Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

October 16, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello, Tar Heels! (Applause.) It is good to be back in North Carolina. Thank you! What a thrill! You guys look great! Thank you for being here today. (Applause.)

I want to start by thanking Lindsey for that very kind introduction, and for everything that she's doing for our campaign. Let's give Lindsey a round of applause. (Applause.)

And I also want to take a moment just to note the passing of William Friday, a man whose visionary leadership of this university system was an inspiration to all of us who believe that education is the key to a brighter future. (Applause.) Chancellor Friday was a courageous reformer who transformed North Carolina's public universities into a model for our country. And we are so grateful for his service to this state. So we want to give him a round of applause. (Applause.)

And we have a few notable people -- many notable people, but a few that I will recognize specifically. Former Governor Hunt is here today. (Applause.) As well as your Chancellor, Chancellor Thorpe, and his wife Patti -- (applause.) Patti is a great First Lady. She doesn't play. (Laughter.) She got a lot of stuff done backstage. (Laughter.)

And of course, I want to give a big shout-out to Delta Rae that performed. (Applause.) Yes! Although, as I tell everybody, I never get to see the performances. They never let us have fun. So I know they were awesome, weren't they? That's what I heard. (Applause.)

But most of all, I want to thank all of you, especially our students, for being here today. It's so good to see you. (Applause.) I love to see that you all are so fired up and ready to go! That's a good thing! (Applause.) And if you can't tell, I'm feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself -- because yesterday I cast my ballot early for Barack Obama. (Applause.) I voted for my husband yesterday. (Applause.) So that means that right now we are one vote closer to reelecting my husband and moving this country forward for four more years. (Applause.)

And I also like being here with you guys because I get to do one of my favorite things, and that's talk about the man that I have loved and admired for the 23 years that I have known him. (Applause.) Yes, my honey. I haven't seen him in a while -- I'm going to see him tonight. We got plans tonight. (Applause.)

Now, as many of you know, my husband, your President, he is handsome. (Applause.) And as one senior -- at one of my events yesterday, she pointed out, she said, "No, honey, he's fine." (Laughter.) I was like, okay, whatever you want to say. But he is charming and incredibly smart.

But especially young people, I want you to realize -- ladies -- that is not why I married him. Good reasons, but that is not why I married him. What truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama was what we see in him every day -- is his character. His heart, his decency and honesty. Truly, it is his compassion and conviction. (Applause.)

So to the fellas out there, I want you to pay attention, all right? Because, see, this is really what women -- we women really want. We want somebody who's committed. I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs, and instead started his career fighting to get folks back to work in struggling communities. I loved that about him. (Applause.)

And, gentlemen, here's the big one -- I loved that Barack was so devoted to his family -- especially the women in his life. (Applause.) I saw the respect he had for his mother. And I saw how proud he was that she put herself through school while still supporting him and his sister as a single mom.

And I definitely saw the tenderness that he felt for his own grandmother and how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning to catch that bus to her job at the community bank. And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman. But he also saw how she kept getting up every day, doing that same job year after year, without complaint and without regret.

See, with Barack, I found a real connection because in his story I saw so much of my own. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I watched my own father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant. I saw how my father carried himself with that same dignity, that same pride you feel when you can support your family; that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of. Now, how many people here have folks like that in their lives? Yes? (Applause.)

And after this, I want a lot of our students -- you call home. You call home.

But like so many families in this country, our families, they just weren't asking for much. They didn't want much. They didn't begrudge anyone else's success. They didn't mind if others had much more than they did -- in fact, they admired it. And that's why they pushed us to be the very best that we could be. But they did believe in that fundamental American promise that even if you don't start out with much, here in America, if you work hard and 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 grandkids. (Applause.) That's what they believed.

And they also believed that when you worked hard and you've done well, and you finally walk through that doorway of opportunity, you don't slam it shut behind you. (Applause.) You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed. (Applause.) Yes. That is how Barack and I, and I know how so many of you were raised. Those are the values that we were taught growing up.

And more than anything else, for me, that's what this election is all about. It's a choice about our values and our hopes and our aspirations. It's a choice about the America we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids. (Applause.)

And what does that America look like? We believe in an America where every child, no matter where they're born or how much money their parents have, every child should have good schools that push them and inspire them and prepare you for jobs of the future. (Applause.)

We believe in an America where no one goes broke because someone gets sick -- (applause) -- where no one loses their home because someone has lost a job. We believe in an America where we all understand that none of us gets where we are on our own; that each of us, we're lifted up by a community of people; 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're building, when one of us stumbles, when one of us falls on tough times, we don't tell them, tough luck, you're on your own. Instead, no, we extend a helping hand until they can get back on their feet. That's the America we're talking about. (Applause.)

We believe that the truth matters, that you don't take shortcuts or game the system. (Applause.) You don't play by your own set of rules. Instead, we reward success that's earned fair and square.

And finally, we believe in keeping our priorities straight, because we know good and well that cutting Sesame Street is no way to balance our budget. (Applause.) Shortchanging our kids, shortchanging our young people is not how we tackle the deficit. We know that if we truly want to build opportunities for all Americans in this country, yes, we need to cut wasteful spending, but we also need to make smart investments -- in education, in infrastructure -- to build an economy that is built to last.

That is what my husband stands for. (Applause.) That is the country that Barack Obama is working to build. Those are the values that guide him. And over the past three and a half years, as First Lady, let me tell you, I have seen up close and personal what being President really looks like and I have seen how important those values are for leading this country. I've seen how the issues that come across a President's desk, let me tell you, they are always the hard ones -- the decisions that aren't just about the bottom line, but they're about building a foundation for the next generation. And I've seen how important it is to have a President who doesn't just tell us what we want to hear, but who tells us the truth, even when it's hard -- especially when it's hard. (Applause.)

And I have seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls, and everyone is urging you to do what's easy, what polls best, what gets good headlines -- as President, you have to be driven by the struggles, hopes, and dreams of all of the people you serve. That is how you make the right decisions for this country. That's what it takes to be a leader. (Applause.)

And since the day he took office, your President, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that's what we've seen in my husband. We have seen his values at work. We have truly seen his vision unfold. We've seen the depths of his character, courage and his conviction.

Let's just go back to when Barack first took office. This economy was on the brink of collapse. Now, some may not remember -- these aren't my words: Newspapers were using words like "meltdown," "calamity," declaring "Wall Street Implodes," "Economy in Shock." See, how did we get here? For years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn't afford, so their mortgages were underwater. Banks weren't lending. Companies weren't hiring. The auto industry was in crisis. This economy was losing an average of 800,000 jobs a month. And a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression.

See, that's what Barack faced on day one as President. He inherited an economy in rapid decline. (Applause.) But let me tell you, instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, Barack got to work. See, because he was thinking about folks like my dad and 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 shouldn't pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. (Applause.)

And that is why, while some folks, if you'll recall, were willing to let the auto industry go under, with more than a million jobs that would have been lost -- do you hear me -- see, Barack had the backs of American workers. He fought hard to protect jobs for American families. (Applause.) And that is why today, the auto industry is back, and new cars are rolling off the line at companies like GM.

And yes, while we still have a long way to go to completely rebuild our economy, there are more and more signs every day that we're headed in the right direction. The stock market has doubled. Exports have grown by 45 percent. (Applause.) Listen up. There are a lot of signs. Manufacturers have added 500,000 jobs. We've had 31 straight months of job growth under this President -- 5.2 million jobs right here in the United States of America. (Applause.) Those are the facts.

So in addition to being a job creator, your President has gotten a few other things done -- because, see, when you're President you have to multitask. (Laughter.) So while he was creating jobs, he was also focused on improving access to health care for millions of Americans. (Applause.) And another thing I love about my husband -- Barack didn't care whether health reform was the easy thing to do politically, because that's not who he is. He cared that it was the right thing to do.

Because he was thinking about all of the folks he was meeting all over this country -- the woman diagnosed with breast cancer who couldn't find insurance to cover her care; the young people who couldn't afford insurance after they graduated; the parents who couldn't get lifesaving treatment for their children because one of them lost a job.

And today, because of health reform -- because he fought so hard for us -- today, young people like all of you can stay on your parent's insurance until you're 26 years old because of that fight. (Applause.) Because your President stood up for us, insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care -- things like contraception, cancer screenings -- with no out-of-pocket cost. (Applause.) They won't be able to discriminate against you because you have a preexisting condition -- let's say, diabetes or asthma. That won't keep you off insurance.

And here's the one I always quote, which really still gets to me. Now, because of health care, if you get a serious illness -- let's say, a life-threatening cancer -- and you need real expensive treatment, no longer can your insurance company 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.)

Now, when it comes to giving our young people the education you all deserve, Barack knows, like me and like so many of you, there is no way we ever could have attended college without financial aid. Without financial aid, we wouldn't be here. We didn't have wealthy parents. We didn't have grants. We needed financial aid. And in fact, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. So when it comes to student debt, believe me, Barack and I, we've been there. This is not a hypothetical. And that is why Barack fought so hard to double funding for Pell grants and keep interest rates low. (Applause.) Because, fortunately, we have a President who wants all of our young people to be prepared for the good jobs of the future. All of you deserve that chance.

And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women, when it comes to standing up for our rights and our opportunities, believe me, my husband will always have our backs, ladies -- always. (Applause.) And this is because Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren't treated fairly in the workplace. And believe me, today, as a father, he knows what it means to want our daughters to have the same freedoms and opportunities as our sons. (Applause.)

And that's why the very first bill he signed into law, the very first thing he did as President was to make sure women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And that is why he will always, always fight to ensure that we as women can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care. That's what my husband stands for. (Applause.)

So here's the thing. We have 21 more days left, and I know you all are going to be out there talking to folks. So when people ask you what this President has done for our country, when you run across people that are wondering which of these candidates will help keep this country moving forward, here's a few things you can tell them. And we don't have all day, so I'm going to just rattle off a few things. (Laughter.)

You can start by telling them about the millions of jobs this President has created. Tell them about all of the kids in this country who today can finally afford college. Tell them about the millions of lives that will be changed because of health reform. (Applause.)

Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq. (Applause.) Remind them how together we took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Make sure they know this President has been fighting to get veterans and military families the benefits they've earned. (Applause.) You tell them.

Tell them about all of the young immigrants in this country who will no longer live in fear of being deported from the only country they've ever called home. (Applause.) Tell them how our brave servicemembers will never have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)

Look, I could go on and on and on. But here's what I think is the most important thing to remind people. You tell them that Barack Obama knows the American Dream because he's lived it, and he is fighting every day so that every one of us 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. (Applause.)

But let's be clear. While he is very proud of what we have all achieved together -- because he knows he hasn't done it without you -- my husband is nowhere near satisfied. Barack, of all people, knows that there are still too many people hurting. He knows that there's plenty of work left to be done. And as President Clinton reminded us, it is going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse. (Applause.)

But here's what I know and what I think about every day. Thankfully, in Barack, we have a leader with a deep and unyielding faith in the American people; a leader who understands that this country was built by men and women like all of us, like your parents, who wake up every day and work hard for their families without complaint and without regret. And as President, that is what my husband has been fighting for. As President, he's been fighting for you. (Applause.) That I know.

And slowly but surely, together we have been pulling ourselves out of the hole that we started in, and we are steadily moving this country forward and making real change. So here's what we have to ask ourselves: Are we going to turn around? Are we going to turn around and go back to the exact same policies that got us into this mess in the first place?


MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to sit back and watch everything that we worked for and fought for just slip away?


MRS. OBAMA: What are we going to do? Or are we going to work hard for the next 21 days to keep this country moving forward? (Applause.) It's about forward.

But here's the thing. In the end, the answers to these questions, it's on us now. It's up to us. Because, believe me, all of our hard work, all of the progress that we've made, it is all on the line in a very serious way. Do you understand me? It is all at stake this November. And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. That is the only guarantee. And it could all come down to what happens in a few key states -- like right here in North Carolina. Right here. (Applause.)

So let's think about the strategy. Now, back when -- in 2008, let's see what happened. Barack won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes. And see, we got our guys here -- they know all the statistics. But when you break that number down across precincts, do you know how many the vote margin is by precinct? It's five. Five votes. Five votes in every precinct.

That's pretty amazing. See, because that could mean just one vote in your neighborhood, just a single vote in an apartment building or a college dorm room, somebody who sits next to you in a cafeteria.

So here's the thing especially for our young people: If there is anyone here who is thinking somehow that their vote doesn't matter in any election, that their involvement doesn't count, if you know anybody like that who is thinking that in this complex political process that ordinary folks can't possibly make a difference -- I just want you to think about and remind them about those five votes right here in North Carolina.

And I want you to think about how, with just a few more evenings on a phone bank really, just a few more weekends knocking on doors, just one of you here today, just one person here today could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama. And if we win enough precincts, we will win this state. (Applause.) And if we win this state, we'll be well on our way to putting Barack Obama back in the White House for four more years. (Applause.)

It can all happen with you all right here in this auditorium. So for the next 21 days, truly, we're going to need you all to work like you've never worked before -- 21, that's nothing. Sign up with one of our volunteers here today to make phone calls, to knock on doors. Sign up, but more importantly, talk to everyone you know -- your friends, your neighbors, that cousin you haven't seen in a while, that classmate you know is not going to wake up on time to vote. (Laughter.) You know who I'm talking about. (Laughter.) And I hope none of them are here. (Laughter.) But I'm talking to you right now.

But talk to everyone you know. Tell them what's at stake, particularly for our students here. Because I have met so many young people over the last three and a half years who've said to me, my grandparents and parents weren't going to vote for Barack in 2008, but because I talked to them about what this election means to me and my future, they changed their minds. That is the power that each of you has. (Applause.) You have that power.

And you can just send people -- tell them that they don't have to wait until November the 6th to cast their ballots. Like me, you can vote early here in North Carolina. And in states all across this country voting has already begun. And I cast my vote for Barack Obama, yes -- (applause.) And one of the reasons I voted early is that I wanted to be able to spend Election Day helping to get the vote out. That's what I'm going to be doing.

So I hope that all of you will vote early as well, either by mail or in person in your community. Here in North Carolina, early voting starts this Thursday, October the 18th. (Applause.) It goes through the 3rd of November. And you can go to Vote.BarackObama.com to find your closest early voting site. And if you know anyone who doesn't vote early, make sure that they get to the polls and make their voices heard on Election Day.

Can we do this?

AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA: Yes, I think we can. I think we can do this. But here's the thing. I'm going to be honest with you. This journey is going to be hard and there will be plenty of ups and downs over this next 21 days, all right, so you have to be prepared for that. I've gotten used to ups and downs. But here's what I want you to do. When you start to get tired -- and I know that you will -- when you start to think about taking a day off, I want you to remember that what we do for the next 21 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up the day after Election Day and wondering, could I have done more -- or feeling the promise of four more years.

So from now until November the 6th, we need you to keep working and struggling and pushing, because that is how change always happens in this country. All our Tar Heels, all our students here, that's what I want you to know. We know from our history that change is hard, and it requires massive amounts of patience and tenacity. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight -- and this goes for anything you all do in life -- anything you do in life -- if you do what in your hearts you know is right, then eventually as a country we get there. We get where we're supposed to be. We always do.

So I don't want you all to ever let anyone talk down your dreams and aspirations -- never, never let that happen. Don't let anyone talk down our country or our future. (Applause.) You all have every reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead, because here in America, we always move forward. We always make progress. We never go backwards. We never have.

And in the end, that's what this is about. That's what elections are always about. Don't let anybody tell you any differently. Elections are always about hope. It's the hope that I saw in my father's face as he watched me walk across that stage to get my college diploma -- that's the kind of hope I'm talking about. The hope that Barack's grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised -- that's the kind of hope.

The hope of all those men and women in all of our lives who worked that extra shift for us, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could be the very best is why we're here. The hope of so many of us when we look into the eyes of our children and our grandchildren -- (applause) -- that's what I'm talking about. That is why we're here.

See, because deep down, we are fighting so that all of our kids can have a foundation for their dreams. We are fighting so that we can give all of our children opportunities worthy of their promise -- because we know good and well that every child in this country is worthy. (Applause.) We want to give our kids that sense of limitless possibility -- (applause) -- that 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. That is the America we're fighting for.

So, see, what I tell myself is that we will not turn back now -- not now. We have come so far. (Applause.) But we have so much more work to do. So here's my last question: Are you read for this?

AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA: Twenty-one days. Are you ready for this? (Applause.) Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and work like you've never worked before? Five votes, five votes -- that's what we need from you between now and November the 6th. Get to work.

Thank you all. Love you. God bless. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Chapel Hill, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320415

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