazing venue. It’s good to be here. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to thank all of you. Thank you so much for your support, and thank you for being here with us today. And I know that there is a reason why you are all here, packed in together tightly. (Laughter.) You’re here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And you’re here because you know that in less than a year from now — because it’s coming up, right? — we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And you’re here because you know that choice won’t just affect all of us; it will affect our children, and our grandchildren, and more importantly, the world we leave for them long after we’re gone.
And believe me, that is why I am here today. That’s why I’m going to be traveling all across the country. I am so fired up. (Applause.) See, as First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this magnificent country, and I get to meet folks from all different kinds of backgrounds and I get to hear what’s going on in their lives. Every day, I hear about how folks are struggling — the bills they’re trying to pay; the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat. I hear about how folks are taking that extra shift, they’re working that extra job, they’re doing whatever they have to — they’re saving, they’re sacrificing, never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles that I’m talking about, these are not new. For decades now — decades — middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. See, the cost of things like gas, groceries, tuition — prices continuing to rise, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up. And when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom just completely fell out.
Now, over the past three years, your President has worked very hard to dig ourselves out of this mess. (Applause.) And a lot of progress has been made. We have had 23 straight months of private sector job growth — (applause) — and unemployment is now the lowest it has been in three years. (Applause.)
But we know that we still have a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of work to do. And we’ve been working hard to rebuild our economy based on a vision that we all share — the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay off in this country; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone — everyone — should get a fair shot, they should do their fair share, and they should play by the same rules. (Applause.)
See, as we all know, these are basic American values — basic. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. See, my father, as you know — my father was a blue-collar worker, working at the city water plant. My family lived in a little-bitty apartment — this is where I grew up — little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Neither of my parents went to college, but let me tell you what they did do: They worked hard — (applause) — they saved, and they sacrificed, because, see, my parents, like so many of our parents, wanted something more for me and my brother.
And more than anything else, that is what’s at stake. That’s what’s at stake — that fundamental promise that no matter who you are, no matter how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself, and an even better life for your kids. (Applause.) Basic. And on just about every issue — from health care to education to the economy — that is the choice we face. That’s the choice.
For example, when you hear all this talk about tax cuts for middle-class families; you hear about unemployment insurance for folks out of work — let me tell you, that is about whether people can heat their homes. That’s what they’re talking about. (Applause.) Whether a family can put a hot meal on the table, or gas in their car so that they can even look for work. That’s what that’s about. It’s about whether folks can afford to own a home, send their kids to college, retire with a little dignity, just a little security. It’s about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. That’s what it’s about. That’s what’s at stake here. That is the choice that we face. (Applause.)
And think for — just for a minute about what this President has done to stand up for the American consumers. I’m talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card fees, right? I’m talking about students — our young people — (applause) — drowning in debt. I’m talking about our seniors losing their homes and their savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford, probably couldn’t even understand.
And that is why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simply mission. (Applause.) That is: To protect folks from exactly these kind of abuses. That’s why he did it. Because he believes that when you’ve worked hard, when you’ve saved, when you’ve followed the rules, you shouldn’t lose it all to someone just looking to make some easy money. See, that’s not fair. That’s not right. And believe me, your President is working hard to do something about it. (Applause.)
And what about all that we’ve done for our small businesses? Our small businesses. See, these are the companies that create two-thirds — two-thirds of all new jobs each year in this economy. I’m talking about the mom who opens up the drycleaning store on the corner to provide for her kids. I’m talking about the family that’s running that neighborhood diner — has been running it for generations. That’s who we’re talking about. I’m talking about the veteran who launches a startup and pursues that American Dream that he fought so hard for. See, these are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, and then they head home and they pore over their books late into the night, determined to make those numbers add up.
See, for these folks, the small business tax cuts that this administration has passed, this means the difference between these folks hiring new employees or handing out pink slips. This is the difference between those businesses keeping their doors open or closing up shop for good. That is the choice that we face.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make sure that women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And he did this because he knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. I mean, he watched his own grandmother — a woman with just a high school education — she worked her way up to become a vice president at a little community bank. And his grandmother worked hard and she was good at her job, but like so many women she hit that glass ceiling, and she watched men no more qualified than she was — men she had actually trained — be promoted up the ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, for Barack, this is not abstract, this issue. This isn’t some hypothetical thing he’s talking about. He signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and put clothes on the backs of their kids. He did it because when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, he knows that women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. (Applause.)
We believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. (Applause.) That is what’s at stake in this election. Understand, that’s what’s at stake.
And let’s just talk for just a minute about health care. Right? (Applause.) Because last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) Amen.
But now there are some folks actually talking about repealing this reform.
MRS. OBAMA: So today the question for us is, are we going to stand by and let that happen?
MRS. OBAMA: Understand that since we passed this law, millions of our senior citizens have saved an average of more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. (Applause.) So the question becomes, are we going to take those savings away from our seniors?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we make sure that our parents and our grandparents can afford to stay healthy in their golden years? What are we going to do? Are we going to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because they have pre-existing conditions, things like cancer, diabetes, even asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can’t afford a doctor? (Applause.) What are we going to do?
And when our kids get older and graduate from school, we all know how hard it’s going to be for them to find jobs with good insurance, right? That’s why, as part of health reform, kids can now stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old. (Applause.) And today that is how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their health coverage. So the question is, will we take that away from all of our kids?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we say that we don’t want our sons and our daughters going out into the world without health care when they’re just starting out, trying to build their families, trying to develop their careers on their own?
But that is the choice we face. That’s the choice.
And think, for just a moment, about what’s been done in this administration on education. I mean, think about all those investments to raise standards and reform our public schools. We all know what this is about. See, this is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children — kids we know are sitting in crumbling classrooms; kids that we know have so much promise; kids who could be anything in the world they want if we just gave them a chance. That’s what this is about. (Applause.)
And think about how we’ve tripled investments for job training at community colleges. This is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages. See, these are the folks — they’re doing everything that they’re supposed to do. They’re working full-time. They’re raising their kids. But they still make it to class every evening, study late into the night — because why? They desperately want something better for their families.
And, please, make no mistake about it, these kind of investments in our students, in our workers will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. (Applause.) It’s going to determine whether we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will let us compete with any country anywhere in the world. That is what’s at stake. That’s what we’re talking about.
And let’s not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices — (applause) — and for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) And let us not forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come — on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and, yes, love whomever we choose. That is what’s at stake here. (Applause.) That is the choice we’re facing.
And finally, let us not forget all that this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. (Applause.) And thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we — (applause) — yes, indeed — we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.)
My husband kept his promise: He ended the war in Iraq, and he brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.) And as you know, we are working hard to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment and the benefits that they have earned. (Applause.)
And because my husband ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) That is what’s at stake. That’s what’s at stake.
So make no mistake about it, whether it is healthcare, the economy, whether it’s education, foreign policy — truly the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country. But more importantly, it will determine who we want to be. Who do we want to be? Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or how you started out? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we tell folks who have done everything right but are still struggling to get by — are we going to tell them, “tough luck, you’re on your own”? Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that in this country we are strongest when we’re all better off? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we continue all the change we’ve begun, all the progress we’ve made? Or are we going to just allow everything that we’ve fought for to just slip away? What are we going to do? But that is the choice we face. That is the choice. Those are the stakes.
And I want to make sure we’ve got help right here — is she okay? It’s hot. That’s because we’re firing it up in here. (Applause.)
But those are the stakes. That’s what this is about. And what I want to share with you all is I want you to know that your President knows this, too. He knows what’s at stake. He understands these issues because he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped up? It was his grandmother, waking up every morning before dawn to take that bus to that job at the bank. And even though she was passed over for all those promotions, like so many people in our lives she never complained. Right? We know folks like that. She just kept showing up, just kept doing her best.
So believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential. See, those are the experiences that have made him the man and, more importantly, the President he is today, and we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And that is what I hear in his voice when he returns home after a long day traveling and he tells me about the people that he’s met. That’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night after the girls have gone to bed, and he’s poring over all those briefings and letters — the thousands of letters that he gets. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care. The letter from the father struggling to pay his family’s bills. The letter from far too many young people, young people with so much promise but too few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and determination in his voice. He says, “You will not believe what folks are going through.” He says, “Michelle, this ain’t right. We’ve got to fix this. We have so much more work to do.” (Applause.)
See, what I want people to know about their President is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack Obama has a memory like a steel trap. He might not remember your name, but let me tell you, if he’s had a few minutes and a decent conversation, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart.
And it is that that he carries with him every single day. It is our collection of struggles and hopes, and it’s our dreams that he carries with him. That is where your President gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that is why, even in the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. (Applause.) He sees it down there. He never, never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward. (Applause.) See, because the thing that you have to know about a President is, does he have a vision? And Barack Obama has a vision for this country. And it is a vision that we all share.
But I have said this before; I said this when I was here before, and I will say it again — he cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. He cannot do this alone. He needs your help. He needs you fired up and focused — (applause) — to make those calls. More importantly, young people, register those voters. Get registered. (Applause.) He needs you to take those “I’m In” cards — you got them, those “I’m In” cards? — sign them. Sign up your friends. Sign up your neighbors. Sign up your colleagues. It is so important to convince everyone you know to just give a little part of their lives each week to this cause, to this campaign.
Because we all know that this isn’t just about one extraordinary man — although I love my husband and I think he is pretty amazing. So I’m a little biased. I’m just a little biased. (Applause.)
This is really about all of us. It’s about us. It’s about us coming together for the values we believe in and the country that we want to be. Now, I’m not going to kid you either, this journey is going to be long. It is going to be hard and there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is, that is how change always happens in this country. It truly is. (Applause.) The reality is that change is slow, that real change never happens all at once. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, then eventually we will get there. We always do. In this country, we always do — maybe not in our lifetimes — maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
See, because in the end, that is what this is all about. In the end, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We’re fighting them for our sons and our daughters. We’re fighting them for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We are fighting for the world we want to leave for them. It’s about the children. It’s not about us. (Applause.)
And believe me, I am in this fight not just as a mother that wants to leave a legacy for my girls. I am in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. I know it. I know it. (Applause.) Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. See, my girls are blessed. They have plenty of advantages and opportunities, and that is probably true for many of your children as well.
But I think that the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said — that if any child — if any child is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if he is not our son, even if she is not our daughter. (Applause.) If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our family’s own good fortune. That is not who we are. In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story. We can’t do that, because we know that in this country we rise and we fall together. (Applause.)
And we know that if we make the right choices and have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake, everyone has a chance to get ahead. That is what’s at stake.
So let me tell you, it is time for us to get to work. Are you all ready to work? (Applause.) It is time for us to get up and get moving.
So I’ve got one last question for you: Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: I can’t hear you. Are you in? Let me hear you. (Applause.) I am so in. We have to be fired up. We’re going to need you working every single day.
God bless you all. Thank you for what you have done for us. Thank you for keeping us in your prayers. God bless. (Applause.)
5:54 P.M. EST