Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Palm Beach, Florida
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Wow. Thank you all. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Please, rest yourselves. We want you ready to work. (Laughter.) So don't waste any energy on clapping. Oh, never mind, you can clap. (Laughter.) But it is a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you.
And I want to start by thanking Michele for that -- my staff is back there and they were saying, we need to get Michele on the road. I mean, she covered every point. I'm done. (Laughter.) I am done. You're amazing, Howard. Thank you both for hosting us in your beautiful home. You have an amazing family. We had a great time. I was drilled about iCarly, Air Force One -- I think they covered it all. You two need to go into media interviewing. (Laughter.) You could give Oprah a run for her money. (Laughter.) But we have to give them a round of applause for opening up this beautiful home. (Applause.)
And I also want to recognize Congressman Deutch and his family, who are here. (Applause.) And there's a birthday girl here as well.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, she's a Deutch.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, happy birthday. And Mayor Muoio, for her leadership. Thank you both. Thank you all for joining us today. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to thank the co-hosts who made this event such a wonderful success -- Ewa, Danny, Elaine, Jerry, Mark, Andrew -- awesome. Way to go. Let's give them a round of applause. (Applause.) They do it so seamlessly.
And finally, I have to thank all of you for taking the time to join us here this afternoon. And I've seen a few of you around the country, and I'm always amazed that you come back to hear me again and again. (Laughter.) Funny, you're not sick of me yet. (Laughter.) But it is always a joy, and it feels like a privilege and an honor when I come out here and I see so many people who are just positive and enthusiastic. I tell people, as I see them in rope lines and photo lines, it's important for you to know that this keeps us going. I mean, for me and for Barack, it's your love, it's your support, it's your energy that inspires us. So we are so grateful.
And I know there's a reason that you all are here today.
You're here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. You're here because you know that in less than a year -- and it is -- the months are closing in -- we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And you're here because you know that the choice that we make won't just affect all of us, but it's going to affect our children and our grandchildren, and the world we leave for them long after we're gone.
And that's truly why I'm here. That's why I do this. That's where I get my energy.
You see, as First Lady, I have the privilege of traveling all across this country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds, and hearing what's going on in their daily lives.
And believe me, people are struggling. I hear about their struggles –- the bills they're trying to pay, the businesses they're trying to keep afloat. I hear about how people are doing everything in their power to keep it together, taking the extra shift, working the extra job; how they're saving and 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, with the cost of things like gas and groceries and tuition continuing to rise -- and people's paychecks just haven't kept up.
So when the economic crisis hit, for far too many families, the bottom completely fell out. Now, over the past three years, this administration, your President, has worked very hard to dig us out of this mess. And there has been a lot of amazing progress made. We have had 22 straight months of private sector job growth, and the unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in nearly three years. (Applause.)
But we know that we still have a long way to go. And this President of yours has been working hard to rebuild our economy based on, as Michele said, a vision that we all share -– the belief that, as Barack says, that hard work should pay off; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone should get a fair shot, and do their fair share, and play by the same rules. Michele, you said this as well -- these are basic American values. These are the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself.
By now, you know my story: My father was a blue-collar worker, working at the city water plant, and we lived in a small apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Neither of my parents attended college, but they worked, and they saved, and they sacrificed, because they wanted something better for me and my brother.
And more than anything else, that's what's at stake -- the fundamental promise that no matter who you are, or how you started off, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself, and an even better life for your kids.
And on just about every issue -– from health care to education to the economy -– that is the choice we face.
For example, when we talk about tax cuts for the middle class, or unemployment insurance for folks out of work, that's about whether people will be able to heat their homes, put a hot meal on their table, put gas in their car so that they can even look for work. It's about whether folks can afford to own a home, send their kids to college, retire with dignity, with security. It's about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs.
That's what's at stake. That is the choice that we face.
And if we think for a moment about what this administration has done to stand up for American consumers -- I'm talking about families who are getting hit with those hidden credit card fees; I'm talking about students drowning in debt; seniors losing their homes, their savings because they were tricked into loans that they couldn't afford, couldn't understand.
That's why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission –- and that is to protect folks from exactly these kind of abuses. Because he believes that when you've worked hard, and when you've saved -- when you've followed the rules, you shouldn't lose it all to someone looking to make some easy money. That's not fair. That's not right. And your President is working hard to do something about it.
And then you have to think about all that we've done together for small businesses, and the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year -- two-thirds. And I'm talking about the mother who opens a drycleaner on the corner to provide for her kids. That's who we're talking about. Or the family that's been running that neighborhood diner for generations. Or the veteran who launches a startup and pursues that American Dream that he fought so hard for.
Those are the folks that we're talking about. The folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, and then they go home at night, poring over the books, trying to make it all add up -- determined.
For these folks, these tax increases [sic] mean so much. The small business tax cuts this administration has passed mean the difference between these people hiring new employees or handing out pink slips; between keeping their doors open, or closing shop for good.
That is the choice that 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.)
And he did this because he knows what it means when women aren't treated fairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother -– a woman with a high school education –- worked her way up to become the vice president at a little community bank. And she worked hard. She was good at her job. But, like so many, she hit a glass ceiling, and she watched men no more qualified than she was -– men she actually trained -– be promoted up the ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Barack, for him, this issue is not abstract, it's 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 check, or having that money for gas and groceries and school clothes for their kids.
He did it because when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, he knows that women's success in this economy is the key to families' success in this economy. (Applause.) Yes. And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace.
And that's what's at stake in this election. (Applause.)
And let's just talk for a minute about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) But now, there are folks actually talking about repealing this reform. And today, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let this happen?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to let insurance companies refuse to cover things like cancer screenings, prenatal care that save money, but more importantly, save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives, and the lives of the people we love? (Applause.)
Are we going to go back to the day when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because they have pre-existing conditions like cancer or diabetes or 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?
And then, when our kids get older and they graduate from school, we know how hard it is for them to find jobs, especially jobs that have insurance. And that's why, as part of health reform, kids can now stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26 years old. And today, that's how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage. (Applause.)
So are we going to take insurance away from those kids? Or will we say that we won't let out sons and daughters go without health care, when they're just starting out and building their families and careers? Are we going to fight for this?
That is the choice that we face. (Applause.)
And think, for a moment, about what's been done on education. I mean, think about all those investments that your President has made to raise standards and reform public schools. I mean, this is about improving the circumstances for millions of children in this country. I mean, these are our children, sitting in crumbling classrooms today; kids with so much promise; kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them a chance.
And think about how we've tripled investments for job training at community colleges. I mean, this is about hundreds of thousands of hard-working folks who are determined to do whatever it takes to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages. I mean, these are the folks that are doing it all. They're working full-time. They're raising their kids. But they still make it to class every evening, they study late into the night, because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, this investment 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 let us compete with any country, anywhere in the world.
That is what's at stake. (Applause.)
And let's 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 our daughters watched three women take their seat on our nation's highest court. And consider the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -– on our privacy and security; on whether we speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose.
That's what's at stake. That is the choice that we're facing. (Applause.)
And finally, let's not forget all that this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.)
Your President ended the war in Iraq, brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.) And we are working so very hard to give our veterans and their families the support, the education, the employment benefits that they have earned. (Applause.)
And because Barack ended "don't ask, don't tell," our troops will never have to lie again about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)
That is what's at stake.
So make no mistake about it, whether it's health care or the economy; whether it's education or foreign policy -- (phone rings) -- or someone calling on the phone -- (laughter) -- the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but more important, who do we want to be. That's the question: Who are we?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to a few at the top? 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? That's the question. Will we tell folks who've done everything right, but are still struggling -- just a little bit -- are we going to look those Americans in the eye and say, 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? 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 truly the stakes.
And it is important for you to know that your President, my husband, Barack, he knows this deep in his core. 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. He saw that. And when she needed help, his grandmother stepped up, waking up every morning before dawn, getting on a bus to go to a job at the bank. And even though she was passed over again and again, she never complained. How many people do we know like that in our lives? You never complain. She just kept showing up, kept doing her best.
So believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone you love doesn't have a chance to fulfill their potential. Those are the experiences that have made him the man –- and more importantly, the President -– that he is today. And we should be so proud to have him standing for us. (Applause.)
And that is what I hear in his voice when he returns from traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people he's met. That's what I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he's poring over the letters he's getting from people all over the country. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won't cover her care. Or the letter from the father struggling to keep up, to pay his bills and keep his family under one roof. The letter from too many young people with so much promise, but too few opportunities.
You hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He's like, "Folks are struggling. You will not believe what they're going through." He says, "Michelle, this isn't right. We've got to fix this. We've got so much more work to do."
You see, when it comes to the people he meets -- I tell people this everywhere -- Barack has a memory like a steel trap. (Laughter.) If he's had a few minutes with you and a decent conversation, he might not remember your name but he will never forget your story. And it is those stories that stay imprinted on his heart. And that's what he carries with him every day -- it is our collection of struggles, and our hopes and our dreams.
That is where Barack gets his passion. That is 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 we're wondering, what's going on? What's he doing? Why doesn't he do this? Why doesn't he do that? We're sweating him, but he's not sweating. Because he never loses sight of the end goal. That is the beauty of your President. (Applause.) He keeps his eye on the big prize; never lets himself get distracted by all the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward, one step at a time.
Because your President has a vision for this country -– a vision that we all share. I don't care who you are. This is the vision that made our country great. But I have said this before, and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. That was never a possibility.
He needs your help. Even when you don't agree with him, he needs your help. He needs you to make those calls and register those voters; get down on the ground and do that work to knock on those doors; take those "I'm In" cards, sign yourself up and your friends up, and your neighbors and your colleagues. There's too much at stake. Convince them to join in giving just a little part of their lives, a little time each week to this campaign.
Because we all know that this is not just about one extraordinary man. (Applause.) This is not about Barack Obama -- though I have to admit, I think he's really cute and pretty fabulous. (Laughter.) This is really about us -– it always has been about us -- all of us coming together, believing in the country that we live in, working together to make it great. It's about us.
But I am not going to kid you, this journey, as always, will be long. It will be hard. It will be full of twists and turns. You see it now: One minute -- you never know what's going to happen. (Laughter.)
But the truth is, that's how change always happens in this -- that's how change happens. The reality is, change is slow; it never happens all at once -- never. Not real change. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, then eventually we get there. We always do. We always have. We never go backwards. Maybe not in our lifetime, but maybe in our children's lifetime, or our grandchildren's lifetime.
Because in the end, this is not about us. In the end, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We are fighting them for our sons and our daughters, and for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We're fighting for the world that we want to leave for them. (Applause.)
And I'm in this fight not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my daughters. I'm in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to make this country better. Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. They are blessed. My girls will have plenty of opportunities and advantages, and I'm sure that's true for many of the kids in your lives as well.
But I think the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said: that if any child in this country is left behind, then that should matter to us -- even if he is not our son, even if she is not our daughter. It should matter to us. (Applause.)
If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family's good fortune. That's not who we are. In the end, we cannot separate our individual stories from the broader American story. Because what we know is that in this country, we rise and we fall together. And 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, that everyone has a chance to get ahead.
That is what's at stake.
So it's time for us to get moving. (Laughter.) It is time for us to get to work. We don't have time to worry, to groan, to -- we don't have time.
So I have one question: Are you ready for this?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: No, we need you to be really in. Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: There is a lot at stake. We don't have time. We need you fired up and ready to go and ready to make it happen. Because this is too important for our future.
So I am counting on seeing all of you out there, doing whatever it is you do best -- taking your neighbors and shaking them a little bit. (Laughter.) Going to church and making sure people are registered to vote. Yelling from the rooftops. Pulling women aside -- just shaking them. (Laughter.) We need you. And I know that if we come together, and we do this work, we will elect the President that this country deserves: Barack Obama.
Thank you all. God bless you. (Applause.)
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Palm Beach, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320356