Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in New York City

March 19, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Wow! (Applause.) Thank you all so much. (Applause.) All right! Well, you guys sound pretty fired up, so I think I can leave. We can have some drinks and call it a night. (Laughter.)

I am just so honored and thrilled to be here tonight. This event means so much because there's so many people who are so near and dear to me who have helped put this together. And I have to start by thanking our phenomenal host -- a dynamic duo in their own right: Bob and Grace. Thank you all. (Applause.) Their support and friendship and love and sort of steadfast belief have meant the world to both Barack and to me. It is important to have people like them in your life when you're doing tough stuff. So we appreciate it dearly. And one day, I'll be able to come here, walk through the lobby -- (laughter) -- sit down and have a drink. (Laughter.) But not yet. (Laughter.) So let's give them another round of applause. They are amazing. (Applause.)

And I also want to thank all of you -- so many people who have been with us from the very beginning, so many people that I can blame for getting us in this mess. (Laughter.) There are a lot of people I can point to. It's like, "This was your idea!" (Laughter.) You, in the back. (Laughter.) But I want to thank you all for taking the time to come here and to support us. You have been -- you're here not just because it's a great hotel and because you love Bob and Grace. You're here because you know that we truly stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country right now. And you're here because you know that in less than a year from now, we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And I also know that you're here because you know that choice won't just affect all of us, which it will, but it is going to affect our children, our grandchildren, and more importantly, the world we leave behind for them.

And that is really why I am in this. I must say, that is why I am going to be out there working as hard as I can for as long as I can to make sure this President has another four years. (Applause.)

You see, one of the greatest gifts I have as First Lady is I get to travel all across this country and I get to meet with people from all different backgrounds, and I always say that I wish every American had that opportunity to just sit down and talk to people. I get to do that. I get to hear what's going on in their daily lives. And every day, I hear about the struggles and the challenges they're facing -- the bills they're trying to pay, the businesses they're trying to keep afloat. I hear about how people are doing everything they can -- they're taking that extra shift; they're working that extra job; they are saving and sacrificing, oftentimes never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.

But make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class people have been squeezed from all sides. While the cost of things like gas and groceries, tuition have continued to rise, people's paychecks just haven't kept up. So when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom just completely fell out.

Now, I have to say, over the past three years, with this President, we have worked very hard to pull ourselves out of this mess. And we have made some important progress. Now, you may remember -- yes. (Applause.)

Let me just remind you of some things. See, when my husband took office, we were losing an average -– on average 750,000 jobs a month –- a month. But we recently learned that we have now had 24 straight months of private sector job growth –- 24 straight months. And just to do the math, that would be two years -- two years with a total of more than 3.9 million jobs.

So I am very proud of everything my husband has done to get our economy moving in the right direction. And I know you all are, too. I know that we are all proud of everything he has done to get this country back on track. But we also know we still have a long way to go. We still have a long way to go in rebuilding our economy based on a vision that we all share -– the belief, as Barack says, that hard work should pay off; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone should get a fair shot, do their fair share, and play by the same rules.

See, these are the values that are at the foundation of an economy that's built to last. They are basic American values. They're the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. Most of you know my story. My father was a blue-collar city worker at the city water plant, and my family lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. And neither of my parents had the opportunity to go to college, but let me tell you what they did do. They worked hard for us, and they saved, and poured every ounce of themselves into us because they wanted so desperately for my brother and I to have things they never could have dreamed of.

And what we have to understand is that, more than anything else, that is what's at stake. That's what we're working for -- the fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and, more importantly, an even better life for your kids.

And on just about every single issue -– from health care to education to the economy -– that is the choice we face in this election. For example, when you hear the President talking about tax cuts for middle-class folks, or unemployment insurance for folks out of work, see, what that is about –- it's about whether people can heat their homes. It's about whether people can put gas in their car so that they can even look for a job. It's about whether folks can send their kids to college and maybe retire with a little dignity and security. And it's about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in the economy, which means more jobs. But that's what's at stake. That's what this is all about.

And when it comes to jobs, let's just think back to when all those folks in Washington were talking and telling Barack to let the auto industry go under. Remember that? With more than a million jobs on the line -- remember that? But Barack had the backs of American workers. He put his faith in the American people. So today the auto industry is back on its feet, and more importantly, people are back working, able to provide for their families because of that decision. But that's what's at stake. That's the choice we face.

And let's think for a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for the American consumer. I'm talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card fees. I'm talking about our seniors losing their homes, our students drowning in debt.

That's why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with one simple mission, and that is to protect folks from exactly those types of abuses. Because when folks have worked and have saved and have followed the rules, then Barack believes you shouldn't lose it all to someone looking to make an easy buck. That's not fair. It's not right. And believe me, your President is working to do something about this.

And what about all that we've all done together for just small businesses –- these are the companies that create nearly two-thirds of all jobs in this economy. That's two-thirds. I'm talking about the mother who opens up that drycleaners to help support her kids -– that's who we're talking about. We're talking about the family that owns that neighborhood diner –- have had it in their family for generations. Or the veteran who launches a startup and pursues the American Dream that he fought so hard for. Those are the folks we're talking about.

See, those are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, then head home and pore over the books late into the night, determined to make the numbers add up, because, see, for these people, these tax cuts that your President has worked for mean the difference between these people hiring new employees or handing out pink slips. It will be the difference between them keeping their doors open or closing up shop for good. But that is the choice we face.

And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to have women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And let me tell you why he did this. He did this because he knows what it means when women are treated unfairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother -- a woman with a high school education -- watched her work her way up to become the vice president at a little, bitty community bank. And she worked hard, and she was good at what she did, but like so many women, she hit that glass ceiling and watched men no more qualified than she was -- men she had actually trained -- climb up the corporate ladder ahead of her.

So believe me, your President, for him these issues are not abstract. This is not a hypothetical. He signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from every paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and put clothes on the backs of their kids. (Applause.)

He did it because he knows that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, he knows that women's success in this economy is the key to family success in this economy. And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. (Applause.) But that's what's at stake. That's what we're working for. We can't lose sight of that.

Let's talk for just a minute about health care.


MRS. OBAMA: Because two years ago, we made history together -- all of us worked for this -- by finally passing health reform.


MRS. OBAMA: But now, there are folks talking about repealing that reform. So today, we must ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let that happen? I mean, really.

Since we passed this law, millions of our senior citizens have saved, on average, more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. So are we going to take that savings away from our grandparents? Or will we make sure that our parents and grandparents can afford to stay healthy into their golden years?

Are we going back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage -- our children coverage -- for preexisting conditions? Things like cancer, diabetes, even asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, no one should have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can't afford a doctor. (Applause.) And when our children grow up and they graduate from school, we all know how hard it is for them to find a job, let alone a job with insurance. So that's why as part of this reform, kids can now stay on their parents insurance until they're 26 years old. Can I get an amen? (Applause.)

And today, that is how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage today. So are we going to take that coverage away from our children?


MRS. OBAMA: Or will we say that we don't want our sons and our daughters growing up without health care when they're just starting out, trying to build a life of their own, careers and a family? But that's the choice we face.

And think for a minute about what's been done on education. Think about all those investments to raise standards, and reform our public schools. I mean, this is about improving the circumstances of millions of our children -- because they're all ours. Children we know today are sitting in crumbling classrooms, children we know have so much promise if we just gave them a chance.

And just think about how my husband has been fighting for the DREAM Act, so that -- (applause) -- talented, hardworking young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own can have a chance to earn their citizenship. These are responsible young people, men and women who want to go to college. (Applause.) They want to defend our country, and they want to contribute to our economy. And it is time that we gave them that chance. It's time.

And think about how we tripled investments in job training, community colleges. This is about thousands of hardworking folks who are determined to get the education for the better wages. They're doing everything we could ask. They're doing it all -- they're working full-time, they're raising their kids, yet they're still making it to class in the evening, studying late into the hour -- into the night because they desperately want to better themselves, and better their families.

Make no mistake about it -- these kind of investments in education, in 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 industries that will allow us to compete with any country anywhere in the world. But that's what's at stake.

And let us not forget about what it meant when my husband appointed those two magnificent Supreme Court justices.

And for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation's highest court. (Applause.) And let us not forget what their decisions -- the impact those decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -– on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and, yes, love whomever we choose. (Applause.) But that's what's at stake. That's the choice that we face. (Applause.)

And finally, let us not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. As Bob and Grace had mentioned, thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts. (Applause.)

As promised, my husband ended the war in Iraq, brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.) And more importantly, we are working to make sure that our troops, veterans, families get the education, the employment, the benefits they have earned. And finally, because my husband ended "don't ask, don't tell," our troops will never have to get -- have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) That's what's at stake. That's what's at stake.

Now, I could go on. But you all are standing up -- I see Liz has got her shoes off. (Laughter.) So I know that -- baby's got to get to sleep. (Laughter.) We could be here all night talking about our President. (Applause.) But please, though, make no mistake about it, whether it's health care or the economy, whether it's education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country. But more importantly, it will determine who we want to be. See, and that's the question I ask everyone to think about. Who do we want to be? Who are we?

Will we be the country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? I mean, come on now, who are we? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or where you started out? Who are we? Who do we want to be? Will we tell folks who have done everything right but are struggling just a little bit to get by, are we going to tell those folks, "tough luck, you're on your own"? Is that who we are?


MRS. OBAMA: Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we're all better off? Who are we? Will we continue all the change that we've begun and the progress we've made? Or are we going to allow everything to just slip away? What are we going to do? Because now is the time to figure it out. Those are the choices. That's what's at stake. And I'm not exaggerating.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: No, you're not!

MRS. OBAMA: But believe me, Barack, your President, knows this all too well. He understands these issues because he's lived them. He was raised by a single mother, watched her struggle to pay the bills. And when she couldn't handle it, who stepped up? His grandmother, waking up before dawn to catch that bus to that job in the bank. And even though she was passed over for all those promotions, she never complained. How many people do we have like that in our lives? They never complain. She just kept showing up, just kept doing her best.

So believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn't have the chance to fulfill their potential. Those are the experiences that have made him the man –- but more importantly, the President -- he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)

And as I share with everyone that I talk to, that is what I hear in his voice late at night. I share this with everyone. Every single night he comes home after a long day of traveling or at the Oval Office, and he tells me about all the people he's met. Because when it comes to people he's met, he doesn't forget a name. Not a name. That's what I see in those quiet moments after the girls have gone to bed, and he's poring over the letters that 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 still struggling to pay his family's bills. The letters from way too many young people, far too many young people with so much promise and so little opportunity.

And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says, "Michelle, you won't believe what people are going through." He says, "This is not right and we've got to fix it. That is where Barack gets his passion.

You see, 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's had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart. And that's what he carries with him every single day -– that collection of struggles, hopes and dreams. That is where Barack gets his passion. That's where Barack gets his toughness and his fight. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight. And even in the hardest times, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end game. Never. He never gets distracted by all the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward -- just like his grandmother -- just keeps moving forward. See, because your President has a vision -- a vision for this country that we all share.

See, the President has to have a vision -- because when times are tough, that's all you have is what's here. But I have said this before, and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. He cannot do this alone. (Applause.) He needs you standing with him every minute of the day. He needs you making those phone calls. He needs you registering those voters. He needs you fired up, ready to go. He needs you to take those "I'm In" cards -- we've been sending them around -- sign them, sign up your friends, your neighbors.

This isn't one of those things where it's enough that you just did. You got to get 50 people good. (Applause.) It's important to convince them, have them understand what's at stake. Because not everybody is paying attention. Not everybody understands the full picture. That's where you all come in. Convince them to invest just a little part of themselves each week to this campaign.

Because we all know that this isn't about just one extraordinary man -- although I think my husband is awesome. (Laughter.) This has always been about us -- about all of us working together for the values we believe in and the country we want to be.

And I'm not going to joke with any of you, this journey is going to be long, it is going to be hard, and there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth i, that is how change always happens in this country. The reality is, is that real change is slow, never happens all at once.

But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep working for the values that we know are true, then we always get there. We always do. We have never moved backwards. Never. 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 all about.

This isn't about us. In the end, we are fighting these battles not for ourselves, but like so many people before us who fought for us, we are fighting them for our sons and our daughters, for our grandsons and for our granddaughters. We are fighting for the world we want to leave for them. That's what this is about.

And I am in this fight not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my children. I'm in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls are going to be okay. My girls are blessed. And I tell them that every single day -- "Girl, you are blessed. You got to get up." (Laughter.) "You better straighten up that face. Better stop pouting." (Laughter.)

But I am sure that's true for so many of our children -- for the children that we all know in our lives. But I think the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said: If any child in this country struggles, then it matters to us because that child is ours. Those are all our children. If any family in this country faces challenges, then we cannot be fully content with our own family's good fortune because that's not who we are. In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story. Like it or not, we're in this together. In this country, we rise and we fall together. (Applause.)

And that is a good thing. We know that if we make the right priorities and make the right choices, then we can ensure that everyone -- everyone in this country gets a fair shake and a chance to get ahead. That's what's at stake.

So it's time for us to get moving. It is time for us to be so fired up about this. We cannot afford not to take this as seriously as possible because I didn't even go down the whole list of stuff -– (applause) –- and there's a lot of stuff I can say. But there's a lot of stuff that's on the line. So we're going to need you every step of the way. We're going to need you as focused as you were three years ago.

This President has done what he said he was going to do and he has done what he said with a level of poise and grace. And there is a lot left to do. But the only way he is going to get there is with you all in it every step of the way.

So, my final question to you all: Are you in? Are you in? No, no are you really in?


MRS. OBAMA: No, no, it's got to be real deep in. I mean rolling-up-your-sleeves in. Getting-on-the-phone in. Calling- people-who-might-be-a-little-on-the-fence in and shaking them. Because I'm telling you, I am in. I am in. I'm going to be working so hard. I'm going to be traveling all over this country, talking to people, reminding them what's at stake. I know we can do this. We have to. We have to.

Thank you all so much for your support. God bless you all.

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320386

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