The White House
Office of the First Lady
1:38 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. It is truly a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you today.
I have to start by thanking your fabulous mayor, Mayor Mallory, for that kind introduction, but more importantly, for his outstanding leadership and service on behalf of this city. He has done a phenomenal job. (Applause.) Absolutely. And he has been a supporter from the very beginning. So I am always excited to see him. And I got to meet his wonderful parents, too. You all did a good job raising this young man. (Laughter.) I hope mine turn out just the same. (Laughter.)
I also want to thank all of today’s hosts for their wonderful work to make this event such a success. So I want to give all our hosts a round of applause. It takes a lot of work to do this. So well done, well done. (Applause.) And I like the fact that you all are seated. Also, I expect you to be on your feet by the end of this, all fired up and ready to go. I like it. (Laughter.)
And finally, I have to thank all of you for your support and for joining us today. I know that there is a reason that you all are here. 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 — time is ticking — 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, but it’s going to affect our children, it’s going to affect our grandchildren, and it’s going to affect the world that we leave for them long after we’re gone.
And truly, that is why I’m here today as well. That’s why I’m in this. As First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this magnificent country, and I get to meet folks from all different backgrounds and I get to hear what’s going on in their lives. And every day, I hear about how folks are trying to keep it together — their struggles; their challenges; trying to pay the bills; trying to keep those businesses afloat. I hear about how folks are taking the extra shift, how people are working the extra job, how people are saving and sacrificing — never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids. It’s happening all across this country.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles that people are going through, they are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The costs for things like gas and groceries and tuition have continued to rise, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up. So when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom completely fell out.
Now, over the last three years, your President has worked very hard to dig ourselves out of this mess. And there has been some real progress made. (Applause.) Absolutely — real progress. We have had 23 straight months of private sector job growth — (applause) — and the unemployment rate is now the lowest it has been in nearly three years. (Applause.)
But with all that said, we still have a long way to go. 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; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone should get a fair shot, right? They should do their fair share. They should play by the same rules.
Because these are basic American values. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. You know my story by now: My father was a blue-collar worker, city water plant. My family lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. And neither of my parents went to college, but let me tell you — they worked, they saved, and they sacrificed, because they wanted something more for me and for my brother.
And more than anything else, that is what’s at stake. That’s what’s at stake — the 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. And on just about every issue — from health care to education to the economy — that is the choice that we face. That’s the choice.
For example, when we hear talk about the tax cuts for middle-class families; you hear about unemployment insurance for folks out of work — see, that’s about whether people can heat their homes. That’s about whether a family can put a hot meal on the table, or put gas in their car so that they can even look for work. It’s about whether folks can afford to own a home, send their kids to college, retire with a little dignity, a little security. It’s about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which in turn means more jobs.
See, that’s what’s at stake. That’s the choice that we face. If you think for a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for American consumers — I’m talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card fees, right? I’m talking about students — our young people — drowning in debt; seniors losing their home and savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford, couldn’t even understand.
That’s why your President gave the new consumer watchdog just one simple mission — and that is to protect folks from exactly these kinds of abuses. (Applause.) Because when you’ve worked hard and you’ve saved and you’ve followed the rules, your President believes that you shouldn’t lose it all to someone looking to make some easy money. See, that’s not fair. It’s not right. (Applause.) And Barack Obama is working to do something about it.
And then what about all that we’ve done together for our small businesses? See, these are the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year — two-thirds of our jobs in this country. (Applause.)
And when you’re talking about our small businesses, you’re talking about that mother who opens up a drycleaner down the street to provide for her kids; or about the family that’s been running that neighborhood diner for generations; or 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 they head home again, pore over the books late into the night, determined to make the numbers add up.
See, and for these folks, the small business tax cuts that this administration has passed, this means the difference between them hiring new employees or handing out pink slips. It’s the difference between keeping those doors open or closing up shop for good. That’s the choice that we face in this election. (Applause.)
And then there’s the very first bill my husband signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) The very first thing he did as President of the United States, and he did this because he knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly in our workplaces. See, he watched his own grandmother — a woman with just a high school education — work her way up to become a vice president at a little community bank. And yes, she worked hard and she was good at her job, but like so many others, 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, Barack, for him, these issues are not abstract. This is not hypothetical. And 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 to buy gas and groceries and put clothes on the backs of their children. He did this because when nearly two-thirds of our women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. (Applause.)
And he did this because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. That is what’s at stake. That’s what’s at stake.
And as the mayor mentioned, let’s just talk for a minute about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) But now, there are some folks actually talking about repealing that reform. So today, what we must do is ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let that happen?
MRS. OBAMA: And since we passed this law, millions — millions of seniors have saved an average of more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. So are we going to take that away from our seniors, those savings? Are we going to take that away?
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 preexisting conditions 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 know how hard it is for our young people to find jobs that provide 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 coverage. That’s exactly how they’re getting their coverage. So are we going to take that away from those kids?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we say that we don’t want our sons and daughters going without health care when they’re starting out, trying to build families and careers of their own. But truly, that is the choice that we face.
And think, for a minute, about what has been done on education. I mean, think about all those investments to raise standards and reform our public schools. See, this is about improving the circumstances of millions of our children in this country. These are our kids — kids sitting in crumbling classrooms, with so much promise; kids — you know these kids. They could be anything they wanted if we just gave them a chance.
And then think about how your President has tripled investments for job training at community colleges. This is about hundreds of thousands of hard-working people who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and for better wages. They’re doing everything they’re supposed to do. They’re doing it all. They’re working full-time. They’re trying to raise their kids. And still they find time to get to class in the evening and to study late into the night, because they desperately want something better for their families.
See, and make no mistake about it, this kind of investment in our students, in our workers — I mean, this will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. This is 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 is at stake. That is what is at stake. (Applause.)
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. That is the choice we’re facing. (Applause.)
And finally, let’s not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. (Applause.) Thanks to the brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.) As the mayor said, my husband kept his promise — ended the war in Iraq, brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.)
And we’ve been working very hard to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment and the benefits that they have earned. (Applause.) And because my husband finally ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” never again will our troops have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. That is what’s at stake. That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
So make no mistake about it, whether it’s health care or the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country. And more importantly, who do we want to be? Who do we want to be?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to 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?
I mean, who are we? Will we tell folks who’ve done everything right, but are struggling just a little bit to get by, are we going to tell them, “tough luck, you’re on your own”? Who are we? Or will we honor the fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we’re all better off? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we continue all the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made, or will we allow everything we’ve fought for to just slip away? Who are we? See, but that is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, Barack Obama knows this all too well. He understands these issues because he has lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. And then when he — she needed help, who stepped up? 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, she never complained. She just kept on showing up, just kept doing her best. Sounds familiar, right?
See, so trust 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. Those are the experiences that have made him the man –- and more importantly, the President — that he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And that’s what I hear from my husband, in his voice, when he returns home from a long day traveling around the country. See, when he tells me about the people he’s met. And that’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, when he’s up poring over the briefings and the letters — the thousands of letters he gets every day. 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 with so much promise but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and determination in his voice. He says, “You won’t believe what folks are going through.” That’s what he tells me. He says, “Michelle, this is not right. We have got to fix this. We have so much more work to do.”
See, and I share this with everyone about my husband. See, when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. It gets a little annoying every time I think about it. (Laughter.) He might not remember your name, but if he’s had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries with him every single day –- it is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams. That is where Barack gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and that fight. And that’s why, even in the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He sees it way down there. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. (Applause.) He just keeps moving forward, day by day.
See, because the thing about your President is that he has a vision for this country. He’s got a vision. And it’s a vision that we all share.
But I have said this before; I’ve said it here in Cincinnati, I’m going to say it again: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. He cannot do this alone. He needs your help. He needs your help. (Applause.)
He needs you to make those calls, right, and get out there and register those voters. He needs you to take all those “I’m In” cards, right, sign them, get your friends to sign them — your neighbors, your colleagues. Convince more and more people to join in giving just a little part of their lives each week to this campaign, because we all know that this has never been about just one extraordinary man — never. Though I’ll admit I’m a little biased. (Laughter and applause.) But it is really about us. It’s about all of us coming together for the values that we believe in and the country we want to be.
Now, I am not going to kid you — 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’s how change always happens in this country. That’s how it always happens. The reality is that change is slow. Real change never happens all at once. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting that good fight, then eventually we get there. We always do. We always do. We always get there. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, right; maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
And in the end, that’s 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’re fighting for the world we want to leave for them. This is about them. (Applause.)
And I’m in this not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my daughters. I’m in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. Because the truth is no matter what happens, my girls are going to be okay. They’re going to be fine. They’re blessed. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for many of your kids 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 in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if she is not our daughter, even if he is not our son. It matters to us. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortunes. Because in the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story — (applause) — because in this country, we rise and we fall together. Together.
And we know that if we make the right choices and we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone — everyone gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead. That is what’s at stake.
So it is time for us to get moving, right? It is time for us to get to work. (Applause.) We don’t have time to worry and — we’ve got to move, right?
So I’ve got one final question: I need to know, Cincinnati, are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: I need to know, are you really in?
MRS. OBAMA: See, because I am so in this. I am going to work so hard over the next few months, but I need you in this and right by our side, working every step of the way. (Applause.) We need to make this happen. There is too much at stake for ourselves, for our children, and for our country.
You all, thank you so much and God bless. (Applause.)
2:03 P.M. EST