Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Pasadena, California

June 13, 2011

MRS. OBAMA: Well, goodness, that was good. How's everybody doing? You all, thank you so much. This is a real thrill for me. It's a pleasure to be here, to be back. I remember so well being here -- gosh, how long ago was that? Was that two years ago? It was 2009, and I remember we were sitting -- was it right about here? We had two big chairs and we were sort of the king and queen of Pasadena. It was kind of cool. (Laughter.)

So it is great to be back. I want to start by thanking Lena for that very kind introduction and more importantly for her outstanding work today and every day. She has been a real friend and supporter to both me and to the President, and we are grateful for her friendship, for her dedication, for her passion. And let's give her a round of applause. (Applause.)

Yes, everyone, please feel free to sit. It's hot out here. It's nice and sunny. Everybody, sit and rest.

I also want to recognize Ann and Robert Hamilton and their huge and beautiful family, for their incredible generosity in hosting us at their beautiful home. Thank you again, Ann. Thank you, Robert. You all have been tremendous to us, as well.

And I also understand that Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn is here. Is she here? Hey, Janice, if you're here. (Laughter.) I know that she's going to make a terrific member of Congress, but I'm glad that she is working hard on behalf of the people here.

I also want to thank all of the National Finance Committee members for making this event such a tremendous success. This is a terrific turnout. You all are amazing. Way to go. Keep it up.

And finally, I want to thank all of you all, everybody here, for coming today. And I am thrilled to see so many new faces. I know there are people here who have not been to an Obama event, and we are excited to have you here. But I'm also thrilled to see so many people who have been with us right from the very beginning -- (applause) -- yes, indeed -- (applause) -- folks who have been through all of the ups and downs, all of the nail-biting moments along the way, because there was some drama, right? There's always a little drama. And today, as I look ahead to the next part of this journey, I can't help but think back to how it all began.

And I have to be honest with you, when Barack first started talking about running for President, I wasn't exactly thrilled by the idea. I was proud of what my husband was doing in the U.S. Senate. And don't get me wrong, I knew he would make an extraordinary President. I knew it. I told you all. (Applause.)

But like a lot of people, I still had some cynicism about politics. That was my hesitation. And I was worried about the toll that a presidential campaign would take on my family. We had two beautiful daughters. They were young at the time. Malia is now here -- yeah -- and we're trying to work on the length of the shorts and all that stuff. (Laughter.) It's a whole different set of conversations. But we had two young daughters at home, and the last thing I wanted to do was disrupt their lives and upset their routine. That was a huge concern. The last thing in the world that I wanted was to spend time apart from my children. They are the air that I breathe.

So I have to tell you it took some convincing on Barack's part, and by "some" I mean a whole lot. (Laughter.) And even as I hit the campaign trail, I was still a little uneasy about this whole "President thing." That's what Malia would call it, the "President thing."

But I have to tell you that something happened to me during those first few months on the trail that changed me. See, when we started campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, it wasn't just about handshakes and stump speeches. It started to become about conversations -- conversations on people's front porches and in their living rooms; people welcoming us into their home. People who didn't know anything about us opened up their homes before Barack Obama was Barack Obama. People were sitting down at the kitchen table, talking. They welcomed us into their homes and into their lives.

And I remember one of the first events that I did in Iowa was a gathering in a beautiful backyard, a very solid community; folks who were just sitting on the lawn. It was one of my first events. And I remember within a few moments, I was so comfortable in that place that I had never been before that I kicked off my heels, like I'd like to do now but I'm not going to -- (laughter) -- and I remember I was just standing barefoot in the grass, just talking to people. That's how comfortable I was.

That's what campaigning became for me. It was about meeting people one-on-one and hearing what was going on in their lives. That's what gave me energy, learning about the businesses they were trying to start -- businesses they were trying to keep afloat, the home they loved but could no longer afford, the spouse who came back from the war, changed forever, who needed help, the child who was so smart, who could be anything in the world she wanted if only her family could afford to pay tuition.

It's those stories that I heard that moved me. And even more than that, these stories were familiar to me. So familiar.

And that was one of the lessons that I learned. Whether you grew up on the South Side of Chicago or in a backyard in Iowa, our stories are shared.

In the parents working the 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 made him weaker and weaker, my father was determined to be our family's provider.

In the grandparents coming out of retirement to pitch in and help make ends meet, I saw my own mother who has helped me raise my girls -- thank God for Grandma -- (applause) -- from the day she was born -- from the day they were born.

I saw Barack's grandmother who caught a bus to work before dawn every day to help provide for her family.

And in the children I met who were worried about a mom who's lost her job, or a dad deployed far from home, kids so full of promise and dreams, of course I saw my own two daughters, who, as you know, are the center of my world.

And what I saw was that these folks weren't asking for much. I mean, Barack talked about this. They were looking for basic things –- like being able to see a doctor when you get sick. Not much. (Applause.) Things like having a decent public school for your kids, and making sure they had a chance to go to college even if you weren't rich. Little things. Things like making a decent wage, having a secure retirement, leaving a little something better for your kids.

And while we may have grown up in different places and seemed different in many ways, these stories were my family's stories. They were Barack's family's stories. All over the country we heard these stories. Their values were the same; things like -- that we learn from our parents -- that you treat people how you want to be treated, right; that you put your family first, no matter what; that you work hard at everything you do, you put in 120 percent; that you do what you say you're going to do; when you make a promise, you keep it, even if it's hard, even if it's -- (applause) -- not in your self-interest. These were our family's values.

And I saw this playing itself out around the country. And suddenly, everything Barack had been saying about how we're all interconnected, about how we're not just red states or blue states, those weren't just lines from a speech. It was what I was seeing with my own eyes around the country. It was something that I wished every American could experience.

And that changed me. That pushed me away from my cynicism. It kept me from worrying about my own inconveniences and the sacrifices that we would have to make to make this happen.

And you know something else that changed me during all those months out on the campaign trail? You all changed me. I mean, the truth is, coming back here and seeing so many new faces, people who I haven't seen in a while but it's still like coming home, you all changed me.

See, because when I got tired, I would think about all the folks out there making calls, knocking on doors day after day. Remember that? People -- you'd never thought -- would be out on the street knocking on a stranger's door telling him to vote for Barack Obama. (Laughter and applause.) And that would energize me just thinking about it.

And when I got discouraged, I would think of folks opening their wallets, the folks who gave when they didn't have much to give, to this campaign. I would think of folks who had the courage to let themselves believe again and hope again. And for so many people, it was hard for them to believe that this country would be ready for Barack Obama, but they let themselves believe again. And that would give me hope.

And the simple truth is that today, four years later, we are here. I am the First Lady of the United States. Barack Obama is the President of the United States. (Applause.) We're here because of all of you. Truly. (Applause.)

And I'm not just talking about winning an election. I'm talking about what we've been doing every day in the White House since that time to keep on fighting for the folks we met and fighting for those values that we share. I'm talking about what your President has been doing to help us win the future.

At a time when we still have so many challenges and so much work to do, it is so easy to forget what we've done along the way.

But let's just take a step back for a moment and think about what's happened over the past couple of years -- because it's only been a couple of years:

We've gone from an economy that was on the brink of collapse to an economy that's starting to grow again. (Applause.) We are helping middle-class families by cutting taxes -- middle-class families -- working to stop credit card companies from taking advantage of people. We're going to give working moms and dads a childcare tax credit because we know how those costs add up. And we're helping women get equal pay for equal work -- (applause) -- if you remember, that was the first bill my husband signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act, the very first thing he did as President of the United States.

Because of health care reform, millions, millions of folks will finally be able to afford a doctor. (Applause.) 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. No more. And now we have to cover preventive care because of health reform –- simple things like prenatal care, mammograms that not just saves money but saves lives. That's some of what we've done.

Because we don't want to leave our kids a mountain of debt, we are reducing the deficit by doing what families across this country are already doing. We're cutting back so that we can start living within our means as a country.

But at the same time we're investing in things that really matter -- things like clean energy, so that we can do something about those gas prices; scientific research, including important things like stem cell research. We're investing in those types of things. (Applause.) We're also investing in education, in our future, in community colleges, which, as so many people know, that is the gateway to opportunity for so many folks. That is where opportunity lies. And Pell Grants, which help so many young people pay for their tuition, that's the investment we've been making. And through a competition that we call Race to the Top, we've got 40 states working to raise standards and to reform their schools.

We're working to live up to our founding values of freedom and equality. And today, 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. We've got that done, too. (Applause.)

And you may recall, although this happened very early, 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 seat on the nation's highest court. (Applause.)

We're working to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. We are responsibly ending the war in Iraq and have already brought home 100,000 men and women in uniform who served this country so bravely. (Applause.) They are now home.

And today, thanks to the tireless work of our intelligence and counter-terrorism communities and the heroic efforts of our troops, the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts has finally been brought to justice. (Applause.)

Finally, we are tackling two issues near and dear to my heart, both as First Lady and as a mother.

The first, as Lena mentioned, is childhood obesity. This issue doesn't just affect our kids' health and how they feel. It affects how they feel about themselves and it affects whether they will have the energy and the stamina to succeed not just in school but in life. So we're working hard to get better food into our schools and into communities and to help parents make better decisions for their kids. And we're making some progress.

The second issue is one, again, 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 deployed, many of them multiple deployments. And they do it with a tremendous courage, strength and pride. I have seen it for myself. It will move you. Every American should spend time on a base. Every American should visit a military hospital. Every American should understand that strength and discipline and sacrifice.

That's why we launched a nationwide campaign to rally our country to serve those men and women and their families as well as they've served us. (Applause.)

So those are just some of the things that have happened in two years. I could go on, but it's hot. (Laughter.)

So I think it's fair to say that we've made some significant change these last couple of years. And we should be proud of what we've accomplished. Everyone. (Applause.)

But we should never be satisfied, because we know that we still have so much more 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 their bills every day.

And the truth is, is that all those folks we campaigned for, and we won for, and that we've been fighting for all these years, those folks still need our help.

And that, more than anything else, is what drives my husband as President.

Now, let me tell you something about your President. That's what I see when he returns home after a long day traveling around the country, I mean, doing things you wouldn't imagine that a single person could do in the span of 24 hours. And he always tells me not about how hard the day was but about the people he's met along the way.

And I see in those quiet moments late at night, after we've put the girls to bed, and he's hunched over his desk, and he's reading everything -- letters people have sent him. That's what keeps him motivated. He reads those letters. A letter from the woman dying of cancer whose health insurance wouldn't cover her care. Those are the letters he's reading. The letter from the young person with so much promise, but so few opportunities.

And I see the sadness and the worry that's creasing his face. And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says, "You know, Mich, you won't believe what these folks are going through." He says, "It's not right. Still not right. And we've got to fix this. We have to do more."

And what some of you know, who has spent any time with Barack, is that when it comes to the people he meets and the stories he hears, he has a memory like a steel trap. I mean, it's a gift. He remembers everything. He can retain so much information, substantively -- stories, background, and children. He might not remember your name, but if he's had a few minutes and a decent conversation, 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.

That is what your President does. That's where he gets his passion. And that's why he works so hard every day. I mean, this man doesn't take a day off. The President of the United States works every day. There isn't a problem that faces this world that doesn't come across his desk, with an expectation of completion.

Starting first thing in the morning and going late into the night, hunched over every briefing, he reads every word of every memo so that he is more prepared than the people briefing him, writing notes, asking questions. That is who your President is. That's who you elected, because all those wins and losses, trust me, are 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 Obama, and for me, and for so many of us here, that is what politics is about. It's not about one person. (Applause.) It is not about one President. We talked about this. This election was not about Barack Obama. It's about how we work together to make real changes that make a real difference in people's lives on the ground. The young person attending college today because she can finally afford it. The mom or dad who can take their child to a doctor today because of health care reform. Those are real changes for people. You may not hear them on the news all the time, but that's helping folks. The folks who are working on the line today at places like GM, and bringing home a good paycheck to their families.

Now, more than ever, we need your help to finish what we've started. We need all of you to be with us on the next phase of our journey. And I'm not going to kid you, it is not going to be easy. And it is going to be long. It was never supposed to be easy for Barack Obama. Did anybody think that? (Laughter.) Was anybody under the impression that this was going to be smooth and easy? Well, I wasn't. (Laughter.) It's going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.

And I know you all have been riding that roller coaster, rolling -- oh, my god, what's he doing now -- and why isn't he -- oh, why did he -- why isn't he saying -- boy, it's -- we hear you. (Laughter.)

But here's the thing about Barack –- and this is something I'd appreciate even if he hadn't shown the good judgment to marry me. (Laughter and applause.) But even in the toughest moments -- and I have seen him every step of the way for every fight, for every decision -- when it seems like all is lost, and we're all wringing our hands, and I've done it to him, too -- what's going to happen, are we going to be okay -- (laughter) -- Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He is always an end-goal game player. He's not looking right here. He's looking way down the road. (Applause.) And he never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. It doesn't faze him. He just keeps moving forward, step by step. That's how change happens. (Applause.)

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that that bill won't pass, or the negotiations might fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. That's how he reassures me. It's not about today. It's about our future. It's about these kids. It's not about us.

He reminds me that change is slow. Nothing worth having happens in an instant. He reminds me that change does not happen all at once. It never does. Never has. But he tells me that if we keep showing up, right, if we keep fighting the good fight, and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there, because we always have. When you think about it, we always have gotten to the right place in this country.

And that's what he needs from you. All of you. That's why I'm back out here on the campaign trail. He needs you to be in this with him for the long haul, the end game. 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. Every day.

And that's what I plan on doing, because I am not doing this just as his wife. I never have. I'm not doing it because I'm the First Lady. I'll be doing it because I'm a mother. (Applause.) I want to leave a legacy for our girls that I can be proud of. And more than that, I will be doing it as a citizen who knows that we can do great things together to change this country for the better, because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that's probably true for a lot of families here, for a lot of your kids, as well.

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 -- (applause) -- even if she's not our son or our daughter. If any family in this country struggles, then we can't be fully content with our own family's good fortune. We can't just sit back and let our neighbors struggle, because that's not what we do in this country. That's not who we are.

In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story. And that, I know. I've seen it. Like it or not, we are all in this together. And that's not so bad. (Applause.)

So I know that if we all put our hearts and our souls into this, if we do what we need to do during the next couple of years, then we can continue to make the change that we believe in. We can. And I know that if we do that, we can build the country that our children deserve.

So I have one last question to ask you. Are you in? (Applause.) I mean, are you ready for this? (Applause.) Because I am in. (Applause.) And I hope that you all are fired up. (Applause.) And I hope that you all are ready to go -- (applause) -- because it is going to take all of our energy to keep moving towards the future.

I look forward to working with you all hard in the years ahead. Thank you all, God bless, keep praying, keep working. (Applause.) We are so grateful to all of you. Thank you so much.

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Pasadena, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320565

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