Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Tampa, Florida

October 27, 2011

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, goodness! Thank you. Joel, that was very nice. (Laughter.) Wasn't it? It is a pleasure and an honor for me to be here. I want to thank Joel again for that very generous introduction, and I also want to thank Shannon and Joel -- and Cooper -- (laughter) -- who I think is done with us -- for opening up their beautiful home and for hosting us all here today.

And I also want to recognize Justin Day and Mark Sena for their outstanding work as co-chairs of today's event. Let's give them all a round of applause. (Applause.) Along with everybody else who put effort into making this afternoon such a tremendous success.

And finally, I want to thank all of you for taking time out of your very busy lives to join us here today.

It is hot and you guys are standing up for me, and I really appreciate it. But I know that there's a reason why all of you are here today. Some of it was to see me, but I think that you're here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And I know you're here because you know that in a little over a year, we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And I also know you're here because you care about this country, you care about your fellow citizens, and more importantly, you care about your kids and your grandkids, and the world that we're leaving behind for them.

And that's really why I'm here -- and why I'm going to be out here on the road, campaigning so hard. As First Lady, I have many great honors, but one of the greatest privileges I have is traveling across the country, and meeting folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what's going on in their lives. And every day, I hear about how people are struggling -- about the businesses they're trying to keep afloat, the doctor bills they can't pay, the mortgage they can no longer afford. I hear about how they're doing everything they can to stay afloat, working that extra shift, taking the extra job; how they're scrimping and saving and sacrificing, many of them spending not a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.

And make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new. Truly, for decades now, middle-class people have been squeezed from all sides. And the cost of things like gas and groceries and tuition has been rising, while people's paychecks just haven't kept up. So when the economic crisis hit, for too many families, the bottom just fell out. So the question today is, what are we, as a country, going to do about this? Where do we go from here?

And I know that amidst all the chatter and the debates, it's really hard to see clearly what's at stake -- because these issues are so complicated, and folks are so busy and tired, raising families, working full-time jobs, many helping out in their own communities to top it off. And many of us just don't have the time to follow the news and all the back-and-forth, and to figure out how all of this connects to our daily lives.

But the fact is that in little over a year from now, we are going to make a decision between two very different visions for this country. Very different. And I'm here today because when it comes to just about every issue that we face -- from our health, to our economic security, to the quality of our schools -- the stakes for our families, and for our country, have never been higher.

And let's start with the American Jobs Act that my husband sent to Congress. Let's start there. Because it's important to understand that when we talk about this bill, we talk about how this bill would give tax cuts to six million business owners, we're talking about the folks who run the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year in this economy. That's two-thirds.

And we're talking about the people who own these businesses who work themselves to the bone every single day, and then they head home, pore over the books late into the night, determined to make all the numbers add up. We're talking about a tax cut that could mean the difference between these businesses hiring new employees, or handing out pink slips -- between keeping their doors open, or closing up shop for good. That's what's at stake.

And when we talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for six million Americans, we're talking about folks who are just weeks away from losing their only source of income. So this bill is literally about whether millions of families and children will have food on their tables and a roof over their head.

It's about whether folks will have more money in their pockets -- which, in turn, means more money in our economy, which means more jobs. But most importantly, it's about whether we as a country will honor that fundamental promise that we made generations ago, that when times are hard, we do not abandon our fellow citizens. (Applause.) We don't let everything fall apart for struggling families. Instead, we say, "There but for the grace of God goes my family." (Applause.) Instead, we say we're all in this together -- and we extend a helping hand.

That is why, even though there are some trying to stop this bill from moving forward, my President -- and my husband -- (laughter) -- he is not going give up. (Applause.) He is going to keep fighting -- fighting for what are common-sense jobs proposals. Things like whether -- tax cuts for working people, tax cuts for businesses that hire unemployed veterans, jobs for our teachers and construction workers, job training for unemployed or low-income folks, rebuilding our crumbling schools, refurbishing vacant or foreclosed homes and businesses.

All of that is what is in the American Jobs Act. That is what we're fighting for. That is the choice in this election. (Applause.)

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 -- the very first bill. (Applause.) He did it because he believes that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. And he did it because he understands that 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. And closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money to buy gas and groceries, and put school clothes on the backs of their kids. That is the choice we're making in this election.

And let's talk just for a minute about health care. Last year, we made history by finally passing health care reform. (Applause.) Yes, we all did that. But now there are folks who are talking about repealing that reform.


MRS. OBAMA: And today we have to ask ourselves will we let them succeed? Is that who we are?


MRS. OBAMA: Will we let insurance companies deny us coverage because we have preexisting conditions like breast cancer or diabetes?


MRS. OBAMA: Or will we stand up and say that in this country, we do not allow our fellow citizens to go bankrupt because they get sick? Who are we?

Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventative care -- things like cancer screenings and prenatal care -- that save money and save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives, and more importantly, for the lives of the people we love? That is what's at stake here. That is the choice in this election.

And think for a minute about what your President as done on education. Think about the investments we've made to raise standards and reform our public schools. (Applause.) This is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children in this country, kids sitting in crumbling classrooms. Our kids, with so much promise. Kids who could be anything they want if only we gave them the chance.

Think about how this administration has tripled investments, for job training at community colleges just this year. And this is about millions of hardworking people who are determined to get the skills they need to better their jobs and their wages. These are folks willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives -- that self-determination. These are folks who are working full-time, raising their kids, and then they find time to make it to class every night, 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 our workers will determine nothing less than the future of this economy. It will determine whether we're prepared to make the discoveries and build the industries that will allow us to compete with any country anywhere in the world. That is what's at stake in this election.

And let's not forget about what it meant when my husband appointed those 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.) But more importantly, let's not forget the impact those decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -- on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose. That is what's at stake here. (Applause.)

Think about how my husband is finally bringing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Think about how we'll be bringing the last of our troops home from Iraq by year's end, and they'll be able to celebrate the holidays with their families. (Applause.)

Think about all that we've been able to do to help our veterans and our military families get the education, the employment and the benefits they've earned -- because we believe in this country that we should serve our men and women in uniform and their families as well as they have served us. That is who we are. (Applause.)

And we cannot forget how, because we finally 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's who we are. (Applause.)

And think about how this President finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts. (Applause.) And how we now have a foreign policy where we work to keep our country safe and we restore our standing in the world. That is what's at stake in this election. (Applause.)

So make no mistake about it -- I mean, whether it's health care, or the economy, or education, or foreign policy, the choice we make in this election will determine nothing less than who we are as a country -- but more importantly, who we want to be. Who are we? Will we be a country that tells folks who've done everything right but are struggling to get by, "tough luck, you're on your own"? Is that who we are?


MRS. OBAMA: Or will we honor the fundamental American belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, and if one of us is hurting, then we're all hurting? Who are we? (Applause.)

Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? Who are we? Or will we give every child a chance to succeed no matter where they're from, or what they look like or how their money parents are -- have. Who are we?

Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built a thriving middle class? Will we rebuild our economy for the long term so that work pays, and responsibility is rewarded, and, yes, everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and does their fair share? Who are we? That is the choice we face. Those are the stakes. That is it.

And there's more. But believe me -- but it's hot. (Laughter.) I don't want anybody falling out. (Laughter.) But your President knows this. He understands these issues because he's lived them. Barack was raised by a single mother struggling to put herself through school and pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped in but his grandmother -- waking up every morning before dawn to catch the bus to a job at the bank. And his grandmother worked hard, and she was good at what she did. But for nearly two decades, she was passed over for promotions because she was a woman. And she watched men no more qualified than she -- men she actually trained -- climb the corporate ladder ahead of her.

So, believe me, 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. And heaven knows, today, as a father, he knows what it means to want your children to grow up with no limits to their dreams. (Applause.) See, those are the experiences that have made him the man -- and more importantly, the President -- he is today. And for that, we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)

And that is what I hear in his voice when he returns home after a long day traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people he's met. And that's what I see in those quiet times after the girls have gone to bed -- he's up every night, late at night, poring over briefings and letters from the people who tell him their stories. 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 too many young people with so much promise, but so few opportunities.

And I hear the passion and determination in his voice. He says, "You won't believe what folks are going through, Michelle." That's what he tells me. He says, "It's not right. We have to fix this. We have so much more work to do."

See, what you need to know about your President is that when it comes to the people he meets, he has a memory like a steel trap. 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 -- it is that collection, our collection of hopes and struggles and dreams.

And that is where Barack Obama gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight and his focus. And that's why, even in the hardest moments -- and there have been many -- when it seems like all is lost and we're sweating it, and we're sweating him -- Barack Obama never loses sight of the end game. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward. (Applause.)

But I have said this before and I will say it again: He cannot do it alone. He needs your help. He needs you to make those calls and to register voters. He needs you to take those "I am in" cards and to sign up yourselves and your friends and your neighbors and your colleagues -- let them understand what is at stake. This is not a game. These are real differences. This will determine our country for a long time -- what these girls will experience. Convince them to join in in giving just a little part of their lives each week to this campaign. That's what your President needs from you.

And I'm not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long and it will be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is that change always happens that way in this country. That's how it's always worked. The reality is that real change is slow, and it never happens all at once. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep doing what we know in our hearts is the right thing, then we always get there. We always do. That is the history of our country -- maybe not in our lifetime, but maybe in our children's lifetimes, in our grandchildren's lifetimes.

In the end, that's what it's all about. In the end, we're not fighting these battles for ourselves; we're fighting them battles for our sons and our daughters, and our grandsons and our granddaughters. Just like the people who fought for us, we are fighting for the world we want to leave for them.

And I'm not in this just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my children. I'm in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. (Applause.) And the truth is that no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. My girls are blessed with plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that's probably true for so many of the kids here today. 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 matters to all of us, even if he's not our son, even if she's not our daughter. If any family in this country struggles, then we can't be fully content with our own family's good fortune, because that's not what we do in America. That is not who we are.

In the end, we can't separate our individual stories from the broader American story. Like it or not, we're all in this together. And that's how it should be. And we know that here in America, we can shape our own destiny. We know that if we make the right choices and have the right priorities, just like we teach our kids, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and has a chance to get ahead.

So we can't afford to be complacent, or tired, or frustrated. Too much is at stake. We don't have the time. It is time to get to work.

So let me ask you one final question: Are you in?

AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA: Wait, wait. Are you in? I mean, are you really ready to make this happen? (Applause.) Because this is going to require each of you to grab somebody by the shoulders and make them understand what's at stake; how their self-interest is directly tied to how our country develops. It's up to each of you to work like you've never worked before. One year -- one year of hard work.

So I hope you all are fired up -- (applause) -- because I certainly am. I'm going to be doing this all over the country as much as I can. I'm going to make sure that we give our kids the future they deserve.

Thank you, all. God bless. Let's get to work. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Democratic National Committee Event in Tampa, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320507

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