The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by the First Lady at DNC event in Burlington, Vermont -- Sheraton Burlington
4:59 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, I’ve got to tell Barack about this welcome here. I think -- (applause) -- this is pretty special. Oh, my good -- thank you so much. It is a pleasure to be here with all of you in beautiful Vermont. (Applause.) Oh, it’s a beautiful state! (Applause.) Oh, we got to come back. (Laughter and applause.)
Let me first start by thanking Senator Leahy for that very kind introduction, but more importantly for the outstanding service that he is doing for this state, what he’s doing for this country. (Applause.) He has just been a tremendous friend, partner to my husband. He is a gentleman. He is a family man. He is a solid individual. We love him. Love him to death. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize your amazing governor, Peter Shumlin, for being here -- (applause) -- as well as Congressman Welch, who is here. Thank you all. (Applause.)
And I want to thank all the other elected officials, so many of you. It is just a thrill that you’ve taken the time to come out and be with me today. Thank you for your service to this state.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Michelle!
MRS. OBAMA: Oh! (Applause.) I love you all, too. Truly, truly.
I want to echo Senator Leahy and thank Jane Stetson for her tireless work and her leadership as DNC Finance Chair. (Applause.) I get the pleasure of seeing her quite often. She is gorgeous; she’s on top of it. She’s doing an amazing job, and she is a true friend, and I’m delighted to be here in her home. So, yay for Jane. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to thank all of you -- oh, wow -- for being here, for having our backs.
I am thrilled to see so many new faces. But I’m also thrilled to see so many folks who have been with us right from the very beginning, folks who have been through all the ups and downs and the nail-biting moments along the way. Lots of nail biting going on. (Laughter.) And today, as we look ahead to the next part of what has been an amazing journey, I can’t help but think back to how it all began.
And I’ve shared this with so many, but I have to be honest with you, when Barack first started talking about running for President, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea. (Laughter.) And I hear that some of you were responsible, so I can blame you for this. (Laughter.) See, I was proud of the work he was doing in the Senate. And don't get me wrong, I knew that he would make an amazing President. I knew that. But like a lot of folks -- (applause) -- yes -- (applause) -- so that was never in doubt. (Applause.)
But what was going on in my head and my heart was that I was still a bit cynical about politics, like so many. And with two young daughters at home, I was apprehensive about the toll that a presidential campaign could take on our family.
So it took some convincing on the part of my husband. And by “some” –- I mean a lot. (Laughter.) A lot. I say he still owes me. (Laughter and applause.) But even as I hit the campaign trail, I was still a little uneasy about the whole “President thing.” That's what Malia would call it. (Laughter.) “Are we doing that President thing?” (Laughter.)
But I have to tell you something; that there was something that happened during those first few months on the campaign trail that changed all that, just washed away the cynicism.
See, when I started campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, it wasn’t just about handshakes and stump speeches. It was about conversations that you could have with people on their front porches, in living rooms, where people would just welcome you in. People who didn’t know anything about you would welcome you into their homes and into their lives.
I remember one of my very first events -- not the first, but among the first that I did in Iowa -- it was a gathering in the backyard of this beautiful home; a beautiful backyard, lots of grass; sunny day. And within a few minutes -- and I hadn’t been there before, had barely been in the state -- I was so comfortable that I remember kicking off my shoes -- (laughter) -- and standing in the grass barefoot just talking to folks.
And that’s what campaigning was about for me. It was about meeting people one-on-one and hearing what was going on in their lives, learning about the businesses that folks were trying to keep afloat; about the home that someone loved, but could no longer afford; the spouse who came back from the war and still needed a lot of help; learning about the child who was so smart, who could be anything she wanted if her parents could just find a way to pay that tuition. And these stories moved me. And even more than that, these stories were familiar to me, because they were my stories.
In the parents working that 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 day, because even as he got weaker from M.S., my father was determined to be our family’s provider. It was important to him.
In the grandparents coming out of retirement to pitch in and help make ends meet, I saw my own mother who has helped us raise our girls from the day they were born. And that has meant the world to us. (Applause.)
I saw Barack’s grandmother who caught that bus to work before dawn every day to help be the primary provider for their family.
In the children I met who were worried about a mom who’s lost her job, or a dad deployed faraway, of course those kids so full of promise and dreams -- I couldn’t help but see my own daughters, who are the center of my world.
And see, the beauty of these folks in these stories, they weren’t asking for much. They were looking for some basic things –- like being able to see a doctor when you’re sick. Things like having decent public schools and a chance to send kids to college even if you’re not rich. Things like making a decent wage, and having a secure retirement, and maybe leaving something better for your kids.
And while we may have all grown up in different places and seemed different in some ways, again, their stories were my family’s stories. Their stories were Barack’s family’s stories. And the values -– things like you treat people how you want to be treated; you put your family first always -- (applause); young people, you work hard at everything you do; you do what you say you’re going to do –- all those values were values that our families passed down to us.
And then suddenly, everything Barack had been saying about how we’re all interconnected and about how we’re not just red states and blue states -- those were no longer just lines from a speech. It was what I was actually seeing with my own eyes. And that changed me.
And you know what else changed me? You all changed me. During those months on the campaign trail, you changed me. When I got tired, I would think about all you folks out there making calls and little kids knocking on doors in the freezing cold. I know you remember that. (Laughter.) And that would get me energized. When I got discouraged, I would think about all the folks opening up their wallets even when they didn’t have much to give. I would think about 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 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 then to keep fighting for the folks we met and the values we share. I’m talking about what Barack has been doing to help win the future for all of us. (Applause.)
And at a time when we still have so many challenges and so much work to do, it is easy to forget about what we’ve done along the way. So let’s take a step back and think about these past couple of years:
We have gone from an economy on the brink of collapse to an economy that is starting to grow again.
We are helping middle-class families by cutting their taxes, and working to stop credit card companies from taking advantage of those folks. (Applause.)
We’re going to give working moms and dads a childcare tax credit because we know that those costs add up for the better for these families. (Applause.)
And we are helping women get equal pay for equal work with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. (Applause.) That was the first bill my husband signed, the very first bill he signed into law as President of the United States.
Because of health reform, millions of folks will finally be able to afford a doctor. 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. (Applause.) And now they have to cover preventative care -– things like prenatal care and mammograms that save money and save lives. That's what we’re doing today. (Applause.)
And because we do not want to have our kids take on a mountain of debt, we’re reducing our deficit by doing what families across America have been doing already, and that's 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 these gas prices -- (applause) -- and scientific research, including stem cell research that is critical to so many families. (Applause.)
We’re also investing in community colleges, which, as so many of you know, are the gateway to opportunity for so many folks -- (applause) -- and Pell Grants, Pell Grants, which help so many young people afford their tuition. (Applause.)
And education. Through a competition called Race to the Top, we’ve got 40 states now working to raise the standards and reform their schools.
And 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 also recall that my husband appointed two brilliant Supreme Court Justices -- (applause) -- which meant that for the first time in history, our daughters –- and our sons –- watched three women take their seats on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) Pretty amazing. (Applause.)
We’re keeping our country safe and restoring our standing in the world. We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq and have already brought home 100,000 men and women in uniform who have served this country bravely. And in the coming weeks, my husband is beginning drawing down our troops in Afghanistan, as well. (Applause.) And today, let us not forget that 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. That happened under this President. (Applause.)
So, as my husband said, these long wars are coming to a responsible end, and it is time for us to focus on nation-building here at home. (Applause.)
And we’re also tackling two issues that are near and dear to my heart, not just as First Lady but as a mom. And the first is childhood obesity. (Applause.) 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. So we’re working hard to get better food into our schools and our communities and to get better information into the hands of parents so that they can make good choices for their kids. (Applause.)
The second issue and one of the other reasons why I’m here in Vermont is that I came to this issue while I was on the campaign trail, meeting so many extraordinary military families. I mean, these folks will take your breath away. They are raising their kids and running their households all alone while their spouses are deployed for very long periods of time, and they do it with such tremendous courage and strength and pride. That is why Jill and I launched a campaign to rally our country to serve these families as well as they have served us. (Applause.)
And finally, just a few days ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Africa and continuing our efforts to engage and inspire young people across the globe. And I went there with a simple message that when it comes to the challenges we face, whether it’s climate change or poverty, terrorism or disease, we are going to look to our young people to lead the way. And I reminded these young people that everyone has the power to make a difference. Even in the smallest acts in their own families and their own communities, these acts can inspire nations. And that can create the kind of ripple effect that is transformative. That message is not just true abroad. It is true right here at home. So. (Applause.)
I think that it is fair to say that we have made some significant change these last couple of months. (Applause.) And more importantly we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished. But we should never be satisfied, not when there's still so much work to do. I mean, we know that too many of our kids still don’t have a fraction of what they need to succeed. We know that too many families are struggling to just pay their bills.
I mean, the truth is, is that all those folks that we campaigned for, and won for, and that we’ve been fighting for these past two and a half years –- those folks still need our help. And that, more than anything, is what drives my husband as President of the United States.
That is what I see when he returns home from the office or a long trip and he tells me about the people that he’s met. And I see those quiet moments late at night, and after the girls have gone to bed, and he’s reading the letters that people have sent him. Like 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 still with so few opportunities.
See, and these are the things that worry him. This is where the creases and the gray hair -- that's where it comes from. (Laughter.) I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says -- he said this the other day -- “You won’t believe what folks are still going through.” Says, “Michelle, this is not right. And we’ve got to fix this. We have to do more.” (Applause.)
See, the beauty of my husband is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. Now, he might not remember everyone’s name, but if he’s 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. That’s where Barack Obama gets his passion. And that’s why he works so very hard every day, starting first thing in the morning, going late into the night, hunched over briefing books, reading every single word, making notes, making sure he is more briefed and prepared than the folks briefing him and preparing him -- (laughter) -- because all those wins and losses are not wins and losses for him. They are 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 every night.
See, in the end, Barack, for him and for me and for all of you, that is what politics is about. (Applause.) It’s not about one person, it’s not about one President. It’s about how we work together to make real changes that make a real difference in people’s lives. Like the young person attending college today because she can finally afford it. That is happening. Like the mom or the dad who can take their child to the doctor because of health reform. That's real change. The folks who are working on the line today at places like GM, and bringing home a good paycheck for their families. That is a reality.
And now, more than ever, we need your help to finish what we’ve started. We need all of you to be with us for this next phase of the journey. And I’m not going to kid you, it is going to be long. It is going to be hard. And it will be plenty of twists and turns along the way, dramatic pauses -- (laughter) -- and moments of anxiety.
But here’s the thing about Barack –- and this is something that I’d appreciate 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 -- and I’ve done this to him -- when we’re all worried about the bill that won’t pass -- “It won’t pass” -- (laughter) -- negotiations -- “Well, what are you doing?!” -- (laughter) -- Barack always reminds me -- is, “Just, chill out.” (Laughter.) He reminds me that we are playing a long game here. It’s about looking way down there. He reminds me that change is slow; reminds me that change doesn’t happen all at once.
But he always says this: 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 because he says we always have. And he’s right. We always have.
And that’s what he needs from all of 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. (Applause.) He needs you to work like you’ve never worked before.
And that’s what I plan on doing. I will work so hard. And I won’t be doing it just as a wife or as First Lady. Trust me, I am doing this as a mother who wants to leave a phenomenal legacy for my children. And more than that, I will be doing it as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better -- (applause) -- because the truth is that no matter what happens, we’re blessed; my girls will be okay. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for many of your kids as well.
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 he or she is not our child. (Applause.) 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's not who we are. (Applause.)
In the end, we know that we cannot separate our stories from the broader American story. Like it or not, we are all in this together -- and that's how it should be. And I know that if we put our hearts and our souls into this, if we do what we need to do during the next year and a half, then we can continue to make the kind of change that we believe in. I know that we can build that country that we want for our kids. I know that we can.
So I’m going to ask you one last question, Vermont. Are you in? (Applause.) Wait, wait, are you in? (Applause.) Oh, because I am in. I’m in! (Applause.) I am in! I am fired up. I hope you all are fired up. I hope that you are ready to go. And I look forward to working with you all in the months and years to come. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your work. Let’s keep on moving.
Thank you so much. (Applause.)
5:25 P.M. EDT