The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by the First Lady at DNC event in Washington, DC
Grand Hyatt, Washington, DC
11:35 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. (Applause.) You all are looking beautiful. It is so good to see you. Thank you so much.
It is a true pleasure to be here today at this year’s National Issues Conference. I hope you all have figured out all the issues. (Laughter.) You’ve solved them all.
I want to start by thanking the conference leadership committee and the WLF national leadership for all of their hard work to make this day possible. The turnout is wonderful. Let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
And, of course, I want to thank all of you for joining us here today. I am thrilled to see so many new faces. But I am thrilled to see so many folks who’ve been with us right from the very beginning, folks who’ve been through all of the ups and downs and all the nail-biting moments along the way.
And today, as we look ahead to the next part of this journey, I just want to take you back to how it all began, at least in my mind.
Now, I have to be honest with you, and many of you know this, when Barack first started talking about running for President, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea. (Laughter.) Yes, I was proud of the work that he was doing as a U.S. senator. And I thought -- no, no, I knew that he would make an extraordinary President. And I told you that.
But like a lot of folks, I still had some cynicism about politics. And I was worried about the toll that a presidential campaign would take on our family. I mean, we had two young daughters at home. They’re not so little now. Malia is -- here. (Laughter.) And the last thing I wanted to do was to disrupt their lives and their routines. The last thing in the world I wanted 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.) And even as I hit the trail, I was still a little uneasy about the whole “President thing,” and that's what Malia would call it, the “President thing.” (Laughter.)
But something happened during those first few months that changed me. See, campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, that wasn't just about handshakes and stump speeches. For me, it was about conversations on front porches and in living rooms where people would welcome me into their homes and into their lives.
I remember one of the first events in Iowa that I did was a gathering in someone’s backyard, beautiful backyard, beautiful sunny day. And I remember that within a few minutes, I was so comfortable that I kicked off my shoes, which I wish I could do today because they really do hurt -- (laughter) -- and I was standing barefoot in the grass, just talking to folks.
And that’s what campaigning was all about for me. It was about meeting people one-on-one and hearing what was going on in their lives. And I learned so much. I learned about the businesses that folks were trying to keep afloat, the home they loved but could no longer afford, the spouse who came back from the war, and needed a lot of help, the child who was so smart, who could be anything she wanted, if only her parents could find a way to pay tuition.
And these stories moved me. And even more than that, these stories were familiar to me, because in the parents working that extra shift, or taking that extra job, I saw Barack’s mother, a young, single mother 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 M.S. 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 mom who has helped raise our girls since the day they were born. And I couldn’t do this without her. (Applause.)
I saw Barack’s grandmother who caught a bus to work before dawn every day to help provide for their family.
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, I saw my own daughters, who are the center of my world.
These folks weren’t asking for much. They were looking for basic things, like being able to see a doctor when you’re sick. Things like having decent public schools and a chance to go to college even if you’re not rich. These things, simple things, like making a decent wage, having a secure retirement, and 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 –- things like you treat people how you want to be treated, you put your family first, you work hard, you do what you say you’re going to do -– these were our family’s values. (Applause.)
And then suddenly, everything Barack had been saying about how we’re all interconnected, about how we’re not just red states and blue states, those were not just lines from a speech. It was what I was seeing with my own eyes. And that changed me.
And you want to know what else changed me during all those months out on the campaign? I mean, you all. You really did. I see people out there who have become like family. You all changed me. And when I got tired, I would think of all the folks out there making calls, knocking on doors in all kinds of weather. Remember that? (Laughter.) And that would energize me. When I got discouraged, I would think of folks opening up their wallets when they didn’t have much to give. I would think of folks who had the courage to let themselves believe again and hope again. And that would give me hope.
And the simple truth is that today, four years later, we’re here because of all of you. 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 the values we share. I’m talking about what Barack has been doing to help all of us win the future. At a time when we still have so many challenges and so much work to do, it’s easy to forget what we’ve done along the way. It is so easy.
But let’s just step back a moment. Think about these past couple of years.
I mean, we’ve gone from an economy on the brink of collapse to an economy that is starting to grow again.
We’re helping middle-class families by cutting taxes -- (applause) -- working to stop credit card companies from taking advantage of people. (Applause.)
We’re going to give working moms and dads a childcare tax credit because we know how those costs add up for those folks.
We’re helping women get equal pay for equal work with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. (Applause.) And if you remember, that was the very first bill my husband signed into law as President of the United States. That was the first thing he did. (Applause.)
Because of health reform, millions of people will finally be able to afford a doctor. Their insurance companies won’t be able to drop their coverage when they’re sick, charge them through the roof because their child has a pre-existing condition. And they now have to cover preventive care –- things like prenatal care, mammograms that we all in this room know save money, but it saves lives. We know that.
Because we don’t want to leave our kids a mountain of debt, we’re reducing our deficit by doing what families across this country are already doing. We’re cutting back so that we can start living within our means.
And we’re investing in things that really matter -- things like clean energy, so that we can bring down those gas prices, scientific research, including stem cell research.
We’re also investing in community colleges, which are a gateway to opportunity for so many people, and Pell Grants, which help so many young people afford that tuition. That's what we’re doing. (Applause.)
And through a competition called Race to the Top, we’ve got 40 states 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.)
And you may recall that my husband also appointed two brilliant Supreme Court Justices, and for the first time in history -- (applause) -- our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seats on our nation’s highest court.
We’re working to keep our country safe and to 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 have served this country bravely. (Applause.)
And as you know 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.)
And finally, we’re tackling, of course, two issues that are near and dear to my heart, both as a First Lady and as a mom.
As you’ve heard, the first is childhood obesity. This issue doesn’t just affect our kids’ health and how they feel. It affects how they feel about themselves and whether they have the energy and the stamina to succeed in school and in life. So we’re working hard to get better food into our schools and our communities and to help parents make better decisions for their kids. And we’re seeing some change. (Applause.)
The second issue is one that I came to on the campaign trail, meeting so many extraordinary military families. I mean, these folks are raising their kids and running their households all alone while spouses are deployed, and they do it all with tremendous courage, strength and pride. And that’s why Jill and I launched a nationwide campaign to rally our country to serve them as well as they serve us. (Applause.)
So look, that's just some of what has been accomplished. And I think that it’s fair to say that we’ve seen some change. And we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished.
But we should not be satisfied, because we know that we are still nowhere near winning the future. Not when so many of our kids don’t have what they need to succeed. Not when so many of our businesses don’t have what they need to compete. Not when so many folks are still struggling to pay the bills today.
The truth is that all those folks we campaigned for, and won for, and that have been fighting for us and we’ve been fighting for over these past two years, those folks still need our help.
And that, more than anything else, is what drives my husband as President. I mean, let me tell you, that’s what I see when he comes home after a long day traveling around the country, meeting with folks in that Oval Office, doing things. (Laughter.) They do things in that office. (Laughter.)
And he tells me about the people he’s met. And I see it in those quiet moments late at night, after we put the girls to bed, and he’s reading the letters people have sent him, because he reads everything. 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 you all -- I see the sadness and the worry creasing his face. I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. Says, “You won’t believe what these folks are going through.” That’s what he tells me. He says, “Michelle, this is not right. We’ve got to fix it. And we have to do more.”
Let me share something with you. When it comes to the people that he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. (Laughter.) I mean, you all know this, right? He might not remember your name, but if he’s had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It’s a gift; becomes imprinted in his mind and on his heart.
And that’s what he carries with him every single day –- that collection of hopes, and dreams and struggles. That’s where Barack gets his passion. And that’s why he works so very hard every day. It’s unbelievable, starting first thing in the morning everyday and going late into the night, hunched over briefings, reading every single word of every single memo he gets, making notes, writing questions, making sure he knows more than the people briefing him, because all of those wins and losses 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. In the end, for Barack, and for me, and for so many of you, that is what politics is about. It is not about one person. It’s not about one President. It’s about how we can and should work together to make real change that makes a real difference in people’s lives.
The young person attending college today because she can finally afford it, that's what this is about. The mom or the dad who can take their child to a doctor because of health reform, the folks who are working on the line today at places like GM, and bringing home a good paycheck for their families, that's what this is about. (Applause.)
And look, folks, now, more than ever before, we need to finish what we’ve started and we need your help. We need all of you to be with us for the next phase of our journey.
And I am not going to kid you, because I never do, I said this in the first campaign it is going to be long. (Laughter.) It is going to be hard. It’s designed that way. (Laughter.) And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.
But here’s the thing about my husband –- and this is something that I’d appreciate even if he hadn’t shown the good sense to marry me -- (laughter and applause) -- that even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, and everybody is wringing their hands, and calling, worrying and calling -- what's going on, what's he doing, what's going on -- I’m one of those people -- (laughter) -- Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.
And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, when we’re worried that the bill won’t pass, or the negotiations might fall through, Barack always reminds me that we’re playing a long game here. (Applause.) He reminds me that change is slow. He reminds me that change doesn’t happen all at once.
But he says that if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there. We always have.
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 have never worked before, people -- (applause) -- because that’s what I plan on doing. (Applause.) I’m not going to ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do.
And I will not be doing it just as a wife or as a First Lady. I’ll be doing it as a mother, who wants to leave a legacy for my children. (Applause.) And more than that, I’ll be doing it as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country, because the truth is no matter what happens, we’re blessed. My girls will be okay. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. That’s probably true for many of you all in this room.
But I think that 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 she’s not our daughter, or even if he’s not our son. If any family in this country struggles, then we can’t be fully content with our own family’s good fortune. We can’t -- that’s not what we do in this country. It’s not who we are.
In the end, we cannot separate our story from the broader American story. Like it or not, we are all in this together. (Applause.) And I know that if we put our hearts and our souls into this, if we do what we need to do during these next couple of years, then we can continue to make that change we believe in. I know that we can build that country that we want for our kids.
So I have one question for you. Are you in? (Applause.) Come on. Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Because I’m in. (Applause.) And I hope that all of you are fired up. (Applause.) I hope that all of you are ready to go. (Applause.) And I look forward to getting back out there with all of you in the months and years ahead. It’s wonderful to see you all.
Thank you all, and God bless. (Applause.)
END 11:57 A.M. EDT