The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND FIRST LADY AT A CAMPAIGN EVENT
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia
5:05 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Hello, Virginia! (Applause.) It sounds like you all are already fired up. It sounds like you all are ready to go. (Applause.) And let me tell you something. Being here with all of you today, I am feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself. (Applause.) Now, there is a reason why we're all here today, in addition to being fired up and ready to go. And it's not just because we all support an extraordinary man. (Applause.) And I am biased. I think our President is magnificent. (Applause.)
And it's not just because we want to win an election -- which we do. (Applause.) We are here because of the values we believe in. We're here because of the vision for this country that we all share. We're here because we want our children to have good schools, the kind of schools that push them, the kind of schools that inspire them and prepare them for good jobs. (Applause.) That's why we're here. We want our parents and our grandparents to retire with dignity, because we believe that after a lifetime of hard work, they should enjoy their golden years. (Applause.)
We’re here because we want to restore that basic middle-class security for our families because we believe that folks in this country shouldn't go bankrupt because they get sick. (Applause.) We believe they shouldn't lose their home because someone loses a job. We believe that responsibility should be rewarded and hard work should pay off.
And the thing that we all know is that these are basic American values. They're the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. (Applause.) I told this story earlier, but my father was a blue-collar worker at the city water plant. And my family lived in a very little apartment on the South Side of Chicago -- South Side! (Applause.) And neither of my parents had the chance to attend college, but let me tell you what my parents did do, which was just as important: They saved. And they sacrificed. And they poured everything they had into me and my brother because they wanted us to have the kind of education they could only dream of.
And while pretty much of all my college tuition came from student loans and grants -- (applause) -- you can relate to that -- my dad still paid a small portion of that tuition himself. And every semester, my father was determined to pay that bill on time -- because like so many parents, he was so proud to be sending his kids to college. And he couldn't bear the thought of me or my brother missing that registration deadline because his check was late.
Like so many people in this country, my father took great pride in being able to earn a living that allowed him to handle his responsibilities to his family, and to pay all of his bills and to pay them on time.
And truly, more than anything else, that is what's at stake in this election. It's that fundamental promise that no matter who you are or how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and yes, an even better life for your kids, right? (Applause.)
And it is that promise that binds us together as Americans. It's what makes us who we are. And whether it's equal pay for women, or health care for our kids; whether it's tax cuts for middle-class families, or student loans for our young people --that is what my President, my husband, your President has been fighting for every single day. (Applause.)
And let me tell you -- as First Lady, I have had the chance to see up close and personal what being President looks like. I have seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones -- the problems with no clear solutions, the judgment calls where the stakes are so high and there is no margin for error. And as President, you can get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. But at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, all you have to guide you are your life experiences, your values, and your vision for this country. (Applause.) In the end, when you’re making those impossible choices, it all boils down to who you are and what you stand for.
And we all know who my husband is, right? (Applause.) And we all know what he stands for, right? (Applause.) See, Barack Obama, he is the son of a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. He’s the grandson of a woman who woke up before dawn every day to catch a bus to her job at a bank. And even though Barack’s grandmother worked hard to help support her family -- and she was good at her job -- like so many women, she hit that glass ceiling. And men no more qualified than she was were promoted up that ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Virginia, Barack Obama knows what it means when a family struggles. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.)
But I have said it before and I will say it again and again and again: He cannot do this alone. And fortunately, he never has. He never has -- because we have always moved this country forward together. (Applause.) Yes we have. And today, more than ever before, Barack needs your help. He needs your help. He needs every single one of you to give just a little part of your life each week to this campaign.
He needs you to register those voters, right? (Applause.) And to all the college students out here, listen up -- (applause) -- if you all are going to be moving over the summer, remember to register at your new address in the fall. You got that? (Applause.)
Barack needs you to join one of our neighborhood teams and start organizing in your own communities. And just one thing I want you all to understand: If you have any doubt about the difference that you can make, I just want you to remember that in the end, this election could all come down to those last few thousand people who register to vote. It could all come down to those last few thousand folks who get out to the polls on November the 6th.
And when you average all of that out over this entire state, think about it -- it might mean registering just one more person in your town. Just one more person. It might mean helping just one more person in your community get out and vote on Election Day. Think about it. One more person.
So with every door you knock on, with every single call you make, every conversation, I want you to remember that this could be the one. This could be the one that makes the difference. (Applause.) And that is the kind of impact that each of you can have in this election. (Applause.) Know that.
Now, I'm not going to kid you. This journey is going to be long. And it is going to be hard. But that is how change always happens in this country. It's how it always happens. And if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, then eventually we'll get there. We always have. We always do. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children's lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren's lifetimes -- because in the end, that is what this is all about. That's all it's about. (Applause.)
In the end, that's what I think about when I tuck my girls in at night. I think about the world I want to leave for them and for all of our sons and our daughters. I think about how I want to do for them what my dad did for me. I want to give them a foundation for their dreams. I want to give them opportunities worthy of their promise. I want to give them that sense of limitless possibility, that belief that here in America, there is always something better out there if you're willing to work hard for it. That's America. (Applause.)
So we can't turn back now. No, we can't! We have to keep moving forward. We've come so far. We have so much more to do -- so much more to do. And if we keep on moving forward then we need to work our hearts out, work them out, for the man that I have the pleasure of introducing here today. (Applause.)
Virginia, I introduce to you my husband and our President, President Barack Obama!
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Virginia! (Applause.) What do you think about Michelle Obama? (Applause.) I hate following her, she is too good. And she looked good, too, didn’t she? (Applause.) I’m just saying, she looked pretty good. (Applause.) How’s it going, VCU? (Applause.)
Well, before I begin, there are a few people that I want to thank for joining us here today. First of all, your mayor Dwight Jones is here. (Applause.) Representative Bobby Scott is in the house. (Applause.) Your former Governor Tim Kaine is here. (Applause.) And a guy that I gather is pretty popular in these parts, Coach Shaka Smart is in the house. (Applause.) When I saw Coach backstage, he said, I just want you to know, we’re going to be coming to the White House just like that Kentucky team came this week. (Applause.) And he wasn’t smiling. (Laughter.)
I also want to thank so many of our Neighborhood Team Leaders for being here today. You guys will be the backbone of this campaign. (Applause.) And I want the rest of you to join a team or become a leader yourself, because we are going to win this thing door by door, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Barack!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Applause.) I love Virginia. (Applause.) Virginia, four years ago, you and I began a journey together. I didn’t run, and you did not work your hearts out, just to win an election. We came together to reclaim the basic bargain that built the largest middle class and the most prosperous nation on Earth.
We came together because we believe that in America, your success shouldn’t be determined by the circumstances of your birth. If you’re willing to work hard, you should be able to find a good job. If you’re willing to meet your responsibilities, you should be able to own a home, maybe start a business, give your kids the chance to do even better -- no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, no matter what your last name is. (Applause.)
We believe the free market is one of the greatest forces for progress in human history; that businesses are the engine of growth, and that risk-takers and innovators should be rewarded. But we also believe that at its best, the free market has never been a license to take whatever you want, however you can get it. (Applause.) We’ve understood that alongside our entrepreneurial spirit, our rugged individualism, America only prospers when we meet our obligations to one another and to future generations. (Applause.)
We came together in 2008 because our country had strayed from these basic American values. A record surplus was squandered on tax cuts for people who didn’t need them and weren’t even asking for them. (Applause.) Two wars were being waged on a credit card. Wall Street speculators reaped huge profits by making bets with other people’s money. Manufacturing left our shores. A shrinking number of Americans did fantastically well, while most people struggled with falling incomes and rising costs, and the slowest job growth in half a century.
And in 2008, that house of cards collapsed in the most destructive crisis since the Great Depression. In the last six months of that year, even as we campaigned, nearly three million of our neighbors lost their jobs. Over 800,000 more were lost in the month I took the oath of office. And it was tough. It was tough here in Virginia. It was tough all across the country.
But the American people are tougher. (Applause.) All across America, people like you dug in. Folks like you fought back. Some of you retrained. Some of you went back to school. Small business owners cut back on expenses, but did everything they could to keep their employees. And sure, there were setbacks. There have been disappointments. But we didn’t quit. We don’t quit. Together, we are fighting our way back. (Applause.) Together, we’re fighting our way back.
When some wanted to let Detroit go bankrupt, we made a bet on American workers, on the ingenuity of American companies. And today, our auto industry is back on top of the world. (Applause.) Manufacturers started investing in America again, adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. Businesses got back to basics, exports surged. And over 4 million jobs were created in the last two years -- more than 1 million of those in the last six months alone. (Applause.) Now, does this make us satisfied?
THE PRESIDENT: Of course not. Too many of our friends and family are still looking for work. The housing market is still weak, deficits are still too high. States are still laying off teachers and first responders. This crisis took years to develop, and the economy is still facing a bunch of headwinds. So it’s going to take sustained, persistent effort -- yours and mine -- for America to fully recover, for us to be where we need to be. That’s the truth. We all know it. (Applause.)
But Virginia, I'm here to tell you we are making progress. And now we face a choice. For the last few years, the Republicans who run this Congress have insisted that we go right back to the policies that created this mess in the first place.
AUDIENCE: Booo --
THE PRESIDENT: But it gets worse, because to borrow a line from our friend Bill Clinton, now their agenda is on steroids. This time, they want even bigger tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. This time, they want even deeper cuts to things like education and Medicare and research and technology. This time, they want to give banks and insurance companies even more power to do as they please.
And now, after a long and spirited primary, Republicans in Congress have found a champion. They have found a nominee for President who has promised to rubber-stamp this agenda if he gets a chance.
THE PRESIDENT: But Virginia, I tell you what, we can’t give him the chance.
THE PRESIDENT: Not now. Not with so much at stake. This isn’t just another election. This is a make-or-break moment for America's middle class. We’ve been through much to turn back now. We’ve come too far to abandon the change we fought for these past few years. Virginia, we've got to move forward, to the future that we imagined in 2008. (Applause.) We’ve got to move forward to that future where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.
That’s the choice in this election. And that’s why I’m running for a second term as President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years!
THE PRESIDENT: Now, Governor Romney is a patriotic American. He's raised a wonderful family, and he has much to be proud of. He’s run a large financial firm, and he’s run a state. But I think he’s drawn the wrong lessons from these experiences. He sincerely believes that if CEOs and wealthy investors like him make money, the rest of us will automatically prosper as well.
When a woman in Iowa shared the story of her financial struggles, he responded with economic theory. He told her “our productivity equals our income.”
Well, let me tell you something, Virginia. The problem with our economy is not that the American people aren’t productive enough -- you’ve never been working harder in your lives. (Applause.) You're working harder than ever. The challenge we face right now -- the challenge we’ve faced for over a decade -- is that harder work hasn’t led to higher incomes. It’s that bigger profits haven’t led to better jobs.
And Governor Romney doesn’t seem to get that. He doesn’t seem to understand that maximizing profits by whatever means necessary -- whether through layoffs or outsourcing or tax avoidance or union-busting -- might not always be good for the average American or for our economy.
Why else would he want to spend trillions more on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Why else would he propose cutting his own taxes while raising them on 18 million working families?
THE PRESIDENT: Why else would he want to slash the investments that have always helped the economy grow, while at the same time stopping regulations of the reckless behavior on Wall Street that helped make the economy crash?
Somehow, he and his friends in Congress think that the same bad ideas will lead to a different result. Or they’re just hoping that you won’t remember what happened the last time we tried it their way. (Applause.)
Virginia, I’m here to say that we were there, we remember, and we’re not going back. We’re moving this country forward. (Applause.) We remember.
Look, we want businesses to succeed. We want entrepreneurs and investors rewarded when they take risks, when they create jobs and grow our economy. But the true measure of our prosperity is more than just a running tally of every balance sheet and quarterly profit report. I don’t care how many ways you try to explain it: Corporations aren’t people. People are people. (Applause.)
We measure prosperity not just by our total GDP; not just by how many billionaires we produce, but by how well the typical family is doing, whether they can go as far as their dreams and hard work will take them.
We understand that in this country, people succeed when they have the chance to get a decent education and learn new skills. (Applause.) And, by the way, so do the businesses that hire those people or the companies that those people start.
We know that our economy grows when we support research into medical breakthroughs and new technologies that lead to the next Internet app or life-saving drug.
We know that our country is stronger when we can count on affordable health care and Medicare and Social Security. (Applause.) When we protect our kids from toxic dumping and mercury pollution. When there are rules to make sure we aren’t taken advantage of by credit card companies or mortgage lenders or financial institutions. (Applause.) These rules aren’t just good for seniors, or kids, or consumers -- they're good for business. They're good for the marketplace. They're good for America. (Applause.)
Look, we don’t expect government to solve all our problems, and it shouldn’t try. I learned from my mom that no education policy can take the place of a parent’s love and attention. And sometimes, getting in your face and telling you what you need to do. (Applause.) As a young man, I worked with a group of Catholic churches who taught me that no poverty program can make as much difference as the kindness and commitment of a caring soul. Not every regulation is smart. Not every tax dollar is spent wisely. Not every person can be helped who refuses to help themselves.
That's what we believe. People have to make an effort. People have to try hard. But that’s not an excuse to tell the vast majority of responsible, hardworking Americans, “You’re on your own.” (Applause.) That unless you’re lucky enough to have parents who can lend you the money, you may not be able to go to college. That even if you pay your premiums every month, you’re out of luck if an insurance company decides to drop your coverage when you need it most.
That’s not how we built America. That’s not who we are. We built this country together. We built railroads and highways; the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge -- together. We sent my grandfather’s generation to college on the GI Bill -- together. We instituted a minimum wage and worker safety laws -- together. Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and our own imaginations. We did these things not because they benefited any particular group or individual, but because they made us all richer. Because they gave us all opportunity. Because they moved us forward together -- as one nation, as one people. (Applause.)
That’s the lesson of our past. That’s the right vision for our future. And that’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years!
THE PRESIDENT: I’m running to make sure that by the end of this decade, more of our citizens hold college degrees than any other nation on Earth. (Applause.) I want to help our schools hire and reward the best teachers, especially in math and science. I want to give two million more Americans the chance to go to community colleges and learn the skills that local businesses are looking for right now. Because in the 21st century, a higher education can’t be a luxury -- it’s an economic imperative that every American should be able to afford. And that’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for President. (Applause.)
I’m running to make sure the next generation of high-tech manufacturing takes root in places like Richmond and Columbus, and Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I want to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs and profits overseas. I want us to reward companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America. That’s the choice in this election. (Applause.)
I’m running so that we keep moving towards a future where we control our own energy. Our dependence on foreign oil is at its lowest point in 16 years. (Applause.) By the middle of the next decade, our cars will average nearly 55 miles per gallon. That will save you money. Thousands of Americans have jobs because the production of renewal energy in this country -- solar, wind, biofuels -- that's nearly doubled in just three years. (Applause.)
So now is not the time to cut these investments to pay for another $4 billion giveaway to the oil companies. Now is the time to end the subsidies for an industry that has rarely been more profitable. Let's double down on a clean energy future that’s never been more promising -- for our economy, and our security, and for the safety of our planet. That’s why I’m running, Virginia. That’s the choice in this election. (Applause.)
For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. (Applause.) Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to this country. Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat. (Applause.) And by 2014, the war in Afghanistan will be over. (Applause.)
America is safer and more respected because of the courage and selflessness of the United States Armed Forces. A lot of them from Virginia. A lot of folks right here in Virginia, putting on that uniform, serving on our behalf. (Applause.) And as long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, this country will care for our veterans and serve our veterans as well as they’ve served us -- because nobody who serves, nobody who fights for this country should have to fight for a job or a roof over their heads when they come back home. (Applause.)
My opponent has different ideas. My opponent has a different view. He said it was -- and I quote -- “tragic” to end the war in Iraq.
AUDIENCE: Booo --
THE PRESIDENT: He said he won’t set a timeline for ending the war in Afghanistan.
AUDIENCE: Booo --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I have, and I intend to keep to that timeline. (Applause.) After a decade of war that’s cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, the nation we need to build is right here, right here at home. So we're going to use half of what we’re no longer spending on war to pay down the deficit, and we will use the other half to repair our roads and our bridges and our airports and our wireless networks. (Applause.) That’s the choice in this election. That's why I'm running for President. (Applause.)
I am running to pay down our debt in a way that’s balanced and responsible. We inherited a trillion-dollar deficit. The other side doesn't like to be reminded of this. But that's okay. I signed $2 trillion of spending cuts into law. And now I want to finish the job by streamlining government, and cutting more waste, and reforming our tax code so that it’s simpler, and that it's fairer, and that it asks the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more. (Applause.)
Now, my opponent has a different view. He won’t tell us how he’d pay for his new, $5 trillion tax cut -- $5 trillion -- a tax cut that gives an average of $250,000 to every millionaire in the country.
AUDIENCE: Booo --
THE PRESIDENT: But even if he won't disclose the details of how he's going to pay for it, we know the bill for that tax cut will either be passed on to our children, or it will be paid for by a whole lot of you, a whole lot of ordinary Americans.
And Virginia, I refuse to let that happen again. (Applause.) I refuse to let that happen again. I refuse to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut by eliminating medical research projects on things like cancer and Alzheimer’s. I refuse to pay for another tax cut by kicking children off of the Head Start program; or asking students to pay more for college; or eliminating health insurance for millions of poor, and elderly, and disabled Americans on Medicaid. We’re not going to do that. (Applause.)
As long as I’m President of the United States, I will never allow Medicare to be turned into a voucher that would end the program as we know it. (Applause.) We're not going to go back to the days when our citizens spent their golden years at the mercy of private insurance companies. We will reform Medicare -- not by shifting the cost of care to seniors, but by reducing the spending that isn’t making people healthier. (Applause.) That’s the right way to do it. And that’s what’s at stake, Virginia. On issue after issue, we just can’t afford to spend the next four years going backwards.
America doesn’t need to refight the battles we just had over Wall Street reform and health care reform. And, by the way, on health care reform, here’s what I know: Allowing 2.5 million young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance -- that was the right thing to do. (Applause.) Cutting prescription drug costs for seniors -- that was the right thing to do. We’re not going back to the days when insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, or deny you coverage, or charge women differently than men. We’re not going back to that. (Applause.)
We certainly don’t need another political fight about ending a woman’s right to choose, or getting rid of Planned Parenthood, or taking away access to affordable birth control. (Applause.) I want women to control their own health choices -- (applause) -- just like I want my daughters to have the same opportunities as your son. We’re not turning back the clock. (Applause.)
We’re not returning to the days when you could be kicked out of the United States military just because of who you are and who you love. (Applause.) We’re not going back to that. That would be wrong for our national security. It would be a betrayal of our values. It’s not going to happen on my watch. (Applause.)
This should be the last election where multimillion-dollar donations speak louder than the voices of ordinary citizens. (Applause.) We need more checks on special interests and lobbyists, not fewer checks on them.
We’re not going to eliminate the EPA. We’re not going to roll back the bargaining rights of generations of workers. (Applause.) And it’s time to stop denying citizenship to responsible young people just because they’re the children of undocumented workers. (Applause.) This country is at its best when we harness the God-given talents of every individual, when we hear every voice, when we come together as one American family, striving for that same dream.
That’s what we’re fighting for. A bold America. A competitive America. A forward-looking America, where everybody has the chance to make of their life what they will. That’s what made us the envy of the world. That’s what makes us great. That’s why I’m running again for President of the United States. (Applause.)
And, Virginia, that’s why I need your help. (Applause.) This election will be even closer than the last. Too many of our friends and neighbors are still hurting because of this crisis. I’ve heard from too many people wondering why they haven’t been able to get one of the jobs that have been created, why their home is still underwater, why their family hasn’t yet been touched by the recovery.
The other side won’t be offering these Americans any real answers to those questions. They won’t be offering a better vision. They won’t be offering new ideas. But what they will do is spend more money than we’ve ever seen before, all on negative ads on TV and radio, in the mail, on the Internet -- probably Tweeting a few negative ads out there somewhere -- ads that exploit people’s frustration for my opponent’s political gain. And over and over again, they will tell you that America is down and out, and they’ll tell you who to blame.
And they’ll ask if you’re better off than you were before the worst crisis of our lifetime. We’ve seen the play before. We know what to expect. But you know what, the real question -- the question that will actually make a difference in your life and in the lives of your children -- is not just about how we’re doing today. It’s about how we’ll be doing tomorrow. (Applause.)
Will we be better off if more Americans get a better education? (Applause.) Will we better off if we depend less on foreign oil and more on our own ingenuity? (Applause.) Will we be better off if we start doing some nation-building at home? Will we be better off if we bring down our deficits in a balanced, responsible way without gutting the very things that we need to grow? (Applause.) When we look back four years from now, or ten years from now, or twenty years from now, won’t we be better off if we have the courage to keep moving forward? (Applause.)
That’s the question in this election. And that outcome is entirely up to you. We’re going to have to contend with even more negative ads, with even more cynicism, more nastiness -- sometimes, just plain foolishness. (Applause.) It will be worse than we saw in the last campaign. We know, because we’ve seen some of the foolishness over the last three and a half years.
But if there’s one thing we learned in 2008, it’s that nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change. (Applause.) When enough of you knock on doors and enough of you pick up the phone, when enough of you are talking to your friends and your coworkers, when you decide that it’s time for change to happen, guess what? Change happens. Change comes to America. (Applause.)
Virginia, that’s the spirit we need again. If people ask you what’s this campaign about, you tell them it’s still about hope. You tell them it’s still about change. (Applause.) You tell them it’s still about ordinary people who believe in the face of great odds that we can make a difference in the life of this country. (Applause.) You tell them.
Because I still believe, Virginia. I still believe that we’re not as divided as our politics suggest. I still believe we still have more in common than the pundits tell us; that we’re not Democrats or Republicans first, but we are Americans first and foremost. (Applause.
I still believe in you, and I’m asking you to keep believing in me. (Applause.) I told you in 2008 that I wasn’t a perfect man, and I will never be a perfect President. But I promised you then that I would always tell you what I thought. I would always tell you where I stood. And I would wake up every single day fighting for you as hard as I know how. (Applause.)
And I have kept that promise. I have kept that promise. And I will keep it so long as I have the honor to be your President. (Applause.) So if you’re willing to stick with me, and fight with me, and press on with me; if you’re willing to work even harder in this election than in the last election, I guarantee you, we will move this country forward. We will finish what we started. We're still fired up. We’re still ready to go. And we’re going to remind the world once more why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
END 5:56 P.M. EDT