The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event in Richmond
12:19 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. Richmond, it’s good to be here! (Applause.) You all, thank you. You all rest yourselves because I want you all ready to work. So I don’t want you to run your energy out clapping and standing up. (Laughter.) But thank you all so much. It is such a pleasure to be here. This is my first official event campaigning of the year. (Applause.) Yes! It’s a great way to kick it off.
And I want to start by thanking your former governor, Tim Kaine, for that very kind introduction, but more importantly for his outstanding leadership. One of my favorite people. He’s got good judgment, too, because his wife Anne is amazing. Love her to death. So let’s give them both another round of applause. (Applause.)
I also want to thank Congressman Scott, who is here, Mayor Jones, also, for their dedicated service. (Applause.) Thank you all for joining us here today.
And I want to recognize all of the Richmond Women for Obama who are here -- (applause) -- along with the Host Committee that I know have worked very hard to make this event such a success.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for joining us here today, this afternoon. It is afternoon, right? See, when I do this -- is it morning, it’s afternoon?
And I know that all you are here for a couple of reasons. And it’s not just because there’s a good luncheon, and you’re not just here to see me. Right? (Laughter.) There’s a reason why all of us are here, why all of you are here today.
You’re here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. You’re here because you know that in less than a year from now, we’re going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And you’re here because you know that that choice won’t just affect all of us, but it’s going to affect our children and our grandchildren and the world that we leave for them long after we’re gone.
And that is why I’m here today as well. You see, as First Lady, I have the privilege of traveling all across the country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds and hearing what’s going on in their lives. And every day, I hear about folks’ struggles -– the bills they’re trying to pay, the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat.
I hear about how they’re taking the extra shift, or working the extra job. How so many people are saving and sacrificing, never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The cost for things like gas and groceries, tuition, have been steadily rising, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up.
So when this economy fell apart, the crisis hit, for far too many families, the bottom just fell out.
Now, fortunately, over the past three years, we’ve worked very hard to dig ourselves out of this mess. Your President has worked very hard. And there’s been a lot of wonderful progress made. (Applause.)
We have had 22 straight months of private sector job growth -- (applause) -- and unemployment is now the lowest it’s been in nearly three years. (Applause.) So there’s a lot of work happening, but we know that we still have a very long way to go. But your President has been working hard to rebuild our economy based on a vision that we all share -- the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay off, that responsibility should be rewarded, and that everyone should get a fair shot, and everyone should do their fair share and play by the same rules.
See, these are basic American values. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself.
As you know, my father was a blue-collar worker at the city water plant. My family lived in a little bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. And my parents, neither of them were able to go to school -- to college, that is. But they worked very hard, and they saved, and they sacrificed, because they wanted something better for me and my brother.
And more than anything else, that is what’s at stake -- that fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, that if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids.
And on just about every issue -- from health care to education to the economy -- that is the choice we face.
For example, when you hear talk about tax cuts for middle-class families, or unemployment insurance for folks out of work, understand that that’s about whether people can heat their homes. That’s about whether folks can put a hot meal on their table or put gas in their car so that they can look for work. It’s about whether folks can afford to own a home, send their kids to college, retire with dignity and security.
This talk about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in the economy, which means more jobs. That’s what’s at stake here. That is the choice that we face.
And just think for a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for American consumers. I’m talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card fees. I’m talking about our students drowning in debt, our seniors losing their home and their savings because they’ve been tricked into loans they couldn’t afford.
That’s why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission -- and that is to protect folks from exactly these kinds of abuses. (Applause.) Because he believes that when you’ve worked hard and you’ve saved and you’ve followed the rules, you shouldn’t lose it all to someone who’s looking to make some easy money. That’s not right. That’s not fair. (Applause.) And your President, all of us, we are working hard to do something about that.
And what about all that we’ve done together for our small businesses? These are the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year. That’s two-thirds. I’m talking about that mom who opens up the dry-cleaning store on the corner to provide for her kids, or that family that’s been running the neighborhood diner for generations, or the veteran who launches a startup and pursues that American Dream he fought so hard for.
See, these are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, then they head home, pore over the books late into the night, determined to make the numbers add up.
For these folks, the small business tax cuts this administration has passed, for these folks it means the difference between hiring new employees in those businesses or handing out pink slips; between keeping the doors open or closing up shop for good. That is the choice that we face.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law, the very first bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? (Applause.)
He did this because he knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother -- woman with a high school education -- work her way up from being a vice president at a little community bank. She worked hard and she was good at her job. But like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling, and she watched men no more qualified than she, men she had actually trained, be promoted up that ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, for Barack, this issue isn’t abstract. This isn’t some hypothetical situation. And he signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 for each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets for gas or groceries, school clothes for their kids.
He did it because when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, your President knows that women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. (Applause.)
And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there should be no second-class citizens in our workplaces. That is what’s at stake.
And let’s just talk for a minute about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) It’s wonderful. But now, there are some folks actually talking about repealing this reform -- repealing it. And today, we need to ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let that happen?
Are we going to let insurance companies refuse to cover things like cancer screenings and prenatal care that don’t just save money, but save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives and for the lives of the people that we love?
Are we going to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because they have preexisting conditions like cancer or diabetes, even asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, no one -- no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can’t afford a doctor. (Applause.)
And when our children get older and graduate from school, we know how hard it is for them to find jobs, and jobs that provide insurance. That’s why, as part of health reform, our children can now stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 years old. (Applause.) And so today, that’s how about 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage. So will we take that insurance away from those kids? Or will we say that we don’t want our sons and daughters going without health care when they’re just starting out, just trying to build their own families and build their own careers? Because that is the choice that we face. That is the choice.
And think again for a moment about what’s been done on education. Think about all those investments to raise standards and reform our public schools. We all know this is about improving the circumstances for millions of children in this country -- kids we know who are sitting in crumbling classrooms, kids with so much promise, kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them the chance. That’s what this is about.
And think about how this President has tripled investments for job training at community colleges. This is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and for better wages. I mean, these are the folks who are doing it all. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re working full-time, they’re raising their kids, but they’re still finding time to go to night classes and study late into the evening because they desperately want to do something better for their families.
Make no mistake -- this investment in our students and our workers will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. I mean, this kind of stuff will determine whether we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will let us compete with any country anywhere in the world. And that’s what’s at stake.
And let’s not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices, and for the first time in history, our daughters –- and our sons –- (applause) -- watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. Let’s not forget the impact their 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’s what’s at stake. That is the choice we’re facing. (Applause.)
And finally, let’s not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. Thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.) Yes, my husband ended the war in Iraq and brought our troops home for the holidays. (Applause.)
And as Tim said, we are working hard to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment and the benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.) And 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. (Applause.) That is what’s at stake. That is what’s at stake.
So Richmond, make no mistake about it. Whether it’s health care or the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country, but, more importantly, who do we want to be. Who are we?
Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to the few at the top? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or how you started out? Who are we?
Will we tell folks who’ve done everything right, but are still struggling just a little to get by, tough luck, you’re on your own? Who are we? Or will we honor the fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we’re all better off? Who are we? (Applause.)
Will we continue all the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made? Or will we allow everything we’ve fought for to just slip away? That is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, Barack knows this. He understands these issues, because he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school, pay the bills. And when she needed help his grandmother stepped up -- getting up every morning, getting on that bus, going to that job at the bank, even though she was passed over for all those promotions. She never complained. She just kept showing up and doing her best. Sounds familiar, right?
So 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. Those are the experiences that have made him the man -- but more importantly, the President -- he is today. And 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. That’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night after the girls have gone to bed and he’s poring over the letters people have sent him -- the letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care; the letter from the father struggling to pay the bills for his family; the letter from the young person, too many young people with so much promise but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and determination in his voice. You won’t believe what folks are going through -- that’s what he tells me. He says, Michelle, it’s not right. And we’ve got to fix it. We have way too much work to do.
See, what I’m trying to remind people about my husband is that 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 just a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart.
And that is what he carries with him every single day. It is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams. And that is where your President gets his passion. That is where your President gets his toughness and his fight.
And that’s why even in some of the hardest moments, 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 goal. (Applause.) He never -- never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise.
See, your President just keeps moving forward, because so importantly he has a vision for this country. And it’s a vision that we all share. This is our vision. This is the country we want to live in. But I have said this before and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. Never could. He needs your help.
He needs you to make those phone calls. He needs you to get up, be ready to work, get those voters registered. He needs you to take those “I’m in” cards, which I hope you have. Use them. Sign yourself up. Sign your friends, sign your neighbors, your colleagues up. Convince them to join in giving just a little part of your life and their lives each week to this campaign, because we all know that this isn’t just about one extraordinary man -- never was. Though I’ll admit, I’m a little biased. (Laughter.) I think he’s wonderful.
But this is really about us -- about all of us -- about all of us coming together for the values we believe in and for the country that we want to be. Now, again, I’m not going to kid you, this journey is going to be long and it is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way -- always love drama.
But the truth is, that is how change always happens in this country. The reality is that change is slow, real change, and it never happens all at once. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight doing what we know is right, then we eventually get there. We always do. We always do -- maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, our grandchildren’s lifetimes, because in the end, that’s what this is all about.
In the end, we’re not fighting these battles for ourselves. We’re fighting these battles for our sons and our daughters. We’re fighting these battles for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We’re fighting for the world we want to leave for them. It’s about our children. (Applause.)
And I’m in this fight not 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. See, because if I’m honest, the truth is no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. See, my girls are blessed. They will still have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives, and that’s probably true for many of your kids as well, right?
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 she is not our daughter, even if he is not our son. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune. That is not who we are. (Applause.)
In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story, because we know that in the end this country, in this country of America we rise and fall together. And we know that if we make the right choices, if we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead. That’s what’s at stake. So Richmond, it is time for us to get moving. It is time for us to get to work.
So I have one last question to ask you all -- you’ve been listening so politely. (Laughter.) Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: See, because I’m in. I am in. I need to hear that. Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Tell me: I am in!
AUDIENCE: I am in! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: So I hope you all are fired up. I hope you all are ready to go. We need each and every one of you. You need to reach out. You need to talk to people. You can influence your neighbors, get this done. There’s a lot at stake.
God bless you all. I will be working right alongside of you. Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
12:45 P.M. EST