Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a 2012 Democratic National Committee Dinner

October 11, 2011

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all. Please rest yourselves. (Applause.) Good evening. It is a pleasure and it is an honor to be here with all of you.

Tonight I want to start by thanking David for that very kind introduction. Now, just to put a little context around Bishop Tutu, I begged him not to do pushups. (Laughter.) Because we were supposed to do this clinic with these kids, and I was -- because I was walking around with him -- I said, I'm not going -- you know me, I'm jumping and running. I said, Bishop Tutu -- he's 85 or -- but you think, no, no, they want you to get in there, and I'm going to do it. I begged the man. And I said, this is just what I need, for Bishop Tutu to have a heart attack with me doing -- (laughter) -- so we dodged that bullet there and we had a wonderful time. (Laughter.)

So, David, thank you. And I want to thank Kathleen as well, and your wonderful family -- handsome, gorgeous, smart, accomplished. Well done. I'm hoping to be where you are in a few years. Thank you all so much. (Applause.) And I know you got the rest of your crew here. Thank you for opening up your home. (Applause.)

And I always have to acknowledge, although she's -- now she hides from me I see her so much -- is Jane Stetson, our outstanding DNC finance chair. We see each other so often. (Applause.) Jane, you do not have to hide from me. I'm really happy to see you. (Laughter.)

And also to Leslie Scott, Lesley and Gary -- you guys, thank you for all the hard work that you did on the host committee, pulling this event together.

And finally, I want to thank all of you for taking your time -- is it Tuesday? -- on a Tuesday night. (Laughter.) It's hard to keep track, but it's Tuesday night. Thank you for taking the time to come to this event.

I am thrilled to see so many new faces, but I'm also thrilled to see so many old friends, folks who have been with us from the very beginning, from all of the ups and downs, the twists and turns along the way -- and there have been many. And I know there's a reason why you all are here tonight.

You're here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. You're here because you know that in just 13 months, we're going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And you're here because you care about your fellow citizens, and you care about our kids and our grandkids, and the world that we're leaving behind for them.

And believe me, that's why I'm here tonight. That's why Grandma is at home with Malia and Sasha -- because my husband is out of town, you may have read. (Laughter.)

But I wouldn't be anywhere else. And I will be working hard for the next 13 months. Because as First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling this beautiful, gracious country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds, and hearing what's going on in their lives. Every day, I hear about the businesses they're trying to keep afloat. I hear about the doctor bills they can no longer afford, or the mortgage they can't pay. I hear about how they're taking that extra shift, or taking on that extra job. How people in this country are saving and sacrificing, rarely spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.

And make no mistake about it, these struggles aren't new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The cost for things like gas, groceries, tuition, have been continuously rising, but people's paychecks just haven't kept pace. So when the economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom just fell out. And the question today is, what are we as a country going to do about all of this? Where do we go from here?

And I know that amidst all of the chatter and the debates, it can be hard to see clearly what's really at stake. These issues are complicated. And unfortunately, folks' lives are busy -- we're raising our families, we're working full-time, many of us are helping out in our communities. And many of us just don't have time to follow the news like we should, and to sort through all of the back-and-forth and figure out how it all connects to our daily lives.

But the fact is that in just a little over a year from now, we are going to make a decision between two very different visions of this country. And I'm here because when it comes to just about every single issue -- from our health to our economic security, to the quality of our schools -- the stakes for our families and for our country have never been higher.

Let's just start with the American Jobs Act that my husband just sent to Congress. We have to understand that when we talk about this bill -- this bill will give tax cuts to 6 million small business owners. We're talking about the people who run the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds -- two-thirds -- of all jobs in this economy just this year. What we're talking about, people who work themselves to the bone every day, then they head home at night, pore over the books trying to make those numbers add up. We're talking about a tax cut that could mean the difference from these folks providing for their families or not; between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; between keeping their doors open or closing up shop for good. That's what's at stake here.

We talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for 6 million Americans. We are talking about folks who are just weeks away from losing their only source of income. So this is literally about whether or not millions of our families and our children will have food on their tables, a roof over their heads. It's about whether folks will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs.

But more importantly, it's about whether we as a country will honor the fundamental promise that we made generations ago, that when times are hard, we do not abandon our fellow citizens. We don't do that. That's not who we are. (Applause.) We do not let everything fall apart for struggling families. Instead, what we say is, there but for the grace of God goes my family. Instead, we remember that we are all in this together, and we extend a helping hand. That is the choice in this election.

And how about 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. He did this because, as he put it, we believe that here in America there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. And he did it because he understands that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, women's success in this economy is the key to families' success in this economy. You can't separate the two. (Applause.)

So closing that gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money to buy gas and groceries, and to put school clothes on the backs of their kids. That is the choice that we're making in this election.

And let's just talk for a minute about health care. Last year -- just last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. We did that. (Applause.) But now, there are folks out there talking about repealing this reform. And today, we need to ask ourselves, are we going to just let that happen? Will we let insurance companies deny us coverage because we have preexisting conditions, things like breast cancer, or diabetes? Or will we stand up and say that, in this country, we won't allow our neighbors to go bankrupt because they get sick? Who are we? Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventative care, things like cancer screenings, prenatal care; things that save money, but more importantly save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives? Will we stand up for the lives of our children and our -- the people that we love? That is what's at stake. That is the choice in this election.

And think for a minute about what this administration has done on education. Think about the investments that have been made to raise standards and reform our public schools. This is about nothing less than the circumstances, improving those for millions of children in our country. Kids that we know today are sitting in crumbling classrooms. Kids that we know have so much promise -- as much as our own kids -- who deserve so much, if only we would give them a chance.

Think about how we've tripled investments for job training at community colleges just this year alone. It's about millions of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills that they need for a better job, better wages. Folks willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives. That's what we ask of them. These are folks working full-time, they're raising their kids, but they still make it to class every evening, study late into the night because they desperately want something better for their families.

And make no mistake about it, this kind of investment in our kids, our students, our workers, will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. It will determine whether we're prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industry that will let us compete with any country, anywhere in the world. That's what's at stake.

And let's not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices, and for the first time in history -- (applause) -- our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation's highest court. Let's not forget the impact of those decisions, what that will have, how that will affect our lives for decades to come -- on our privacy and our security, on whether we speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose -- that is what's at stake. (Applause.)

And think about how this administration is finally bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan -- (applause) -- and we are helping those men and women, and their families, get the education, the employment, the benefits that they've earned. And let's not forget how, because my husband finally 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. Never again. (Applause.)

And think about how we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. And think about what it finally means to have a foreign policy where we work to keep our country safe, yes, but also to restore our standing in the world. That is what's at stake in this election.

So make no mistake about it, whether it's health care or the economy, education, foreign policy -- the choice we make in this election will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but more importantly who do we want to be. Will we be a country that tells folks who have done everything right but who are struggling a little bit that, tough luck, you're on your own? I mean, who are we?

Or will we honor that fundamental American principle that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, and if one of us is hurting, then all of us are hurting? Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? Or will we give every child a chance to succeed no matter where she is from or what she looks like or how much her parents make? Who are we?

Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built our thriving middle class? Or can we rebuild our economy so that work pays over the long term and responsibility is rewarded, and everyone gets a fair shake and everyone does their fair share. Who are we? I mean, that is the choice we face. Those are the stakes, nothing less.

But believe me, your President knows this. 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 when she needed help, his grandmother stepped in, waking up every morning before dawn to take a bus to her job at the bank. His grandmother worked hard and she was good at what she did. But he watched how for nearly two decades she was passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She watched men no more qualified than she was, men she actually trained, climb the corporate ladder ahead of her. 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. And he knows all too well how, as a father, what it means to want your children to grow up with no limits on their dreams.

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.)

But that's what I hear in his voice when he returns home after a long day traveling around the country and he tells me about the people he has met. That's what I see in those quiet moments late at night after the girls have long gone to bed and he is still up, poring over briefings and the letters people have sent him -- the letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won't cover her care; the letter from the father struggling to keep his family afloat and pay the bills; the letter from the young person with so much promise but so few opportunities.

And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. You won't believe what folks are going through -- that's what he tells me. He says, "Michelle, this is not right. We know better. We've got to fix this. We have so much more work to do." See, what you have to know about your President is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. He might not remember your name, but if he has had a few minutes with you and a decent conversation, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart, and that is what he carries with him every day. It is our collection of hopes and struggles, and our dreams. That is where he gets his passion and his patience, his toughness and his fight.

And that is why even in the hardest moments when it seems like all is lost and we're all sweating it, believe me, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward.

But I have said this before. I said this in the last election. He cannot do this alone. No one man can. I know I said that. He needs your help. He needs you to keep working, to keep up the terrific effort that you've put forth so far. He needs you to do the hard stuff, making the calls and registering voters, getting young people involved. He needs you to take those "I'm In" cards that I hope you all have and have already filled out and sign up -- they're waving -- there they are. (Laughter.)

But we need you not just to sign up, but to sign up your friends and your neighbors and your colleagues. That's how we did it before. Convince them that joining in this effort and investing just a little part of their lives each week to this campaign will mean the world of difference for our country and our children.

But I'm not going to kid you, the next phase of this journey is going to be long and it is going to be hard. And there will be so many twists and turns and frustrations along the way. But the truth is that's how change always happens in this country. The reality is that change, real change is slow and it certainly doesn't happen all at once.

But what we have to remember is that if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep doing what we know is right, then we always get there. We always have. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children's lifetimes and our grandchildren's lifetimes. Because in the end that's what this is all about. In the end, we're not fighting these battles for ourselves. We are fighting them for our sons and our daughters, for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We're fighting for the world that we want to leave for them.

And I'm not just in this as a mother who desperately wants to leave a legacy for my girls. I'm in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. (Applause.) That's for sure. Because I have to be honest with you that no matter what happens in this election, my girls will be okay. My girls are blessed. They will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives, and we are grateful every day for that. And I know that is probably true for your kids and grandkids as well.

But I think the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack Obama has always said, that if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us. Even if he is not our daughter, even if she is not our son -- the other way around -- (laughter.) If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family's good fortune, because that's not what we do in this country. That is simply not who we are.

In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story. And like it or not, we are all in this together. And that is a good thing. And we know that here in America, we can shape our own destiny. We know that if we make the right choices and have the right priorities, then we can ensure that everyone -- everyone -- in this country gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead.

So we simply don't have time for complacency. We can't afford to be tired or frustrated. We don't have the time. It's time for us to get to work. So I have one last question before I go home to my children: Are you in? (Applause.) Are you all really ready to work? (Applause.) Do you believe that this is worth fighting for? Do you believe, as I do, that the stakes are much too high to sit back with our arms folded and let things fall as they may?

And if you do, I guarantee you Barack and I are more than fired up, more than ready to go -- more than willing to do the work.

We look forward to you joining us in this effort. Thank you all so much again. Thank you. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a 2012 Democratic National Committee Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320552

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