Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Los Angeles, California

August 12, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Well, what do you say after that? (Laughter.) I am deeply honored and moved to be here. I always am. Coming to Los Angeles is always a refreshing experience because the love and support and the sophistication around the issues and the passion always gives both me and Barack an important boost.

I want to start by thanking Barry and Wendy not just for their very smart and in-depth and gracious introductions, but for the role that they play not just in politics but in the world, in life, and for taking time out to host us here in their beautiful home. And I want to thank their family as well. (Applause.)

And of course, I want to thank all of you, again, for braving whatever the highway is that's really bad. (Laughter.) We didn't have as many problems. We always find that traffic here in L.A. is fine. (Laughter.) I don't know whether the motorcade thing helps, but I don't get it. (Laughter.) But I know you all -- it takes a lot to take time out of your busy lives to be here. So it means a lot when you walk away from your jobs and careers, take a step back, those of us that are -- those of you out there that are in school, and have families to deal with. It means a lot that you take time to be here and to support us.

But, as Barry said, there's also a deeper reason why all of us are here today, and it's not just because we support what I know in my heart -- and I said this before -- Barack was going to be one of the best Presidents we'd ever seen, and I think he's living up to that every single day. Every single day. (Applause.) And I might be a little biased -- (laughter) -- but I'm not crazy either. We're going to make sure he -- we win this election, and that's another reason why we're here. But it's not the only reason why we're here. We're going to do that again.

We're here -- and Barry stated so eloquently, but I will reinforce it -- we are here because of the values we believe in. This election is about our values. We're doing this because of the vision for this country that we all share. And we have to remember that this is about values and vision. We're doing this because we believe that everyone in this country should have a fait shot, and that means that all of our kids -- not just a select few, the lucky few -- all of our kids should have great schools to attend. They should be able to go to college without a mountain of debt. We believe that everyone in this country should do their fair share -- as Barry said, that means that teachers and firefighters should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. Not in America. (Applause.) And we all believe in hard work, but we believe that if you work hard, you shouldn't go bankrupt because someone in your family gets sick. You shouldn't lose your home because somebody is down on their luck and they've lost a job. And after a lifetime of hard work, you should be able to retire with some dignity and security in this country.

And what I remind people everywhere we go: These are basic American values. This isn't anything new. This is the foundation upon which this country was built, and they're the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. And what I spend a lot of time doing is sharing my background, because I'm proud of how I was raised. My father, as you know, he was a pump operator at the city water plant. It was the only job he had his entire life. And neither of my parents had the chance to get a college degree. But one of the things they and so many parents do, they saved and sacrificed and poured every little bit of anything they had into me and my brother so that we could get the kind of education they could only dream of.

And education was everything in our family. Quite frankly, that was our ticket to the middle class. It was our pathway to the American Dream. And when my brother and I finally made it to college, like so many young people, most of our tuition came from student loans and grants. But my dad still had to pay a small portion of that tuition himself. And let me tell you, every semester he did whatever he had to do to make sure that his little portion arrived on time. He was so proud to play a role in sending his kids to college. And he made sure that we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late. Like so many people in this country, my father got his self-worth from being able to earn a living that let him handle his responsibilities to his family. That's really all he wanted. He wanted to be able to pay all of his bills, and pay them on time.

And my father's life is a testament to that basic American promise that no matter who you are in this country, or how you started out, if you work hard you can build a decent life for yourself and, yes, an even better life for your kids. And I remind people that my husband understands this because that's his story as well. That's really the reason I married him. (Laughter.) It's true. To find this brilliant young man, at the top of his game, so interesting, but to learn that he was the son of a single mother who struggled to pay the bills and put herself through school. And he was the grandson of a woman who woke up before dawn to catch a bus to a job at the bank. And even though Barack's grandmother worked hard to help support their family, and she was good at her job, like so many women she hit that glass ceiling and watched men no more qualified than she was -- some she had actually trained -- climb up that ladder ahead of her. But what Barack also learned, just like me, he watched a woman who never complained. Never complained; just kept getting up, just kept giving her very best every single day to support her family.

So what I remind America is that we have a President that knows what it means when a family struggles. This is not a hypothetical situation for him. He knows what it means to work hard because you want something better for your kids and your grandkids. And like me, and like so many people in this country, Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it. That's why he can be so good on all these issues -- he's lived it. And one of the things he understands is that when you've worked hard, and when you've done well, and you've walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. Not in America. You reach back and you give other folks the chance to succeed as well.

And truly, more than anything else, that's why I believe we're here, and that's what's at stake in this election. It is that dream, that fundamental American promise. And what we all have to understand is from now until November, we're all going to need to do our part to get out there and tell everybody you know -- tell them about Barack's values. Remind them about this vision. And please, let them know about the choices that we face in this election. Because, as Barry said, this is an election about choices.

This election is a choice about our economy. It's about building a strong and growing middle class. So I want you to remind folks that Barack has cut taxes for working families by $3,600. That's where he's focused his efforts. (Applause.) He's cut taxes for small businesses 18 times in his presidency, because he knows that rebuilding our economy starts with the restaurants and stores and startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs in this economy.

And I want you to be sure to remind people that, back when Barack first took office, this economy was losing an average of 750,000 jobs every single month. That's where he started. That's what he inherited. Then remind people that for the past 29 straight months, we've actually been gaining private sector jobs every month -- a total of 4.5 million new jobs under this administration. (Applause.)

So while we definitely have a long way to go to rebuild this economy, more work to do, people have to understand that millions of people are back at work; millions of people like my father are collecting a paycheck again and handling their bills.

But this election is also a choice about the health of our families. And what I try to help people get into perspective -- the fact is that over the past century -- because I asked myself, how long has it been? A hundred years that so many of our Presidents have tried and failed to meet the challenge of health care reform. That's how long we've been working on this. But fortunately your President was determined. (Applause.) Fortunately for all of us he was driven by the stories of the people he'd met, stories that are not unfamiliar to all of us -- the grandparents who couldn't afford their medications; the families going broke because a child got sick; the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company wouldn't cover her care. And those are the stories that kept him going, kept him pushing day after day. That's why he fought so hard for this historic reform.

And today, because of that reform, our parents and grandparents are paying hundreds less -- hundreds less for their prescription drugs. Our kids can stay on our insurance until they're 26 years old. And, parents, please, you have got to know how good that is. (Laughter.) So they don't have to go without health care when they just graduate and they're out there looking for a job -- maybe they want to join the Peace Corps, do something good. They don't have to be out there uncared for. Because of this reform, insurance companies have to cover basic preventative care -- things like contraception, cancer screenings, prenatal care, at no extra cost. (Applause.) They can't discriminate against you because you have an illness that they call a preexisting condition. And this is the one that gets me: If you get seriously ill, maybe breast cancer, and you really need insurance, expensive treatment, your insurance company can no longer tell you, sorry, you've hit your lifetime limit and we're not covering you anymore. Thanks to health reform, that is now illegal. (Applause.)

And make no mistake about it, we get to decide: Do we want these reforms repealed? Or do we want the people we love to have the care they need? That's the choice in this election.

This election is also a choice about our kids and whether they can attend college without a mountain of debt. And what I share with people is that when Barack and I first started out in our lives together, way before children -- we were so in love, but very broke -- (laughter) -- our combined student loan bill each month was actually higher than our mortgage. And that is not an unusual situation for young people like us at the time. So what I let people know is that when it comes to student debt, my husband and I, we've been there. And that's why it was so important for Barack to double funding for Pell Grants. That's why he fought so hard to stop student loan interest rates from rising, because he knows, oftentimes, that's the difference between kids being able to get the education they need, and he knows that all of our kids deserve that opportunity so that they can compete for the jobs and the opportunities that we want them to have.

And he wants all of our kids to fulfill their promise -- all of them. And that's why he's been fighting so hard for the DREAM Act. (Applause.) He's fighting for responsible young people who have come to this country as children, through no fault of their own, were raised as Americans -- they know no other country -- because fortunately we have a President that believes that these young people also deserve a chance to go to college, to contribute to our economy, to serve the country they know and love.

This election is also a choice about keeping our country safe. So I want to remind people that after 10 long years of war -- 10 long years of war -- after so many heroic men and women in uniform served and sacrificed and so many gave their lives, Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to this country. (Applause.)

And Barack kept his promise to bring our troops home from Iraq, but more importantly, he's making sure they get the benefits and the support they've earned. That is critical. (Applause.)

And of course, today our troops no longer have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love because he finally ended "don't ask, don't tell." (Applause.)

This election is a choice about supporting women and families in this country. So I want you to be sure to remind people that this President rightfully believes that women should be able to make our own choices about our health care, plain and simple. Plain and simple. (Applause.) Because of his efforts, it is now easier for us to get equal pay for equal work because of the very first bill he signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- the very first thing he did as President.

And of course, everyone here understands the importance of those two brilliant Supreme Court Justices he appointed -- Justice Elena Kagan; Justice Sonia Sotomayor -- and how, for the first time in history, because of those appointments, our daughters and sons watched three women take their seat in our nation's highest court. First time in history. (Applause.)

So when you go out there and you roll up your sleeves, and you're working hard and talking to the people that you need to talk to, and they ask you, well, what has this President done for our country? Here's what I want you to tell them: I want you to tell them how many jobs he's created. I want you to tell them how much money he's put back in the pockets of American people. Tell them that more of our kids can go to college, and more of our seniors can afford their medicine. Remind folks how he ended the war in Iraq, passed historic health reform, and stood up for our most fundamental rights again and again and again. That's what I want you to tell people.

And I want you to remind people, more importantly, that all of that -- all of it and so much more -- it's all at stake. It's all on the line. It can all be gone. And that's the choice we face. Are we going to continue the change we've begun and the progress we've made? Or are we just going to sit back and let everything we've worked so hard for to just slip away? Who are we? What are we going to do? Because I believe that we cannot turn back now. In this country, we always keep moving forward. Always. Our kids deserve that.

And more than anything else, that's what we're working for -- the chance to finish what we started; the chance to keep fighting for the values we believe in and the vision that we all share. This is our country. And that's what my husband has been doing every single day as President of the United States.

And one thing I let people know that I've learned over the last three and a half years as First Lady, I have had the chance to see up close and personal what it means to be President; what it takes. And I've seen how the issues that come across a President's desk, let me tell you, they are always the hard ones. They are always the problems with no clear, calculable solution. They're the judgment calls where the stakes are so high, and there is no margin for error. And what I have seen is that as President, you're going to get all kinds of advice and opinions and guidance from all kinds of people, but at the end of the day, truly, what I have learned is that when it comes time to make that decision, as President all you really have to lean on are your life experiences. That's what you bring to this job. All you have to really guide you and keep you on course are your values, is your vision for where you want this country to go.

Because in the end, it all boils down for a President -- is who you are and what you stand for. Don't ever underestimate that. This is all that comes into play. And what I remind people is that we all know who this President is, don't we? We have seen that over the years, and we all know what he stands for. And we have seen again and again just how hard he's willing to fight for us -- for us.

Remember when folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under? Do you remember that? With more than a million jobs on the line, that was the advice he was getting from so many people. But fortunately Barack had the backs of American workers. He put his faith in the American people, and as a result today the auto industry is back on its feet again, and more importantly, people are back at work collecting a paycheck again, paying their bills, taking care of their families.

Remember when folks were telling Barack not to take on health care? It was an ill-advised move, some said. They said, leave it for another day, another President. Just keep kicking that can down the road. But fortunately our President had the backs of American families, and as a result -- (applause) -- today, in this country, millions of people can finally see a doctor when they're sick in America; can finally get the care they need to stay well.

So what I encourage people to think about when they decide who they're going to support and how they're going to vote -- just think of -- ask yourself, when it comes time to stand up for the middle class so our kids can go to college and our families can make a decent living and save for retirement, you know where Barack Obama stands, don't you? When we need a President to protect our most basic rights, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we look like or who we love, you know you can count on this President, because that's what he's been doing every single day in office -- every single day.

But I have said this before and I will say it again: This is not a spectator sport. Barack cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. He is going to need everybody out there -- everybody out there, passionately. Because as Barack said, the only thing he can guarantee is that this election will be close. It's going to be closer than the last one. And in the end, it could all come down to those last few thousand votes. We have seen that so often.

And what I try to help people understand -- just take those few thousand votes, and think about them spread across an entire state, across hundreds of cities and thousands of precincts. So when you take those few numbers, what you're really seeing is that one new voter that you register in your precinct, that one neighbor that you help get to the polls on November the 6th, that could be the one that makes the difference. So never underestimate the power of your actions. That one conversation you have, that one new volunteer you recruit, that could be the one that puts all of this over the top. That could be the difference between us waking up on November 7th and asking ourselves, "Could I have done more?", or feeling the promise of four more years. That's the difference.

And that's why we started this new effort that we're calling It Takes One. It's pretty simple -- It Takes One. But it's probably so simple that a lot of people don't understand how simple this work is. We're asking people, every time you take an action -- any action -- on behalf of this campaign, inspire one more person to step up and do their part. I always encourage people, when you look around the room, think about multiplying yourselves. That's how we win.

So if you're making a phone call, writing a check, knocking on a door, bring somebody along who is not involved. If you're coming to an event, bring that neighbor who doesn't know this President, doesn't understand the issues in this way, needs more information. Get them involved in this election. When you're voting early or on Election Day, find that one person who needs help getting to the polls. Bring them along. We all have that person in our lives -- that one friend, that one colleague, that one board member, that one person in your family. You can even send them to barackobama.com/one. We've got a whole website for this. They don't even have to leave their house. (Laughter.) They can find many, many ways to get involved with this campaign.

Because it's like Barack has always said: It just takes one voice to change a room. And if a voice can change a room, it can change a city. And if it can change a city, it can change a state. And if it can change a state, it can change a nation. That's what democracy is about; that's the power of one voice. And I think we all need to remember that when the stakes are so high.

But I'm not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long, even though it's getting shorter by the day -- 88, 86, where are we? And it's going to be hard, and there are going to be plenty of twists and turns and nail-biting moments along the way. Oh, the drama of election time. (Laughter.)

But what I really try to remind people everywhere I go is that's really how change happens. Real change in this country always takes time and patience and tenacity. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting that good fight and doing what we know is right, and holding to our values and vision, then eventually we get there. You know why? Because we always do. We live in a country where we always have moved forward. I have yet to see a time where we go backwards -- yet to see that time. But what we have to remember is that maybe it won't happen in our lifetimes. Maybe it will happen in our children's lifetimes or our grandchildren's lifetimes. Because in the end, if we're really honest with ourselves, that's what this is all about. Truly, we are not in this for us. We're in it for them, like so many people who sacrificed for us.

And in the end, that's what elections are always about. Don't let anybody tell you any differently. Elections are always about hope. They're about our hopes for our children. They're about the world that we want to leave behind for them. And if you've seen me speak and you understand my passion and my focus and my tenacity, it comes from the fact that I put my girls to bed every night, and I think about the world I want to leave for them, and I think about how I want to do for them what my dad did for me, what Barack's grandma did for him. That's why we're in this.

I want to give my daughters -- absolutely -- (applause) -- and every single one of our sons and daughters a foundation for their dreams, a solid foundation. I want to give them opportunities worthy of their promise, because every single child on this planet has promise. They should have that sense of limitless possibility, that sense of belief that here in America, the greatest country on the planet, there's always something better out there if you're willing to work hard for it.

So I just say to myself, we can't turn back now. Not now. No way. No way do we turn back now. We have come much too far, right? But we have so much more work to do. So we're going to need you. We're going to really, really need you passionately and actively and physically and emotionally engaged in this effort. So are you in? (Applause.) Can you do this? (Applause.) Can you get fired up for this? Can you roll up your sleeves, find that one person in your lives and shake them up, tell them to get on it, send them to the website, get them to vote, get them to think differently about the world, remind them what's at stake? We can do this. I am highly confident -- with your help. And not to worry, I'm going to be all over the place. (Laughter.) So I look forward to seeing you guys out there.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Los Angeles, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320426

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