Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Princeton, New Jersey

September 23, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Wow, this is wonderful. My gosh. I see so many faces. See, this is really bad, because it's like I'll get 30 seconds with everybody. It's like, how have you been -- (laughter) -- over 10 years? Let's catch up in 30 seconds. Wow, I see my roommates, I see my -- oh, you guys, it's just -- it means so much.

But let me say, whatever my brother said, don't believe him. (Laughter.) I was taking pictures, I wasn't paying attention, there's no telling -- do you know there's a press pool reporter here? (Laughter.)

Anyway. (Laughter.) But I am beyond thrilled to be with all of you today. I mean, being back in Princeton -- at Princeton -- unfortunately, I haven't gotten a chance to get back on campus, but I'm going to make that happen. But it is really, really great to be here.

And I want to thank Carol for that really sweet introduction, and Carol and Andy and their family for allowing us to literally destroy their home. (Laughter.) The first thing I said when I walked in the door was, "Sorry." (Laughter.) I mean, we've got reporters in the garage, and we've moved their furniture, and we've got stuff in the attic. I mean, we really messed them up. But they have been just so gracious. So let's give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

And I want to recognize a couple of people. We've got Congressman Holt who is here, and I want to thank him for being here and for his leadership and service. (Applause.) Thank you for joining us.

And of course I want to thank the host committee for working so hard, and in particular my dear friend Crystal for her words earlier. And thank you to her and to John for serving as such wonderful co-chairs for this event. You guys have done a phenomenal job. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

And of course to my big brother, Craig, even though he probably embarrassed me. Let me tell you something -- Craig worked harder than both me and Barack during the convention, truly. He got up at 7:30 a.m.; he had interviews. By the time I looked over his schedule, I was like, dang. (Laughter.) So he is --

MR. ROBINSON: It's for you.

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, sweetie. I love my big brother, and I am just so happy -- this makes this trip even more special. I love you, Craig. (Laughter.)

And most of all, I want to thank all of you for joining us today. I always forget what day of the week it is, because things blur together, but it is a Sunday afternoon on a beautiful day, and you guys are here in a hot tent to come see me. So I want to thank you. And it seems like you guys are fired up and ready to go. (Applause.) And that is very good because I am certainly fired up and ready to go after our convention a couple of weeks ago. It was a great convention. (Applause.) It was great.

In Charlotte, we got to hear from so many terrific speakers -- people like President Clinton, Vice President Biden. And they reminded us of a few things. They reminded us how much we've accomplished together. They reminded us how much is at stake in this election. And most importantly, they reminded us why we need to re-elect my husband for four more years. (Applause.) Yes. Yes, indeed.

And my job, I think, was pretty simple. I had the easy job. People say, you gave a great speech. But I had good material. (Laughter.) I had the pleasure and the honor of talking about the man I have loved and admired for 23 years, and why I decided to marry him. And that was -- that's easy. Could do that all day.

But when I first met Barack, even though my brother said they were worried that he'd be gone in a couple of months or something like that, that wasn't true. (Laughter.) I knew he was different. He had everything going for him. He was handsome -- still is. (Laughter.) He was charming and talented and extremely smart.

But as I tell young people, especially the young women, that's not why I married him. What truly made me fall in love with Barack was his character. It was his decency, his honesty, his compassion, his conviction.

I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs and instead started his career working to get folks back to work in struggling communities. That meant a lot to me, absolutely. (Applause.)

And I loved that Barack was devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. I saw the respect he had for his mother. I saw how proud he was that she'd put herself through school while supporting him and his sister as a single mom. 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 a bus to her job at the community bank to help support his family. And he watched as she was passed over for promotions even though she was a woman, but he also saw how she kept on getting up, doing that same job year after year without complaint or regret.

And with Barack, I found a real connection, because in his life 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 to his job every day at the city water plant. And I saw how he carried himself with that same dignity, that same pride in being able to provide for your family, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of.

And like so many people in this country, our families just weren't asking for much. They didn't begrudge anyone else's success -- not at all. 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 you 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 your grandkids.

And they also believed, as I said in Charlotte, that when you've worked hard and done well, and 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.)

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, from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean. And we learned to value everyone's contribution. We learned to treat everyone with respect. (Applause.)

We also learned about citizenship and service; that we're all a part of something bigger than ourselves; that with our freedoms and obligations come duties; with our blessings come a duty to give back to others who have less. These are the values that make Barack such an extraordinary husband to me, and such a phenomenal father to our girls.

But Barack's values matter to me not just as a wife and as a mother, but they also matter as a First Lady who has seen up close and personal what being President really looks like and just how critical those values are for leading this country. And over the past three and a half years, I've seen how the issues that come across a President's desk are 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 time to make those tough calls, and everyone's urging you to do what's easy or what polls best or what's going to get good headlines, as President, you have to be driven by the struggles, hopes, and dreams of all of the people you serve. As President, you have to have an inner compass, a core commitment to your fellow citizens.

That's how you make the right decisions for this country. And that's what it takes to be a leader. And since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that's what we've seen in my husband. We have seen his values at work. We've seen his vision unfold. We've seen the depth of his character, courage and his conviction.

And if you think back to when Barack first took office and our economy was on the brink of collapse, the newspapers were using words like "meltdown," "calamity," declaring "Wall street implodes," "Economy in Shock." And for years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn't afford, their mortgages were underwater, and banks weren't lending, companies weren't hiring, the auto industry was in crisis. This economy was losing 800,000 jobs every single month, and folks were wondering whether we were headed for another Great Depression. This is what Barack faced on day one as President of the United States. This is what welcomed him to the Oval Office.

But instead of pointing fingers or placing blame, Barack got to work, because he was thinking about folks like my Dad. He was thinking about folks like his grandmother.

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 working families, because he believes that here in America, teachers and firefighters shouldn't pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. Not in America. (Applause.)

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

And 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 4.6 million new jobs under this administration, good jobs right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)

And when it comes to the health of our families, Barack didn't care whether health reform was the easy thing to do politically. That's not who he is. He cared that it was the right thing to do. And today, because of health reform, 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. Insurance companies have to cover basic preventive 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 pre-existing condition like diabetes or even asthma. And if you get a serious illness -- this is one of the ones that really gets me -- something like breast cancer, and you need very expensive treatment, they can no longer tell you, "Sorry, you've hit your lifetime limit, and we're not paying a penny more." No longer. That is now illegal because of health reform. (Applause.)

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. Without financial aid, we wouldn't be here. In fact, when we were first married -- I mentioned this -- our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. Thank you, Princeton. (Laughter.) Just kidding. (Laughter.)

So when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we've been there. That's why Barack doubled funding for Pell grants. That's why he fought so hard to keep interest rates down. Because he wants all of our young people -- all of them -- to have the skills they need for the jobs of the future -- jobs you can raise a family on. Good jobs that will drive our economy for decades to come.

And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women, when it comes to standing up for our rights and opportunities, we know that my husband will always have our backs. We know it. (Applause.) Because 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 family.

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

So when you're out there and people ask you what this President has done for our country, when you're talking to folks who are trying to decide who's the best person to keep America moving forward for four more years, here's what I want you to tell them.

I want you to tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created. Tell them about health reform that he passed. Tell them about all those kids who can finally afford college.

Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq. Tell them how we worked together and took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how Barack fought to get veterans and families the benefits they've earned.

Tell them about young immigrants brought to America through no fault of their own and how they will no longer be deported from the only country they've ever known. (Applause.) Tell them how our 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 I also want you to tell them that Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it, 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.

But let's be very clear -- while he is very proud of what we've achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied -- not at all. Barack knows all too well that too many people are still hurting. He knows that there's plenty of work left to be done. And as President Clinton said in his speech in Charlotte, it's going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse.

But let me tell you something I do know for sure -- since he took office, Barack has been fighting for us. He's been struggling with us. And together, slowly but surely, we have been pulling ourselves out of the hole we started in. For three and a half years, we've been moving forward and making progress, and we're beginning to see that change we all 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 the hole in the first place?


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


MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to keep this country moving forward? What are we going to do? (Applause.) What are we going to do? What are we going to do? (Applause.) We need signs! Forward!

But in the end, the answers to these questions is up to us. It's all on us. Because all the hard work, all the progress we've made, it is all on the line -- understand that. It is all at stake this November.

And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one -- don't be fooled. And it could all come down to what happens in just a few battleground states like Pennsylvania or North Carolina.

And I want you to think back to what happened in 2008, back when we won Pennsylvania by 620,000 votes. And that might sound like a lot, but when you break that number down, that's just 67 votes per precinct. All right? And if you think that's close, don't forget that we won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes. And that's just five votes per precinct -- five.

So that could mean just one vote in your neighborhood, right? That one vote in your apartment building, in your dorm room; the kid who is not registered next to you, that could be the difference.

So if there is anyone here, anyone you talk to who might be thinking that their vote doesn't matter, that their involvement doesn't count, that in this complex political process that ordinary folks can't possibly make a difference, I just want you to have them think about those five votes, okay? Especially our young people. Five votes can be the difference.

I want you to think about how, with just a few evenings on a phone bank, with just a few hours knocking on doors, a few of you can swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama. And if we win enough precincts, we will win those battleground states. And if we win enough states, we will be well on our way to putting Barack Obama back in the White House for four more years. (Applause.) Think of that -- five votes. (Applause.)

So don't take anything for granted. From now until November, we need every single one of you to take this energy and this enthusiasm and turn it into work. We need you to work like you've never worked before. We need you to go to dashboard.barackobama.com, and you can go there to make phone calls into battleground states. You can do it from your home.

We need you to head over to Pennsylvania. Get in a car, drive on over to Pennsylvania for a few days or a weekend to help get out the vote in that state.

But most importantly, we need you to talk to everyone you know –- this is where those five votes come from -- to everyone you know. Your friends, your neighbors, that nephew you haven't seen in a while, that high school classmate you haven't spoken to, reach out to the whole entire Princeton community. Call them up. Tell them what's at stake. Remind them of all the things this President has accomplished. Bring them to events like this one.

Make sure they're registered, though -- that's key. Young people, you've got to be registered -- especially if you just moved, if you're here and you're from another state, you're going to vote here, you've got to get an absentee ballot -- whatever it is. Or if you've never voted before, you have to be registered. And then once folks are registered, then make sure they get to the polls and cast their ballots on Election Day.

And if they don't know where to go or what to do, send them to -– we've got websites -- GottaRegister.com, GottaVote.com. And anyone can go there at -- anywhere in this country and find out everything they need to make their voices heard on November the 6th.

And I'm going to be honest with you, this journey is going to be hard, and these last few days are going to feel long -- they will. But when you start to get tired –- and you will -- when you start thinking about taking a day off –- especially you young people, you will -- I want you to remember that what we do for the next 44 days -- significant, 44. Get it? Here we are. (Laughter.) It's all coming together. (Laughter.) It will make -- absolutely make the difference between waking 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 forward. Because this is what I remind everybody -- that is how change always happens in this country. It always takes time and patience. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, then eventually we'll get there. We always do. 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. Don't let anybody tell you differently -- that's what elections are always about. Elections are always about hope.

The hope Craig and I saw on my father's beaming face as each of us crossed that stage to get our college diploma. The hope that Barack's grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised. The hope of all those men and women in our lives who have worked that extra shift; who have saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could have something more. The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the eyes of our own kids and grandkids today.

That is why we're here -– because we want all of our children to have that foundation for their dreams. We want all of our children to have opportunities worthy of our -- of their promise. Because what we do know is all of our kids are worthy -- all of them are. We want to give them that sense of limitless possibility; 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.

So what I tell myself is that we cannot turn back now -- not now. We have come so far, but we have so much more work to do.

So let me ask you one last question -- are you all ready for this? (Applause.) Are you ready? Are you really ready for this? (Applause.) You ready for 44 days of rolling up your sleeves, finding your five, going to Pennsylvania, making calls? Are you ready for that, calling everyone you know? Are you ready for that? (Applause.)

Because we are absolutely ready. We have got to get this done. And with your help, we will be there for four more years.

Thank you all. God bless.

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Princeton, New Jersey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320462

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