Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Los Angeles, California
MRS. OBAMA: Well, that was so nice! Sheesh. (Applause.) Thank you so much. It is a real pleasure to be here with all of you tonight in this beautiful setting at the home of two of my favorite people in the whole wide world. And when you're my age, you don't often run into new people that you just sort of click with. But Michael and James have been just a true blessing to our family. I mean, imagine moving to this new house -- it's a little more than a house -- not knowing where stuff goes, how it works, and Michael just -- he has the right temperament, because believe it or not, the President has opinions about his drapes. (Laughter.) And Michael is very patient with him in a very humorous way. It's a very good balance. It's very interesting to watch.
But I want to thank them for generously hosting us at this beautiful home in this beautiful setting. Thank you guys. You are amazing. Well done. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize all of the National Finance Committee members here. Yay, you all. (Applause.) Firing it up. You made this event such a tremendous success, and we couldn't do this without you. We are truly, truly grateful and proud because all of you are good, solid people, as well. So thank you.
And finally I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. I'm thrilled to see so many new faces. That is always good. And I'm thrilled to see so many folks who have been with us right from the beginning; folks who have been through all of the ups and the downs and the nail-biting moments along the way, because there have been many.
And tonight, as we look ahead to the next part of this amazing journey, I can't help but think back to how it all began.
And I have to be honest and tell you that when Barack first started talking about running for President, I was not exactly enthusiastic about the idea. (Laughter.) I mean, don't get me wrong, I was proud of what my husband was doing in the Senate; he was a phenomenal U.S. senator. And I knew that he would make a phenomenal President. That was never a doubt in my mind.
But like a lot of people, I still had some cynicism about politics. And I was worried about the toll that a presidential campaign would take on my family. At the time, we had two young daughters. They are growing. Malia is here. And yes we are having conversations about shorts and heels and all that stuff. I don't know what to do. But she's growing up. But at that time they were still young. And the last thing that I wanted to do was disrupt their lives and turn their routines upside down. The last thing that I wanted in the world was to spend time apart from my girls.
So it took some convincing on Barack's part, and by "some," I mean a lot. (Laughter.) No, really. And even as I hit the campaign trail, I was still a little uneasy about this whole "President thing." That's what Malia used to call it -- "Is Dad doing that President thing?" (Laughter.)
But something happened to me during those first few months on the campaign trail that changed me, because for me campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina, it wasn't just about handshakes and stump speeches. For me it was really about the conversations that we were able to have with people on front porches and in folks' living rooms, people who didn't know a thing about us. Barack Obama who? You just let Barack Obama walk into your house and sit at your kitchen table -- it takes some courage -- into their homes, into their lives.
And I remember one of my first events in Iowa was a gathering in a backyard. It was a beautiful day. Never been there before. Didn't know the family. Tons of people out, just curious to see who I was. And within minutes, I was so comfortable that I remember kicking my shoes off -- I had high heels on, as usual -- and I was standing barefoot in the grass, just talking to folks.
And that's what campaigning was about for me. It was about meeting people one-on-one and hearing what was going on in their lives. And I learned a lot about folks. I learned about the businesses that they were trying to keep afloat -- the home that they loved, but could no longer afford, the spouse who came back from war, and still needed a lot of help, the child who was so smart, like so many of our children, who could be anything she could imagine if only her parents could find the way to pay tuition.
And these stories moved me. That's it. These stories were familiar to me. That was the thing.
Because in the parents working that extra shift, or taking that extra job, I saw Barack's mother, a young single mom struggling to support Barack and his sister.
I saw my father, who dragged himself to work at the city water plant every morning, because even as his Multiple Sclerosis got worse and he got weaker and weaker, my father was always determined to be our family's provider.
And in the grandparents coming out of retirement to pitch in and help make ends meet, I saw my own mother -- oh, thank God for Grandma -- who has helped raise our girls since the day they were born. We couldn't do this without Grandma.
I saw Barack's grandmother who caught a bus to work before dawn every day to help provide for their family. She was the primary breadwinner.
In the children I met who were worried about a mom who's lost her job, or a father deployed from home for months on end, kids so full of promise and dreams, of course I saw my own daughters, who are the center of my world.
And the thing is, is that these folks weren't asking for much. They were looking for basic things –- things like being able to see a doctor when you're sick. Things like having a decent public school to send your kids to, and a chance for them to go to college even if you're not rich. Things like making a decent wage, having a secure retirement, leaving something better for your kids.
And while we may have grown up in different places and seemed different in so many ways, their stories were my family's stories. They were Barack's family's stories. Their values were the ones we learned all over this country -- basic things -- you treat people how you want to be treated, you put your family first always, you do what you say you're going to do every time, you don't make false promises. These were our family's values.
And then suddenly, as I traveled around and saw the sameness, everything Barack had been saying about how we're all interconnected, about how we're not red states and blue states, those weren't just lines from a speech. It was what I was seeing with my own eyes, something that I wish every American could experience, because that changed me.
And you know what else changed me during those months on the campaign trail? All of you did, truly, this cynic, because when I got tired, I would think of all the folks out there making calls and knocking on doors day after day, folks who would never imagine themselves as part of the political process, and many of you were doing that, knocking on strange people's doors, getting them to vote for Barack Obama. And that would energize me.
And when I got discouraged, I would think of the folks opening their wallets even when they didn't have much to give, because a lot of people were giving a dollar, $25, their last dollar.
I would think of the folks who had the courage to let themselves believe again and hope again, because there are many people my grandparents' age who never believed this could happen. And it wasn't because they didn't believe in Barack. They didn't believe we could do this, that this country could do it. They had to let go and let themselves believe, forget everything they had learned, everything they experienced, and think about what was possible. And they would give me hope.
And the simple truth is that today, four years later, we are here because of all of you. And I'm not just talking about winning that election. I'm talking about what we've been doing every day in the White House since that time to keep fighting for the folks we met and the values we share. I'm talking about what Barack has been doing to help us all win the future.
And at a time when we still have so many challenges and so much work to do, it is so easy to forget about what we've been able to accomplish along the way.
But I want to just take a step back for a moment and think about these past couple of years, because it's only been two years, right?
And in two years, we have gone from an economy that was on the brink of collapse to an economy that is growing again. We're helping middle class families by cutting taxes, and working to stop credit card companies from taking advantage of regular folks. We're going to give working moms and dads a childcare tax credit because we know that those little costs add up. And we're helping women get equal pay for equal work with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. That was the first bill that my husband signed into law, the very first thing he did as President of the United States. (Applause.)
And because of health reform, millions of Americans will finally be able to afford a doctor. Their insurance companies won't be able to drop their coverage when they get sick, or charge them through the roof because their child has a pre-existing condition. (Applause.) No more. And now we have things covered like preventative care –- prenatal care, mammograms, ooh, just going crazy -- (laughter) -- things that save money but more importantly things that save lives.
Because we don't want to leave a mountain of debt for our kids, we're reducing our deficit and doing what families across this country are already doing. We're cutting back so that we can start living within our means.
But that still means we need to invest in the things that really matter -- things like clean energy, so that we can really bring down gas prices, things like scientific research, including stem cell research. Those are the investments that this President is making. (Applause.) We're also investing in community colleges, which are a gateway to opportunity for so many people, Pell Grants, which help so many young people afford their tuition. And then through a competition called Race to the Top, we've got 40 states now working to raise standards and reform their schools.
We're working to live up to our founding values of freedom and equality. And today, because we 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. (Applause.) No more.
And you might also recall that my husband appointed two brilliant Supreme Court Justices -- (applause) -- and for the first time in history, our daughters –- and our sons –- watched three women take their seats on our nation's highest court. (Applause.)
And we are also working to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. We're responsibly ending the war in Iraq and we've already brought home 100,000 men and women in uniform who have served this country so bravely.
And today, thanks to the tireless work of our intelligence and counter-terrorism communities and the heroic efforts of our troops, the man behind 9/11 and so many other horrific attacks has finally been brought to justice. Yes, that did happen. (Applause.)
And finally, we're tackling two issues near and dear to my heart, both as First Lady and as a mom.
The first is childhood obesity. I mean, this issue doesn't just affect our kids' health and how they feel. This issue affects how they feel about themselves and whether they will have the energy and the stamina to succeed in school and in life.
Are we good there? Do we need -- because we have agents. They have stuff. They come equipped with things. All right.
So we are working through this initiative to get better food into our schools and communities and to help parents make better decisions for their kids.
The second issue that Michael mentioned is one that I came to on the campaign trail, meeting so many extraordinary military families. These folks are raising their kids and running their households all alone while their spouses are on deployment after deployment, and they do it with tremendous courage and strength and pride. That's why Jill Biden and I launched a nationwide campaign to rally this entire country to serve those families and those men and women as well as they serve us. (Applause.)
So these are just some of the things that have been accomplished in two years. I could go on but I don't want to make you stand in your heels. It gets difficult. (Laughter.) I know.
So I think it's fair to say that we have seen some significant change these last couple of years. And we should be proud of what we've accomplished. But we should never be satisfied, because we know that we still have a lot of work to do. We know that too many of our kids still don't have what they need to succeed. We know that too many folks are still struggling to pay the bills today.
The truth is, is that all those folks we campaigned for, and won for, and that we've been fighting for, for these past two years, those folks still need our help. We are not done.
And that, more than anything else, is what drives my husband as President of the United States. That's what I see when he returns home after a long day traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people that he's met. And I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, when he's reading the letters people have sent him -- the letter from the woman dying of cancer whose health insurance wouldn't cover her care. The letter from the young person with so much promise, but so few opportunities.
And trust me, I see the sadness and the worry creasing his face. You want to know where the gray hairs come from? I hear the passion and determination in his voice. Says, "You won't believe what these folks are going through." Says, "Michelle, this isn't right. And we still have to fix this. We have to do more."
So the one thing I want to share with you about my husband is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. I mean, he might not remember your name, but he will remember, 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 day –- that collection of hopes, and dreams, and struggles.
And that's where Barack gets his passion. That is why he works so hard every day, and I have never seen anyone work this hard. Every day. Every day. Most days there isn't an issue that faces this world that he is not expected to fix.
Starting the first thing in the morning and going late into the night, this is a man who is hunched over briefing books. He reads every single word. He is gifted. He is able to retain, make notes, ask questions. He knows more than the people briefing him. This man is special because all those wins and losses, they're not wins and losses for him. They're wins and losses for the folks whose stories he carries with him, the folks he worries about and prays about before he goes to bed at night.
And in the end, for Barack, and for me, and for so many of you, that is what politics is about. It's what it should be about. It's about how we work together, even when it's hard, to make real changes that make a real difference in people's lives. That young person attending college today because she can finally afford it. That is happening. The mom or dad who can take of their child today find a doctor because of health care reform. That is happening. The folks who are working on the line today at places like GM, bringing home a good paycheck for their families. That change matters.
And now, more than ever before, we need your help to finish what we've started. We need all of you to be with us for that next phase of our journey. And I'm not going to kid you, because I didn't kid you when we first started, I never said this was going to be easy. And no one can quote me on that.
It's going to be long. It is going to be hard. I joke, did you ever think Barack Obama was going to be easy? Was there ever anybody here who just thought he'd just trounce in and fix everything, Barack Obama?
But here's the thing about my husband –- and this is something that I'd appreciate even if he didn't have the good sense to marry me. (Laughter and applause.) Even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. It's amazing. He just keeps moving forward.
And in those moments when we're all sweating it, and all of you have been sweating it at some point, because I know I have -- will the bill get passed, will the negotiations fall through, what will he do, why isn't he doing this, he should do more of that -- I do it to him, too -- (laughter) -- Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow. Nothing worth having happens in an instant, something we tell our children so that they actually invest. You don't get success overnight.
But he tells me that if we keep showing up, as we tell our children, if we keep fighting the good fight, and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there, because we always have. As bleak as things may be, we always wind up in the right place.
And that's what he needs from you. He needs you to be in this with him for the long haul. He needs you to hold fast to our vision and our values and our dreams for our kids and for our country. He needs you to work like you've never worked before.
And let me tell you, that is what I plan to do. And I won't be doing it as a wife or as a First Lady. I'm going to be doing it as a mother, who wants to leave a legacy for my girls. And more than that, I'm going to be doing it as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better, because the truth is, is that no matter what happens, my girls are going to be okay. I'm going to see to that. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that's probably true for many of the kids here, many of your kids.
But I think the last four years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said: That if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if it is not our daughter or our son. (Applause.) We cannot just look inward. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family's good fortune, because that is not what we do in this country. It'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 all in this together. And that's how it should be. That's a good thing. And I know that if we put our hearts and souls into this, as we've done before, if we do what we need to do during these next couple of years, then we can continue to make that change that we believe in. I know that we can build that country that our kids deserve.
So I have one last question. Are you in? (Applause.) I mean, come on. Are you in this? Are you ready for this? (Applause.) Because I certainly am. And I hope that all of you are fired up, ready to go, because I really look forward to this. This is going to be good working with all of you in the months and years ahead.
Thank you. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your commitment. Thank you for taking a risk. You haven't made a mistake. We're making things happen.
Thank you all so much. (Applause.)
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Los Angeles, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320544