Michelle Obama photo

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

October 17, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Good afternoon! (Applause.) We're feeling good! Oh, my goodness. Thank you so much. It is just a privilege to be here. And before I get started, you all rest yourselves. (Laughter.) I know if you're like me, you were up late last night. (Applause.) So forgive me if I'm a little blurry-eyed. I'm still trying to figure out what time zone I'm in. (Laughter.)

But I want to recognize a few people before I get started.

You heard from Congressman Israel who got you all fired up and ready to go. (Applause.) He and his beautiful wife are here, and we are so grateful and thankful for his support, his leadership, and for everything he's doing in Washington to keep moving this country forward.

And I also want to thank some dear friends and longtime supporters, Rich and -- well, first of all, new friends that I met recently, the owners of this beautiful club, Rich and Erin Monti. (Applause.) I want to thank them for hosting us today. And I see Erin, and I just have to say that she has six kids -- (laughter) -- and she looks awesome, and I want to be like her when I grow up. (Laughter.) So thank you both for having us here today. Yes. (Applause.) Yay!

Now, to our longtime friends and supporters, give a few shoutouts -- Jay Jacobs. (Applause.) Robert Zimmerman. (Applause.) I don't know where everybody is in the room. Jon Cooper. (Applause.) You all are just fabulous co-hosts. Thank you for all the work that you have done on behalf of my husband, this campaign, this administration, what you've done to make this event such a success. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And most of all, I want to thank all of you, truly, for taking the time to be here this afternoon. It is the afternoon, right?


MRS. OBAMA: It's afternoon, right? (Laughter.) It's not morning. It's not morning.

And I can tell that you all are pretty fired up and ready to go, aren't you? (Applause.) Yes, that's good. And I have to tell you that after hearing my husband talk about his values and his vision for this country at the debate last night, I'm feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself. (Applause.)

Look, I am always proud of my husband. I have watched him closely. But let me tell you, I am so glad that last night was just an awesome, awesome event for him. (Applause.) And it gets me fired up and ready to go. And I love being out here, I love campaigning because it allows me to do one of my favorite things in the whole wide world, and that is to talk about the man that I have loved and admired since the day I met him 23 years ago.


MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, let me tell you.


MRS. OBAMA: I know. (Laughter.) Thank you. Thank you. We got a quick little dinner. That was about it. But it's okay. November 7th we're going to party hard. (Laughter and applause.)

Now, one of the things that I get to share with people is that, you know, I like living with my husband -- he's handsome. (Applause.) One older woman in Ohio, I think it was, a couple of days ago she had a "He's fine!" (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: She was right!

MRS. OBAMA: Yes -- I said yes, he's fine. (Laughter.) He's charming and incredibly smart. But what I tell people, especially the young people, especially the young women -- that's not why I married him. That is not why I married him. What truly made me fall in love with Barack -- and you all see it every day as you watch him serve this country so well as Commander-in-Chief -- it is his character. You saw it on display last night. It's his decency, his honesty, his compassion and conviction. (Applause.)

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 neighborhoods. And I loved that Barack was so devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. (Applause.) Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. This is what I tell the young men. It's like you got to show the ladies something if you want to step up to the plate. (Laughter.) You got to respect the women in your life -- and that is my husband, especially his mother.

I saw how proud he was that she put herself through school while supporting him and his sister as a single mom. And I got to see for a very long time, until her passing, the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother and how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning to catch that bus to her job at the bank, doing everything she could to support their family.

And he also watched as she was passed over again and again for promotions simply because she was a woman. But he also saw how she kept on doing that same job year after year without complaint or regret. He talked about that last night.

And the truth is, with Barack, I found a real connection, because in his life story, I saw so much of my own. For me, growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I watched my own father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job 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 our family; that same hope that his kids would one day be able to do things he only dreamed of.

And the truth is, like so many families in this country, our families simply weren't asking for much. When I think back on our simple lives, our family didn't want much. They didn't begrudge anyone else's success. They didn't mind if others had much more than they did; in fact, they admired it. And that is why they pushed us to be the very best we could be.

But let me tell you something they did believe: They believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don't start out with much, in America, if you work hard and if 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. (Applause.) That is definitely what they believed, how they lived.

And they also believed something that I think is very important. They believed that when you've worked hard and you've done well, and you finally walk through that doorway of opportunity, they believed you don't slam it shut behind you -- (applause) -- you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.

And that is how Barack and I, and I know so many of you were raised. Those are the values we were taught. (Applause.) And more than anything else, what I am reminding people as I travel across this country, that is what this election is all about -- it is a choice about our values; it's a choice about our hopes and our aspirations. Shoot, it's a choice about the America that we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids.

We believe in an America where every child in this country, no matter where they were born or how much money their parents have, every child deserves good schools that push them and aspire them -- (applause) -- and prepare them for opportunities and good jobs in the future. And what does that America look like?

We believe in an America where no one goes broke because someone gets sick; where no one loses their home because someone loses a job. Not in this America.

We believe in an America where we all understand that none of us gets where we are on our own -- (applause) -- that all of us are lifted up by a community of people where we treat everyone -- everyone -- with dignity and respect, from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean. (Applause.)

And in this America that we're working to build, when one of us stumbles -- and we all have the possibility of stumbling at times -- when one of us falls on hard times, we don't tell them, "Tough luck, you're on your own." No! In this America, we extend the helping hand while they get back on their feet again. (Applause.)

In this America, we believe that the truth matters. That's what we teach our kids. (Applause.) And you don't take shortcuts, you don't game the system, you don't play by your own set of rules. Instead, it's real success that is earned fair and square that we reward in this country.

And finally, we believe in keeping our priorities straight. We know good and well that cutting "Sesame Street" is no way to balance our budget. (Laughter and applause.) We know that shortchanging our kids is not how we tackle our deficit. We know better.

If we truly want to build opportunities for all Americans, we know we have to cut wasteful spending, but we also have to make smart investments -- investments in the future, in our education and infrastructure to make sure we have an economy that's built to last. And that is what your President stands for. That's the country that he has been working to build for the last three and a half years. Those are his values.

And over the past three and a half years as First Lady, I have seen up close and personal what being President really looks like. And let me tell you something -- I have seen how those values, those very values, are so critical for leading this country.

I've seen how the issues that come across a President's desk, let me tell you, they are always the hard ones -- the problems with no easy solutions; the decisions that aren't just about the bottom line, but 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 -- everyone -- is urging you to do what's easy, what polls best, what gets good headlines, as President, you have to be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all the people you serve. And that is how you make the right decisions for this country. That's what it takes to be a leader.

And when you think back to when Barack first took office, our economy was on the brink of collapse. I mean, think about that. Newspapers were using words like "meltdown" and "calamity," declaring "Wall Street Implodes," "Economy in Shock."

See, for years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn't afford, so their mortgages were underwater. Banks weren't lending, companies weren't hiring. The auto industry was in crisis. This economy was losing 800,000 jobs every month, and a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression.

And this is what Barack faced on day one as President. He inherited an economy that was in rapid decline. You hear me? But instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, your President got to work. See, because he was thinking about folks like my dad and folks like his grandmother. And that's why he cut taxes for working-class folks and for small businesses, because fortunately we have a President who believes that teachers and firefighters shouldn't pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. (Applause.) Not in America. Not in America.

And that's why, while some folks were willing to let the auto industry go under, with more than a million jobs that would have been lost, Barack had the backs of American workers. He fought hard to protect jobs for American families. And that's why, today, the auto industry is back and new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM. (Applause.)

And what I remind people is that while we still have a long way to go to completely rebuild our economy, there are more and more signs every day that we are headed in the right direction. The stock market has doubled. Exports have grown by 45 percent. Manufacturing jobs have been added -- more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs. We've had 31 straight months of private sector job growth. Do you hear me? 5.2 million new jobs under this President, in this administration. (Applause.) Good jobs right here in the United States of America.

And while my husband was busy job-creating, he was doing other things as well -- because, you see, as President, you've got to be able to do a few things at the same time. (Laughter.) Barack was also focusing on improving access to health care for millions of Americans. (Applause.) And let me tell you, Barack did not 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.

He was thinking about all the folks he meets every day across this country -- struggling with health care, the woman diagnosed with breast cancer who couldn't find insurance to cover her care; the seniors pinching pennies to save for the medicines they need; the parents who couldn't get life-saving treatment for their children because one of them lost a job.

And today, because of that reform that he fought for, today, our parents and grandparents on Medicare are saving hundreds less [more] on their prescription drugs. Our kids can stay on our insurance until they're 26 years old. (Applause.)

Today, because of health reform, insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care -- simple things like contraception, cancer screenings with no out-of-pocket costs. (Applause.) They won't be able to discriminate against us because we have a preexisting condition, let's say diabetes or asthma. And if you get really sick, let's say a life-threatening illness and you need really expensive treatment, no longer can insurance companies 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. (Applause.)

And when it comes to giving our young people the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and I know like so many of you, he never, never could have afforded college without financial aid. We wouldn't be here without financial aid. (Applause.) In fact, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage.

So what I tell people is that when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we have been there. This is not a hypothetical for us. And that is why Barack doubled funding for Pell grants. That's why he fought so hard to keep student interest rates down -- (applause) -- because we have a President that knows how important it is for all of our young people in this country, all of them to be prepared for good jobs of the future.

And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women -- when it comes to standing up for our rights and opportunities -- let me tell you, we know that this President will always have our backs. And why do we know? Because Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren't treated fairly in the workplace.

And today, trust me, as a father of two beautiful girls he knows what it means to want our daughters to have the same freedoms and opportunities as our sons. And that is why the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And that is why he will always, always fight to ensure that we as women can make our own decisions about our bodies and about our health care. That's what my husband stands for. That's why I'm here. (Applause.)

So let me just say something. We've got 20 days left -- and we had -- 20? (Laughter.) It gets confusing. (Laughter.) And I know you all are going to be out there. I know you're going to be talking to folks. So when folks ask you what this President has done for our country, when you run into folks that are still trying to figure out which of these two guys is going to help keep moving this country forward, here are just a few things I want you to tell them.

Tell them about the millions of jobs that Barack created. Tell them about all the kids in this country who can finally afford college.

Tell them about the millions of lives that will be changed forever because of health reform.

Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq. Tell them how together we took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how Barack is fighting every day so that veterans and military families get the benefits they've earned.

Tell them about all the young immigrants in this country who will no longer live in fear of being deported from the only country they've ever called home. (Applause.)

Tell them how our brave servicemembers will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) Let them know.

And I could go on and on and on. But here's what I really want you to tell them. You 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, everyone, 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 clear, while he is very proud of everything that we have all achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied. Barack of all people in this country is well aware that there are so many people still hurting. He knows that there is plenty of work left to be done.

And as President Clinton said, it's going to take a lot longer than four years to finish rebuilding an economy on the brink of collapse. (Applause.) But thankfully, in Barack we have a leader with a deep and unyielding faith in the American people, a leader who understands that this country was built by men and women who wake up every day and work hard for their families and they do it without complaint or regret.

And as President, that's what my husband has been fighting for every day. As President, he has been fighting for us -- for us. And that's why, when the stakes are so high -- which they are right now -- we can always trust that Barack will have our backs. That we can count on.

And over these past four years, together, slowly but surely, we have been pulling ourselves out of that hole we started in. We are steadily making progress, and moving forward and making real change. So here's what you have to ask yourselves -- and I do every day: 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 that we've worked for and struggled for -- all the progress we've made, are we going to watch it just slip away?


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

AUDIENCE: Forward!

MRS. OBAMA: What are we going to do?

AUDIENCE: Forward!

MRS. OBAMA: That's what I'm thinking. (Laughter.) But in the end, truly, the answers to these questions is on us now. It's all on us, because all our hard work, all the progress we've made -- it is all on the line. It is all at stake this November, and you can see from the choice we have on the other side.

And I want you all to know that your support -- truly, the checks that you all have written -- that has made all of the difference every step of the way. Please know that. Because of you, we have got hundreds of field offices all over the country. We have thousands of staff and volunteers in those key states. And I meet with them almost every day -- folks who are working on the phone lines, knocking on doors in these battleground states -- people who have been working since 2008 for this President -- they haven't stopped, working across the country.

Because of those folks, because of your help, we are reaching millions of voters every day. I mean, these folks are focused, and you all made that possible. And I can't begin to tell you how grateful we are for everything you have done and so many of you who have been there with us from the very beginning.

But as my husband has said, understand that this election is going to be even closer than the last one. That is really the only guarantee. And if we think about what happened in 2008 -- for example, we won the state of North Carolina by just 14,000 votes. And I use this example everywhere I go, because you could use it at every battleground state. And that may sound like a lot of votes to some, but when you take that number and break it across the state, that's just five votes per precinct. That's the margin of difference in North Carolina, one of the key states. And we won Ohio by about 262,000 votes. And that was just 24 votes per precinct throughout that state.

So I use this example everywhere I go because we all know people in our lives who might be thinking that their vote doesn't matter, that their involvement doesn't make any difference. We all have people like that.

But what I want to remind people is that what we do over these next 20 days could absolutely make the difference waking up on the day after Election Day and wondering, could we have done more? Could I have gotten just five more people, 24 more people to just get out of bed and do what they needed to do or feeling the promise of four more years? That is the difference the work we do will make.

So I say all that to say that we still need your support. We need it more now than ever before. We need you to keep on writing those checks. If you haven't maxed out -- and you can max out. (Laughter.) I know you hear that a lot. (Applause.) But every check puts more infrastructure into these field offices. And if you've got friends, find them, get them to max out, too. (Laughter.) That is the most important thing that all of you can do to keep our grassroots operation running strong all across this country.

And for those of you who want to get out there and make a difference on the ground -- because I know there are people who are just not into writing checks -- they actually want to roll up their sleeves, you can sign up today at BarackObama.com to go to Ohio or New Hampshire or Pennsylvania and join in that battle, and knocking on doors and making phone calls and really getting down on the ground and talking to those undecided voters.

And if you can take a couple of weeks off -- because some of you just hang a habit like that -- (laughter) -- we encourage you to join our Vote Corps program to get out the vote specifically in Ohio, which is a key state. And if you're free those last four or five days before Election Day -- because I've got a lot of friends who are taking that chunk, they've already said, I'm going to get on a bus and I'm going to go somewhere -- we would encourage you all to head to Ohio as well. That's a state where they can absolutely use your on-the-ground support.

And if you're not able to leave New York, you can sign up to make calls at home. There are a lot of people who are doing that. In fact, one of our friends -- their teenage daughter -- for every debate is organizing a phone bank. And they have their little cell phones, because they're more technologically efficient than we are. (Laughter.) She's about 16 -- she does it on her own. She calls up. She gets into the system. And they're sitting there throughout the debate, a bunch of 16-year-olds in Chicago making phone calls. You can do it out of the comfort of your living room. So you just go to

Dashboard.BarackObama.com, and you can make that happen.

And we even have one of our field organizers who are here -- John? There you are. John is right there, John Sweeney. (Applause.) And because we don't want anybody to walk out this door today wondering, well, who do I talk to? (Laughter.) You talk to John right there. (Laughter.) So John is ready to be completely inundated when I'm done and he'll help you get started.

But I'm going to be honest with you, because I always try to be, this journey -- as it has always been -- it will continue to be hard. And trust me, even in these last 20 days, there will still be ups and downs over the course of this journey. So be prepared for that. I've had to learn. (Laughter.) I've had to learn riding the rollercoaster. (Laughter.)

But no matter what, from now until November the 6th, we need you all to just keep on working and struggling, keep pushing and think about it. We're pushing forward. We're pushing forward, because that is how change always happens in this country.

And this is something I really try to focus on when I talk to young people, especially college students, because I spend a lot of time at rallies on college campuses. And I remind them that we know from our history that change is hard and that it requires patience and tenacity. And I remind them that no matter what they do in their lives, real true change takes time. Real progress sometimes requires that extra push in whatever they do.

But I also remind them that if we keep showing up, which is the only thing you can do in life is wake up and keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing in our hearts what we know is right -- see because we know what's right -- then eventually we get there, we always do. I tell these young people in America we always do.

So we cannot let anyone talk down our dreams, to push back our aspirations. We cannot let anyone talk down our country or our future. We have every reason -- every reason in the world -- to be optimistic about what lies ahead. See, and our young people need to hear that about this country. (Applause.) We always move forward in America, we always do. We never go backwards. We always make progress.

And in the end, that is what elections are always about. Elections are always about hope. Don't let anybody tell you any differently -- elections are about hope. It's the kind of hope that I saw in my father's beaming face as he watched me cross that stage and get my college diploma. That's the kind of hope I'm talking about. (Applause.) The hope that Barack's grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised. That's the kind of hope we're talking about. (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 be here and be our very best. The hope that so many of us see when we look into the eyes of our children and our grandchildren. That's the hope I'm talking about.

That is why we're here today, because we want to give all our children a foundation for their dreams. And you all know what I'm talking about. We want to give all of our children opportunities worthy of their promise, because every single child in this country is worthy of that. We want to give our kids 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. (Applause.)

So what I tell myself is that we will not turn back now, not now. We are not turning back. We have come too far. For our children, we have come so far. But we know we still have so much more to do.

So here's what I got to know from you before I leave. Are you ready for this? (Applause.) Twenty days, are you ready for this? Are you ready to keep moving this country forward? (Applause.) Are you ready to roll up your sleeves, get on the phone, write a check, mail them to a battleground state, make sure that we do not lose ground for our kids and for our grandkids. We will make this happen. We have no choice.

Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Woodbury, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320409

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