The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at a DNC event

Julia Morgan Ballroom, San Francisco, California

12:36 P.M. PDT

        MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you everyone.  (Applause.)  You all are so sweet.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  (Applause.) Please sit down, as I said in Oakland.  (Laughter.)  We don't want you to -- you’re too tired.  You got to work.  (Laughter.)  So rest.

        I’m thrilled to be here.  It is a pleasure.  And I want to start by thanking Marie for that truly wonderful introduction, her story, her successes, her connections.  We need to give her a round of applause for all that she has done -- (applause) -- in her life and all that she has done for the campaign.

        And I also want to recognize Janet and Clint for hosting us here in this beautiful space.  Thank you both.  (Applause.)  Two beautiful daughters, as well.  Reminds me of the challenges I face at home with my two.  (Laughter.)  I almost got lost -- I wasn’t talking about politics or anything.  I wanted to find out, are you all arguing all the time?  (Laughter.)  But they’re very sweet and a wonderful family.  Thank you all so much.

        And I also -- I’m not sure -- Mayor Lee is here hopefully?  Are you there, Mayor?  Where?  How are you?  (Applause.)  Thank you so much for your leadership.  Thank you for being here.

        My dear friend -- I call him “my other husband,” Paul Pelosi -- (laughter) -- is also here.  (Applause.)  Paul -- you know what, I call him that because Paul is always at my things.  He comes -- I could be in, you know, another part of the world.  It’s like, Paul’s here.  (Laughter.)  It’s like, well, how did you get here?  (Laughter.)  But I am always happy to see him.  He has been such a great support.  And he represents this state and this country so well.  He is a wonderful man.  Thank you, Paul.  Thank you again for being here.  

        I also want to recognize everyone on the National Finance Committee who is here this evening for helping to make this event such a success.  Thank you to you all.  (Applause.)

        And finally, I want to thank all of you for being here.  I am just delighted to see so many new faces.  And that's always wonderful as we move along on this journey.  But I’m also thrilled to see so many folks who’ve been with us right from the beginning, the folks who’ve been through all the ups and downs and all the nail-biting moments along the way, because there have been many.

        And today, as we 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, and many of you who know me know this, when Barack first started talking about running for President, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea.  (Laughter.)  Don't get me wrong, I was proud of what my husband was doing in the U.S. Senate.  I thought he was doing a phenomenal job.  I was confident, I knew that he would make an outstanding President.  That was not the issue.

        But I was like a lot of folks, and I still had some cynicism about politics.  And more importantly I was worried about the toll that it would take on my family, a presidential campaign.  We had two young daughters at the time at home, and the last thing I wanted to do was disrupt their lives and their routines.  And the last thing I wanted to do was to spend time apart from them.

        So it took some convincing on Barack’s part, and by “some,” I mean a lot.  (Laughter.)  And even as I hit the campaign trail, I was still a little uneasy about the whole “President thing,” as Malia used to call it.  (Laughter.)  

        But something happened to me during those first few months on the campaign trail that changed me, and I didn’t expect it.  Campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, it wasn’t just about handshakes or stump speeches.  It was about conversations, real conversations that we could have with people on front porches and in living rooms.  It was just amazing to me how willingly people opened up their homes and welcomed complete strangers into their lives.

        One of my first events in Iowa was a gathering in a beautiful backyard.  It was a bright, sunny day, and this was the first time -- one of the first times I had been to Iowa.  Never met the family hosting the event before.  Ever.  But within a few minutes, I was so comfortable that I kicked off my shoes, and I was standing in the bare -- barefoot in the grass, and I was just talking to folks.  It was that easy.  It was that comfortable.

        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, like you would a neighbor, like you would a family member.  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, changed forever, and still needed a lot of help; the child with so much smarts, who could be anything she wanted, if her family could just afford tuition.

        And these stories moved me in a way that I didn’t expect.  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, as you know, 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, he 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 helps me raise my girls, and she did it from the day they were born.  And I couldn’t do this without her.

        I saw Barack’s grandmother, the primary provider for her family, who got up early to catch that bus before dawn to make sure that her family had everything they need.  

        And in the children I met -- children worried about a mom who lost a job -- because as children do, they know what's going on and it worries them -- or a dad deployed far from home, kids so full of promise and dreams, of course I saw my own daughters.

        These folks weren’t asking for much.  That was the thing.  They were looking for basic things –- like being able to afford a doctor when you get sick.  Things like decent public schools for their kids, a chance to send them to college even if they’re not rich.  They wanted things like a decent wage and a secure retirement.  They wanted to leave maybe something a little bit better for their kids.

        And while we may have grown up in vastly different places that seemed different in many ways unlike what you’d expect, their stories were my family’s stories.  They were Barack’s family’s stories.  More importantly, their values were ones we all shared.  That's what we grew up with, learning things like you treat people how you want to be treated.  Right?  That's what we tell our kids.  That's what I heard.   You put your family first, no matter what. You work hard at everything you do.  And you do what you say you’re going to do, even if it’s hard, even if it’s not easy for you.  These were our family’s values.  But we shared them with so many people we didn’t even know.

        And suddenly, everything Barack had been saying about how we’re all interconnected, about how we’re not just red states and blue states, those weren’t just lines in a speech.  It was what I was actually seeing with my own eyes, something that I wish every American could experience, traveling around the country realizing just how much alike we are.  And that changed me.

        And you know what else changed me?  It was all of you during that campaign.  You did it.  You changed me.  

        Because when I got tired, I would think of all you folks out there making calls and knocking on doors day after day, doing things you probably never expected you’d do.  And that would energize me.  When I got discouraged, I would think of the folks who were opening their wallets even when they didn’t have it to give, giving a dollar here, $10 there.  That's what made this campaign.  I would think of the folks who had the courage to believe again and hope again -- so many of our grandparents who never thought that this country would embrace a Barack Obama because of their history.  They wanted to believe but just had to take that risk to make it happen, and they did.  And that would give me hope.

        And the simple truth is that today, four years later, we are here because of you.  And I am not talking about winning an election.  I’m talking about what we’ve been doing every day in the White House since that time to fight for the folks we met out on that campaign trail, for their values that we all share.  I’m talking about what Barack Obama has been doing to help us all win the future.

        But at a time when we still have so many challenges and so much work to do, it is very easy to forget about what we’ve done along the way.

        So let’s just take a moment and think about these past couple of years and all that's happened.  This is two years.  

        We have gone from an economy that was on the brink of collapse to an economy that is starting to grow again.  We’re helping middle class families cut taxes, working with them to stop credit card companies from taking advantage of them.  We’re going to give working moms, working dads a childcare tax credit because we know how those costs add up.  And we’re helping to make sure that women get equal pay for equal work.  Don't know if you remember the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act.  (Applause.)  That was the very first bill my husband signed into law as President of the United States.  That's something that we cannot forget.  (Applause.)

        Because of health reform, 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 -- not anymore -- change them -- slipping stuff -- charge them through the roof because their child has a pre-existing condition.  That can’t happen.  And they now have to cover preventative care –- basic things, prenatal care, mammograms -- things that save money, yes, but more importantly, save lives.

        And because we don’t want to leave our kids a mountain of debt, we’re watching our spending, reducing our deficit by doing what families across this country are already doing, cutting back so that we can start living within our means but still investing in things that really matter -- things like clean energy, so that we can do something about those gas prices that really mean something; and scientific research, including stem cell research.  That's what we’ve been doing.  We’re also investing in community colleges, which, as so many of you know, are a gateway to opportunity for so many folks, and Pell Grants, which help so many young people afford tuition.  And through a competition called Race to the Top, we’ve got 40 states working to raise standards and reform their schools.  (Applause.)

        We’re working to live up to our founding values of freedom and equality.  And today, because this President 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 also recall that my husband appointed two brilliant Supreme Court Justices, and for the first time in history -- (applause) -- our daughters and sons watched three women take their seats on the nation’s highest court.  (Applause.)

        We’re working to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world, something that Barack Obama said he’d do.  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 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 the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror has finally been brought to justice.  This President did that.  (Applause.)

        And as you know, we’re tackling two issues very near and dear to my heart, both as First Lady and as a mom.

        And the first is childhood obesity.  And this issue doesn’t just affect our kids’ health and how they feel.  It affects how they feel about themselves and whether they will have the energy and the stamina to succeed in school and in life and be the leaders that we need them to be.  So we’re working hard to get better food into our schools and in our communities.  We’re trying to help parents with information that will allow them to make better decisions for their kids.

        And the second issue is one that I came to on the campaign trail, meeting so many extraordinary military families.  I mean, these are folks who are raising their kids and running their households alone while their spouse is deployed and deployed and deployed.  And they do it with such tremendous courage and strength and pride.  And that’s why Jill Biden and I launched a nationwide campaign to rally our country to serve these families and these individuals as well as they serve us.  (Applause.)    

        So look, I could go on.  I mean, this is two years.  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.  But we should never be satisfied, because we know that there is still 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.  We know that too many families are still struggling to pay their bills.

        The truth is, is that all those folks that we campaigned for, and won for, and that we’ve been fighting for, for these past two years, those folks still need our help.  

        And that, more than anything, is what drives my husband as President.  And that’s what I see when he comes home from the Oval Office or traveling the country, and he tells me about the people he meets.  And I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, when he’s reading the letters that people have sent him.  The letter from a 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 I see the sadness and worry creasing his face.  I hear the passion and determination in his voice.  He says, “You won’t believe what folks are going through.”  He says, “It’s not right.  And we have to fix it.  We’ve got to do more.”

        Because the thing I’ve been sharing with people now and I’ve tried to share even before he was elected, is that your President is a special person, because when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap.  He might not remember your name, but if he has had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story.  It becomes imprinted on his heart.  And that’s what he carries with him every day –- that collection of hopes, and dreams, and struggles.

        And that is where Barack gets his passion.  And that’s why he works so hard every day, first thing in the morning, late into the night -- the amount of materials he has to take in at the speed -- reading every word, making notes and writing questions, and being better prepared than the people briefing him, because all 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.

        And in the end, for Barack, and for me, and I know for many of you, that is what politics is supposed to be about.  It is not about one person.  It never has been.  It is not about one President.  It never will be.  It is about how we work together to make real changes that makes a real difference in people’s lives, like the young person attending college today because she can finally afford it.  That is happening now.  Like the mom or dad who can finally take their child to a doctor because of health care reform.  That is happening for people.  The folks who are working on the line today at places like GM, and bringing home a good paycheck for their families, the change is real.  

        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 the next phase of this journey.  And as I’ve always done, tried to be honest, it is not going to be easy.  It is going to be long.  It is going to be hard.  There will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.

        But here’s the thing about your President –- and this is something that I appreciate about him even if he hadn’t shown the good judgment to marry me.  (Laughter and applause.)  That 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.  He just keeps moving forward.

        And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, when we’re worried about whether the bill is going to pass, the negotiations might fall through -- Barack, what are you doing -- I know you all have thought that.  (Laughter.)  I hear it.  I put him through it, too.

        Barack always reminds me that we’re playing a long game here.  He reminds me that change is slow.  Good things take time.  He reminds me that change doesn’t happen all at once.  But he tells me if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, and doing what we know is right, then eventually we get there, because he tells me we always have.  And he’s right.  In this country, it may hurt a little bit, but we get to 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, our dreams for our kids and for our country.  He needs you to work like you’ve never worked before, that’s what I plan on doing.  

        And I will not be doing it as a wife or a First Lady.  I’ll be doing it as a mother, who wants a legacy for my children that they deserve.  And more than that, I’ll be doing it as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better, because the truth is that no matter what happens, my girls will be okay.  My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives.  And that is probably true for every single one of the beautiful young people in this room, because many of us are blessed.

        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 it is not our daughter or our son.  If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune, because that’s not who we are as a country.  It’s not what we do.

        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 a good thing.  And that's as it should be.  And I know that if we all put our hearts and our souls into this, as we have done before, and if we do what we need to do during the next couple of years, then I know that we will continue to make the change that we believe in.  I know that we will build that country that we want for our kids.

        So I have one final question for all of you here.  Are you in?  (Applause.)  Are you ready for this?  Are you all fired up?  (Applause.)  I hope you are, because I certainly am.  (Applause.)  We are going to need you fired up.  (Applause.)  The alternative is not something that we even want to fathom.  

        So I look forward to getting back out there with all of you in the months and years ahead.  I am going to have a ball.  So I want to thank you all and thank each and every one of you for your prayers, for your good wishes, for your hugs, for your sacrifice.  It helps us keep going.

        So let’s just do what we have to do and get this done.  All right?  (Applause.)  Thank you all.  (Applause.)

END 1:02 P.M. PDT

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