Well, I can follow a lawyer, but following a poet—[laughter]—that's hard.
I'm so grateful to Chaka and Tracey and their beautiful daughters for opening up this great home. I want to acknowledge somebody who is doing outstanding work on behalf of Illinois families every single day, your Governor, Pat Quinn, who's here today. Good job, Pat.
It's nice to be back on the South Side. For some reason, they didn't—whoever organized this didn't understand the geography of Chicago, because—[laughter]—we came south, now I'm going to have to go back north. [Laughter] And then I go home back south. [Laughter] See, we could have just kept on going. [Laughter] But it's good to be home, and it's good to see so many good friends, and I appreciate all the new ones.
It is true Chaka and I have know each other for a long time. The first time we met, he was still a young up-and-comer. Now he's a big ship—[laughter]—now he's a big ship in the deep ocean, so—[laughter]. But not only has he not gotten any gray hair—whereas I have—[laughter]—but he hasn't changed in terms of his graciousness and his character. And so we're just really appreciative of the friendship that we had.
Usually in intimate settings like this, I don't like to give a long speech. I'd rather have a conversation with everybody, have a chance to answer questions, take comments. So let me just say a few things at the top.
First of all, obviously, we've gone through an extraordinary time over the last 4 years, worst financial crisis since the Great Depression: a worldwide contraction, the locking up of the financial markets, businesses—even blue-chip companies—not being able to finance themselves, consumers getting hammered, the housing market crashing. And so we had to make a series of decisions very quickly at the beginning of my administration.
And we, for the most part, made the right decisions. They weren't always popular, but because of those decisions, the auto industry came roaring back. Because of those decisions, suddenly, credit started flowing again. Because of those decisions, we were out there exporting goods once again all around the world. Because of those decisions, the ship was righted and we started growing again and started producing jobs again. And we've now seen over 4 million jobs created over the last couple of years, and we've seen, just in the last 6 months alone, over 800,000 jobs created. Strongest manufacturing job growth since the 1990s.
And so there's a sense, even with a disappointing jobs report today because of what's happening in Europe—and we're now a global economy; it's integrated. So when something happens across the Atlantic or across the Pacific, it gives us a shock. Despite all that, though, we're moving in the right direction. But we're not moving as fast as we could be. And more importantly, the reason I ran, and the reason a lot of you support me, wasn't just to get back to the status quo, it was to address the underlying challenges that had prevented us from creating an economy that, on a sustained basis, is providing security and hope and promise for people who were willing to work hard: middle class families who want to live out that dream of being able to buy a home and raise a family and send their kids to college and make sure that they're doing even better than their—than they were.
And that's the reason why, even as we've done all this work to try to get the economy moving in the right direction—in fits and starts, as frustrating as it sometimes has been—what we've also tried to do is think about the future: Where are we going? And that's the reason why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars and doubled the production of clean energy, even as we were increasing the production of oil and gas, because we want to make sure that we've got control of our energy future. That's going to be critical to our success.
That's the reason we decided to double exports, because we don't want to just be a country that consumes things, we want to be a country that sells things.
That's the reason why we invested so heavily in education reform. And some great work's being done in Illinois. But all across the country, over 40 States have engaged in some unprecedented reforms looking for results. And that's the reason why we made college more accessible by greatly increasing the access to student loans and Pell grants, making sure that young people have the ability to train themselves for the skills they need for the 21st century.
That's the reason why we did health care reform, because not only was health care killing families, but it was also just the biggest single factor in driving our deficits and a huge strain on American businesses that were making us less competitive. And so I could not be prouder of the fact that 30 million people are going to have access to health care who didn't have it before. And young people already are able to stay on their parent's plan. And seniors are seeing discounts for their prescription drugs that are making a difference in their quality of life.
And on the international scene, because, as I said, we don't live—just to continue the nautical theme—[laughter]—no country is an island. [Laughter] Well, some countries are islands, but we're not. [Laughter] The world's interconnected. And so we had a goal of righting the ship of foreign policy, regaining respect around the world, strengthening our alliances, ending the war in Iraq, phasing down the war in Afghanistan, going after Al Qaida in a way that was smart so that not only did we get bin Laden, but also we've weakened Al Qaida to the point where it's much more difficult for them to threaten our homeland or our allies.
So that's a lot of work for a relatively short period of time. But we've got so much more work to do. And that's where we're going to need your help. This is going to be a close election; it's going to be a tight election. I'm absolutely confident that the agenda we have to further expand clean energy and to invest in science and technology, in balancing our deficits and reducing our debt in a balanced way, in making sure that we keep Wall Street reform that will prevent the kinds of shenanigans that got us into this mess in the first place, and making sure that we maintain health care reform that is providing, for example, preventive care for women—I want to make sure that stays in place, that we're implementing it effectively, because that's going to be part of how we create an economy that lasts for everybody, not just for a few.
But in order to do it, we're going have to want it; we're going to have to fight for it. And we proved in 2008 that when people come together, they can't be stopped. That's what we're going to do in 2012 as well.
So thank you very much, everybody.