Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Chicago, Illinois

September 27, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Chicago! I'm home! (Applause.) Oh, you guys, thank you. Rest yourselves! We're at Harpo! (Applause.) Oh my goodness, let me just tell you, I'm home because I was in the back having some Italian fiesta pizza. (Applause.) And of course they put Garrett popcorn in my car. (Applause.) It's just wrong. (Laughter.) Just wrong. But it reminds me that I'm home, and I am thrilled to be here with all of you. Really, I am so thrilled. Thanks for coming. (Applause.)

I want to start by thanking a few people -- some who are still here, some had to go. I know that our dear friend, Senator Durbin, was here along with Congresswoman Schakowsky, Jan, my girl. (Applause.) Thank you all. Thanks for coming. Thank you for bringing your friends and supporters. Thank you for your leadership and service for the great state of Illinois and for our country. We are so grateful. They have just been just dear, dear friends.

And of course, I want to recognize all of our event hosts who helped to make this an oversold, over-packed, outrageously successful event today. Thank you to all our friends and supporters. Well done. Well done! (Applause.)

But most of all, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to be here today, and for being so enthusiastic. I know you all are pretty fired up and ready to go. I know that. I know that! (Applause.) And I have to tell you that I'm feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself. (Laughter.)

Because being here with all of you today is not just about being home again, but it's also about getting the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite things. I get to talk with you about the man I have loved and admired since I first met him 23 years ago. (Applause.)

See, everybody talks about how wonderful the convention speech was, but I tell people, I had good material to work with -- (laughter) -- good material. Now, what I've been sharing with people is back when I first met Barack, he had everything going for him. He was handsome -- still is. (Laughter.) He was definitely charming, talented, and as many of our friends know, very, very smart, right?

But that's not why I married him. What truly made me fall in love with my husband was his character. It was his decency and honesty, that compassion and conviction that he has always had. 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.

And I loved that Barack was so devoted to his family, especially the women in his life -- you hear that, fellas? (Laughter.) I saw the respect he had for his mother. I saw how proud he was that she put herself through school while supporting him and his sister as a single mother. I saw the tenderness he felt for his grandmother. I saw how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning and catching that bus to her job at the community bank, doing everything she could to help support his family.

And, yes, he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman. But he saw how she kept getting up, kept doing that same job year after year, without complaint, without regret.

See, with Barack, I found a real connection because in his life story, I saw so much of my own. As you all know, growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I watched my father -- (applause) -- yes, South Side! South Side! (Applause.)


MRS. OBAMA: South Side. (Laughter.) But I watched my father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant just right up the way. And I saw how he carried himself with that same dignity, that same pride in providing in his family, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of. So many of us have people like that in our lives, don't we?

Like so many families in this country, our families weren't asking for much. They didn't want much. They didn't begrudge anyone else's success, and they didn't mind if others had much more than they did. In fact, they admired it. That's why they pushed us. They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don't start out with much, 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.

And they believed that when you've worked hard and done well, and you've walked through that doorway of opportunity, you don't slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed. (Applause.)

And that's how Barack and I and so many of you were raised. Those are the values that we were taught. We learned that how hard you work matters more than how much you make. We learned that the truth matters -- so you don't take shortcuts, you don't game the system, you don't play by your own set of rules. We learned that no one gets where they are on their own, that each of us has a community of people lifting us up every day -- from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean. (Applause.)

And we were all taught, especially if you're from here, that you value everyone's contribution. You treat everyone with respect. Absolutely. (Applause.) We learned about citizenship and service -- that we're all a part of something bigger than ourselves; that with our freedoms come obligations, and with our blessings come a duty to give back to others who have less.

These are the values that make Barack -- (applause) -- oh, yes -- such an extraordinary husband to me, such a phenomenal father to our girls. But, see, Barack's values matter to me not just as a wife and as a mother, but also as a First Lady, also as a citizen who has seen up close and personal what being President really looks like, and just how critical -- how critical those values are for leading this country.

See, over the past three and a half years, I have seen how the issues that come across a President's desk, they're always the hard ones -- the decisions that aren't just about the bottom line, but they're about laying 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've seen that when it comes times to make those tough calls, when everyone's urging you to do what's easy, what polls best, what gets good headlines -- see, as President, you must be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all the people you serve. (Applause.) As President, you've got to have a strong inner compass, a core commitment to your fellow citizens. That's how you make the right decisions for this country. That's what it takes to be a leader.

And let me tell you something, since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that's exactly what we've seen in my husband. We have seen his values at work. Let me tell you, we have seen his vision unfold. We have seen the depths of his character, courage and conviction -- we've seen it.

I mean, think back to when Barack first took office. You all were there. Many of you were there with us. (Applause.) But after that wonderful Inauguration Day, our economy was on the brink of collapse. Newspapers were using words like "meltdown," "calamity;" declaring "Wall street implodes," "Economy in Shock." For years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn't afford. Their mortgages were underwater. Banks weren't lending, companies weren't hiring. The auto industry was in crisis.

And this economy -- this one -- was losing 800,000 jobs every single month. And a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression. All right, you hear me? And this is what faced Barack on day one as President. This is what awaited him. (Applause.)

But instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, your President got to work because he was thinking about folks like my dad. He was thinking about folks like his grandmother. (Applause.)

And that's why he cracked down on lending abuses, so that today, when you apply for a mortgage or a credit card, you know exactly what you're getting into. That's why he cut taxes for small businesses and for working families -- because he believes that in America, teachers and firefighters should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. Not in America. (Applause.)

He got the auto industry back on its feet -- (applause) -- and today, new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM.

And yes, while we still have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth -- a total of 5.1 million new jobs. Did you hear me -- 5.1 million new jobs under this administration -- good jobs, right here in the United States of America. That's where we are under this President.

And when it comes to the health of our families, see, 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. (Applause.) And thankfully, today, because of that reform he fought for, our parents and grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs. Our kids can stay on our insurance until they're 26 years old thanks to health reform. (Applause.)

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 like diabetes or even asthma.

And here's one that really gets me: that if you get a serious illness -- let's say breast cancer -- and you need expensive treatment, they can no longer 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 -- today. (Applause.)

And when it comes to giving our kids the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never, never could have attended college without financial aid. Never. In fact, what I shared at the convention is that our combined student monthly loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. I know there are people here who can relate to that. (Applause.)

So when it comes to student debt, see, Barack and I, we've been there. This is not a hypothetical. That is why Barack doubled funding for Pell grants. That's why he fought so hard to keep interest rates down. (Applause.) Because, fortunately, we have a President who wants all of our young people to have the skills they need for the jobs of the future -- good jobs they can raise a family on; jobs that drive our economy -- will drive it for decades to come.

And finally, when it comes to standing up for the lives of women, when it comes to standing up for our rights and responsibilities -- (applause) -- we know that my husband will always have our backs -- always. (Applause.) Because, see, Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren't treated fairly in the workplace. He knows what it means when women struggle to meet the demands of their jobs and the needs of their families. And today, believe me, 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 is why the very first bill he signed as President was to help get -- women get equal pay for equal work -- the very first thing he did as President. (Applause.) And that is why he will always, always fight to ensure that women -- that we can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care. That's what my husband stands for. (Applause.)

So when people ask you what this President has done for our country, when you're running into folks who are still deciding who is the best person to keep this country moving forward for four more years, see, here is what I want you to tell them. Just a few things. I want you to tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created. I want you to tell them about health reform that he passed. I want you to tell them about all those kids today who can finally afford college.

I want you to tell them that Barack ended the war in Iraq. Tell them how we took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how Barack fought to get veterans and military families the benefits they've earned. (Applause.)

Tell them about young immigrants brought to America through no fault of their own, who will no longer be deported from the only country they've ever called home. Tell them about that. (Applause.)

Tell them how brave men and women in uniform will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)

I could go on and on and on. But here is something else: Tell them that Barack Obama knows the American Dream because he's lived it. (Applause.) And he is fighting every day so that everyone 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've all achieved together, trust me, my husband is nowhere near satisfied. See, Barack knows that too many folks are still struggling. He knows there's plenty of work left to be done. And it's going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse. That's what President Clinton said. (Applause.)

But since he took office, let me tell you what I know for sure -- since we're here at Harpo. (Laughter.) Barack has been fighting for us. He has been struggling with us. See, and together, slowly but surely, we have been pulling ourselves out of that hole that we started in. For three and a half years, we have been moving forward and making progress, and we are beginning to see that change we all can believe in.

So we have to step back and ask ourselves, are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us into this hole in the first place?


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


MRS. OBAMA: What are we going to do? Or are we going to keep moving this country forward?

But in the end, what we have to understand is that the answer to these questions is on us. In the end, it's up to us. Because what we have to understand is that all of our hard work, all this wonderful progress that we've made, it's all on the line. It's all at stake this November. It can all be gone.

And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. That is the only guarantee you're going to get. And it could all come down to what happens in just a few key battleground states like Iowa or Wisconsin.

And I've been trying to put this in perspective for folks as I travel around, because I want you to think back to what happened in 2008. Back then, we won Iowa by about 147,000 votes, okay? So, now, that might sound like a lot, but when you break it down, that's just 87 votes per precinct in that state. Do you hear? Eighty-seven votes, all right? And if you look at North Carolina, we won that by 14,000 votes. That's just five votes per precinct.

So that could mean just a couple of votes in a neighborhood, right? That's just a couple of votes in somebody's apartment building. So if there is anyone here or anyone you know who is sitting back thinking that their vote doesn't count, that their involvement doesn't matter, that in this complex political process that ordinary folks can't possibly make a difference, I want you to think about that 87. I want you to think about that five. Just think about that.

I want you to think about how with just a few evenings on a phone bank, with just a few hours knocking on doors -- young folks, a few of you right here in this room could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama. And if we win enough precincts, we will win those battleground states. And we will win enough of those states -- we'll put Barack back in the White House for four more years. It doesn't take much. (Applause.)

Look at this room -- the power of this room. We take this energy, and from now until November, if everybody in this room and in all the rooms that I'm going to talk to between now and November the 6th, if everybody in all those rooms, every single day you work like you've never worked before -- yeah, we need you to do that. We need you to find one of our volunteers who is here today. You can start today, before you leave. They have clipboards. They will find you. (Laughter.) But look for them.

And if you haven't already done it, we need you to sign up with them. Sign up to make phone calls, because you can call into a battleground state from your own home. We need you to pack your bags, go to Iowa, go to Wisconsin. I know there are a lot of you -- there are folks here from Ohio today. That's another battleground state. We need you to go to those states and help get the vote out. (Applause.)


MRS. OBAMA: Go, Buckeyes. (Laughter.)

And more importantly, we want you to talk to everyone you know. Don't underestimate that. Talk to your friends, your neighbors, that nephew you haven't seen in a while. You know he's not registered. (Laughter.) That high school classmate you haven't spoken to in years -- talk to him. You never know the power of a good conversation, what that can do. Tell them what's at stake.

Remind them of all these things that this President has accomplished in such a short period of time. Make sure they're registered. Don't assume. People have to be registered to vote, especially if they've just moved. Or maybe they're a student away at college -- any students, parents of students, are they registered? Did they change their address? What are they doing? Are they awake? Go find them. Talk to them. (Laughter.) Make sure they're ready.

And for young people who have never voted before, anyone who has never voted before, you've got to register. You can't just show up on Election Day and go, I'm ready! Fired up! They will send you home. (Laughter.)

And once folks are registered and you've done that work, you've had those conversations, then make sure they get to the polls on November the 6th. Make sure they cast their ballot on Election Day. And if they don't know where to go, as you were told, or what to do, just send them to one of the many websites -- gottaregister.com, gottavote.com. Very easy -- those sites work. Have young people get on those -- click, they register early, they vote early; they do everything on a computer now. That's where they can find everything they need to make their voices heard on November the 6th.

And I'm going to be honest. I always am. I try to be honest with you, don't I? (Applause.) We don't take anything for granted. This journey is going to be hard, and these next days are going to be long. Oh, gosh, 41 [40] days is just ticking by. (Laughter.)

But here's the thing. As you work, and when you get tired -- and you will; when you start to think about taking some time off -- and you will, I just want you to remember that what we do for the next 40 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up on November the 7th, the day after Election Day, and wondering, "Could I have done more?", or feeling the promise of four more years. That's the difference. (Applause.)

So from now until the November the 6th, we need you to keep on working and struggling and pushing forward, because here is the thing -- that is how change always happens in this country. I say that everywhere I go. I remind people that's how change always happens. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right -- see, the thing is, especially for our young people to understand, we eventually get there. We always do. In this country, we have always moved forward. Always. (Applause.) But here's the trick: Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children's lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren's lifetimes.

Because in the end, that's what this is about. Let us not forget that is what elections are always about. Don't let anyone tell you any differently. Elections are always about hope. (Applause.)

It's like the hope I saw on my dad's face as I crossed that stage to get my college diploma. The hope of Barack's grandmother that she felt when she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised. (Applause.) The hope of all those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift for us, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could have something a little more. The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the eyes of our children and our grandchildren.

That is why all of us are here today -- because we are doing this for our kids. We want all of our kids to have a foundation for their dream. (Applause.) We want to give all our kids opportunities worthy of their promise, because every single one of our children in this country, they're worthy. We want to give our kids that sense of limitless possibility -- that belief that here in the greatest country on the planet, there is always something better out there if you're willing to work for it.

So here's what I tell myself when I get tired: We cannot turn back now. Not now. We have come so far, but we have so much more work to do.

So are you all ready for this? (Applause.) Are you all fired up? (Applause.) Are you all ready to go? (Applause.) Are you ready to roll up your sleeves and get on the phone? Shake that nephew? Get folks registered to vote? I'm going to be working every single day until November the 6th. I need you all with us every step of the way.

Thank you all. Love you so much. God bless you. Let's get it done. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320448

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