Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Raleigh, North Carolina
MRS. OBAMA: Wow! This is good stuff. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness! Yes, indeed! Yes, we can! (Applause.) Yes, we will. You all, thank you so much. Please, rest yourselves -- because we want all that energy for November. (Laughter.) So just rest yourselves.
It is a true pleasure and an honor to be with all of you back in North Carolina. We're going to be spending a lot of time in this state, and we are happy about that. (Applause.)
I want to start with just a few thank-yous. I want to thank Eliza for that very kind introduction, but more importantly, for her passion, her leadership in the College Democrats, both here in North Carolina and across the country. It is that kind of young leadership, right, that really makes the difference in our country. And if anybody is worried about the future of this country, you look to people like Eliza and you know that we are in good hands. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize Governor Perdue. Now, she was here earlier, but she's going to be spending the day with me across the state, so she had to jump ahead. But we're thrilled that she could join us today. And we'll be (inaudible) part of the day with me as well.
I also want to acknowledge today's other panelists as well: Secretary of State Elaine Marshall -- yes, indeed -- (applause) -- and I heard that panel was awesome -- Janet Cowell, and Cynthia Marshall, as well as Simone Ward. Let's give them all a wonderful round of applause. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to thank all of you for taking the time out of your busy lives to join us today.
And of course, I have to give a big shoutout to our Host Committee, because this is a sold-out event. You guys did a great job. I want our Host Committee to stand up, let's see you guys. Round of applause to everyone who helped out on this event. (Applause.) I would say this event is a success, right? Yes.
But thank you all again.
Now, I know that there is a reason why you all are here. And it's not just to hang out with me, although I love hanging out with all of you. (Applause.) But you're also here because I know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And I know you're here because you know that in less than a year from now -- already; November is coming -- we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And I know you're here because you know that choice won't just affect all of us, but it's going to affect our children, it's going to affect our grandchildren, and it's going to affect the world that we leave behind for them long after we're gone. And that's really why I am here. I am going to be out on the road all over the country. That is why I am doing this.
As First Lady, I have had the privilege, the honor of traveling all across this magnificent country, meeting with folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what's going on in their daily lives. That is really the -- one of the beautiful things about my role. But every day, I do hear about the struggles that people are facing -- the bills they're trying to pay, the businesses people are trying to keep afloat. And I hear about how people are doing everything they can in their power to keep it all together. They're taking the extra shift. They're working the extra job. They're saving and they're sacrificing, many people never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The cost for things like gas, groceries, tuition, they have continued to rise, but people's paychecks just haven't kept up. And when the economic crisis hit, for far too many of our families the bottom just completely fell out.
Now, over the past three years, your President has worked very hard to dig ourselves out of this mess. Yes, indeed. (Applause.) And we have made some very important progress. We've had 23 straight months of private sector job growth -- (applause) -- and today, unemployment is now the lowest it's been in nearly three years. (Applause.)
There is a lot of good news, but we know that we still have a long way to go. And we've been working very hard -- your President, this administration, all of us -- to rebuild our economy based on a vision that we all share -– the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay; that responsibility should be rewarded; and more importantly, that everyone -- everyone in this country -- should get a fair shot, and do their fair share, and play by the same rules. (Applause.)
And this vision, it is based on basic American values. They're the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. You all, by now, know my story: My father was a blue-collar worker, worked at a city plant; my family lived in a little-bitty apartment for most of my life on the South Side of Chicago. And neither of my parents attended college, but what they did do is they worked, they saved, they sacrificed -- they put everything they had into me and my brother so that we could have things they never dreamed of.
And more than anything else, that is what's at stake. That's what's at stake -- the fundamental promise that no matter who you are, no matter how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids. (Applause.)
And on just about every issue -– from health care to education to the economy -– that's the choice that we face.
For example, when you hear this talk about tax cuts for middle-class families, you hear people talking about the President talking about unemployment insurance for folks out of work, that's about whether people can heat their homes, whether they can put gas in their car so that they can even look for work; those conversations about whether folks can send their kids to college, retire with a little dignity, some security. And it's about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. All of that's at stake.
And when it comes to jobs, think back to when all those folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under, 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. And today, the auto industry is back on its feet, and people -- (applause) -- and more importantly, people are back to work and providing for their families. That's what's at stake. That's the choice we face.
And think, for just a minute, about what this administration has done to stand up for American consumers. I mean, I'm talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card fees. I'm talking about students like Eliza drowning in debt; talking about our seniors, our grandparents losing their homes and their savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn't afford and probably couldn't understand.
And that's why your President created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission -– and that is to protect folks from exactly these kinds of abuses. Because when you've worked hard and you've saved and you've followed the rules, you shouldn't lose it all to someone looking to make some easy money. (Applause.) See, that's not fair, it's not right, and your President is working to do something about it. (Applause.)
And what about all that we've done together for our small businesses -– the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year. That's two-thirds of all jobs. I'm talking about the mom in the neighborhood who opens up that drycleaner to provide for her kids. We're talking about the family that's been running the neighborhood diner for generations; the veteran who launches a startup and pursues that American Dream that he fought so hard for. Those are the folks we're talking about, the people 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.
See, for these folks, the small business tax cuts that your President has passed mean the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; the difference between keeping those doors open or some of those companies closing shop for good. That's the choice we face.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? (Applause.) Yes. That's what's at stake. And he did this because he knows what it means when women aren't treated fairly in the workplace. This is your President, who watched his own grandmother -– a woman with a high school education -– work her way up to become a vice president at a little community bank. And she worked hard, and she was good at what she did. But like so many women for generations, she hit that glass ceiling, and she watched men no more qualified than she was –- men she had actually trained –- get promoted up that corporate ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, for Barack, this issue is not abstract. This is not hypothetical. And he signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to pay for gas and groceries, and to put clothes on the backs of their kids. He did it because when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, women's success in this economy is the key to families' success in this economy. Your President knows that. (Applause.)
And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. But that is what's at stake. (Applause.) That is what's at stake.
And let's spend a little more time on health care. Eliza mentioned this: Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) But now there are folks actually talking about repealing that reform. So we have to ask ourselves today, are we going to stand by and let that happen? Really?
I mean, since we passed this law, millions of our senior citizens have saved an average of more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. (Applause.) So we have to ask ourselves, are we going to take that savings away? Are we going to give that up? Or will we make sure that our parents and our grandparents can afford to stay healthy in their golden years? Are we going to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because they have pre-existing conditions, things like cancer, diabetes, even asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can't afford a doctor. (Applause.)
And when our kids grow up and graduate from school, we all know how hard it is for them to find jobs that provide insurance, right? That is why, as part of health reform, kids now can stay on their parent's coverage until they're 26 years old. (Applause.) And today, that is how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their insurance right now. It's the only reason they have insurance. So are we going to take that insurance away from our kids? Or will we say that we don't want our sons and daughters going without health care when they're just starting out, building their families and careers of their own? But that is the choice that we face. Those are the stakes.
And think, for a moment, what's been done on education. Think about all the investments this President has made to raise standards and reform our public schools. This is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children in this country -- kids we all know today sitting in crumbling classrooms; children with so much promise; kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them the chance.
Think about how my husband has been fighting for the DREAM Act, so that talented, hardworking young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own can have a chance to earn their citizenship. (Applause.) This is about responsible young men and women who want to go to college, who want to defend our country, and continue our economy -- and it's time that we give them that chance. That's what's at stake.
And think about how we have tripled investments for job training at community colleges. I mean, this is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages. I mean, these are folks doing it all. They're working full-time, raising their kids. But they still make it to class every evening and study late into the night, because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, these kind of investments in our students and 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. That is what's at stake.
And let us not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices -- (applause) -- and for the first time in history, our sons and daughters watched three women take their seat on our nation's highest court. (Applause.) But we cannot forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -– on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, open -- worship openly, and, yes, love whomever we choose. That is what's at stake here. That is the choice that we face. (Applause.)
And finally, let us not forget how this administration has worked to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. 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 of terror.
My husband ended the war in Iraq. (Applause.) He brought our troops home before the holidays. And most importantly, we're working to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment and the benefits they've earned. (Applause.)
And because my husband ended "don't ask, don't tell," our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. That is what's at stake. (Applause.)
I could go on. (Laughter.) But we don't have all day. (Laughter.) But 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, who do we want to be? Who are we?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to the few at the top? Who are we? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or how you started out? Who are we? Will we tell folks who've done everything right, but are still struggling to get by, are we going to tell them, "tough luck, you're on your own"? I mean, who are we?
Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we're all better off? (Applause.) Will we continue all the change that we've begun, all the progress we've made? Or will we allow everything we've fought for to just slip away? Because that is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, your President knows this all too well. See, he understands these issues because he's lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped up? His grandmother -- waking up every morning before dawn to get on that bus to go to that job at that bank. And even though she was passed over for all those promotions, he saw that she never complained. That sound familiar? Just kept on showing up, doing her best.
So Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn't have a chance to fulfill their potential. See, those are the experiences that have made the man, but more importantly the President that he is today, and we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And I share this with everyone. That is -- that is what I hear every night from my husband. (Laughter.) Every night. (Laughter.) After he's been out traveling, been in the Oval Office, he comes home and he tells me about the people he's met. Not a night goes by when I don't hear about those stories. That's what I see in those quiet moments, after the girls have gone to bed, and he's poring over his briefings and the thousands of 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 struggling to pay his family's bills; the letter from far too many young people with so much promise, but so few opportunities.
See, and I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says, "Michelle, you won't believe what folks are going through." He says, "This is not right. We've got to fix this. We have so much more work to do."
See, what you must know about your President is that when it comes to the people he meets, he's got a memory like a steel trap. Gets on your nerves a little bit. (Laughter.) Because I can't remember anything. (Laughter.) He might not remember your name, but believe me, 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 is what he carries with him every single day -– it is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams. And that is where Barack gets his passion. That's where he gets his toughness and his fight.
And that is why, even in the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost, and Barack never loses sight of the end goal. Never. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward. It's like his grandmother, never complaining, just keeps moving forward.
Because the thing about your President is that he has a vision for this country. (Applause.) And it is a vision that we all share. It is our vision, our values that is guiding him.
But I have said this before -- I said this before, I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. I know I never made that promise. (Laughter.) He needs your help. He needs you in this. He needs you to know what's at stake. He needs you to do that hard work, making those calls, right? That's the tough work. That's the work that makes a difference -- registering those voters. He needs you to take those "I'm In" cards, sign them, get your friends, your neighbors and colleagues to sign them. Convince them just how important it will be for them just to invest a little bit of their time each week to this goal, to this campaign. We need you for that.
Because we all know that this is not about just one extraordinary man -– although my husband is wonderful. He is amazing. (Applause.) I'm a little biased, but it has always been about us. This is about all of us. It's about all of us coming together for the values that we believe in and the country we want to be.
But I'm not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long, and it is going to be hard, and there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is, that's how change always happens in this country. It's how it always happens. The reality is that change is slow, and real change never happens all at once.
But if we keep showing up, right, if we keep fighting that good fight, then eventually we get there. We always do. We always do. Maybe not in our lifetimes, maybe in our children's lifetime, maybe in our grandchildren's lifetime.
Because in the end, that's what this is all about. It's not about us. We are not fighting these battles for ourselves, we're fighting them for our sons and daughters. We are fighting them for our grandsons and our granddaughters. (Applause.) We are fighting for the world we want to leave for them. (Applause.) It's about them.
And believe me, I'm in this fight not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my girls. I'm in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. Because the truth of the matter is, shoot, my girls will be fine. They're blessed. And that is true for so many children in this room. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities.
But the truth of the matter is, as the President has said so often, that if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if she is not our daughter, even if he is not our son. (Applause.) If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family's good fortune. In the end, we cannot separate our own stories from the broader American story. Because we know that in this country, we rise and we fall together. And that's a good thing. We know that if we make the right choices, and if we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and everyone gets a chance to get ahead. So that is what's at stake.
So it's time for us to get moving, don't you think? It is time for us to get to work. (Applause.)
So I have one last question for you, and I ask this to everybody: Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Wait, wait, I can't hear you. Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: I hope you're in, because I am so in this. (Applause.) I am so fired up. And we need you all just ready to work, ready to make this happen, ready to capture and shape our vision, creating the country that we know we want to be. We need you every step of the way.
Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Raleigh, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320442