The White House
Office of the First Lady
Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
North Carolina Central University
Durham, North Carolina
2:35 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Yes! All right. (Applause.) Wow! Yes! Thank you so much. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. You all, thank you so much. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. All right, well, I’m done. I’m done. (Laughter.) I am so thrilled to be here with all of you today. Wow. Wow. Thank you guys so much. (Applause.)
Let me start -- I want to say a few thank-yous. I want to start by thanking Korey for that very kind introduction and for all of his outstanding work on our campaign. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize Congressman David Price; Mayor Bell, who is here. (Applause.) Our Mayor is here, Mayor Bell. Former Congresswoman Eva Clayton has joined us today. (Applause.) And Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, who is going to make a great governor for all of you here in North Carolina. (Applause.)
But most of all, I want to thank all of you. My goodness, thank you. Thank you for being here today. Thank you to all of the students here at North Carolina Central University. (Applause.) My goodness! You all are pretty fired up and very ready to go. (Applause.) And that’s good, because after our convention a couple of weeks ago, I’m feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself. Yeah. (Applause.)
As you all know, in Charlotte, at the convention, we heard from -- Charlotte. Yes, indeed. (Applause.) We had a wonderful convention. We head from a lot of great speakers -- folks like President Clinton, Vice President Biden. (Applause.) And they reminded us how much we’ve accomplished together, how much is at stake, and why we need to reelect my husband for four more years. (Applause.) And my job in Charlotte was pretty simple. I had the pleasure and the honor of talking about the man I have loved and admired for 23 years and why I decided to marry him. (Applause.) That was an easy job.
Now, ladies, listen to this. When I first met Barack, he had everything going for him. He was handsome. (Applause.) Still is as far as I’m concerned. He was charming, talented and oh-so smart. But that is not why I married him. Now, fellas, listen to this. (Laughter.) See, bring out your pad and paper. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Michelle.
MRS. OBAMA: Love you, too, sweetie. Love you, too. (Applause.)
But what truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama was his character. Did you hear me? His character. It was his decency. (Applause.) It was his honesty. It was his compassion and conviction.
See, I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs, and instead started his career fighting to get folks back to work in struggling communities. I loved that Barack was so devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. (Applause.) See, you’ve got to watch out for this.
I saw the respect he had for his mother. I saw how proud he was that she’d put herself through school while still supporting him and his sister as a single mom. I saw the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother. I saw how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning and catching that bus to her job at the community bank, making sure she was doing whatever she could to support his family. And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman, but he also saw how she just kept on doing that same job, kept on getting up year after year without complaint or regret.
See, with Barack, I found a real connection because in his life story, I saw so much of my own. See, growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I watched my father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant. I saw how he carried himself with that same dignity, that same pride for being able to provide for his family, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of. How many of us here have people like that in our lives? (Applause.)
See, like so many families in this country, our families weren’t asking for much. They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success. They didn’t even mind if others had much more than they did -- in fact, they admired it. They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids. (Applause.)
And they also believed that when you’ve worked hard and you’ve done well and you’ve walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. No, you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed. (Applause.) That’s how Barack and I and so many of you were raised. See, those are the values we were taught.
We learned that how hard you work matters more than how much you make. We learned that the truth matters, so you don’t take shortcuts or game the system; you don’t play by your own set of rules. (Applause.)
We learned that no one gets where they are on their own, that each of us has a community of people who are lifting us up all the time, from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our school clean. (Applause.) And we learned to value everyone’s contribution and to treat everyone with respect.
We learned about citizenship and service -- that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves; that with our freedoms come obligations, and with our blessings come a duty to give back to others who have less. (Applause.)
You see, these are the values that make Barack such an extraordinary husband to me, and such a phenomenal father to our girls. But Barack’s values matter to me not just as a wife and as a mother, but also as a First Lady who has seen up close and personal what being President really looks like and just how critical those values are for leading this country. (Applause.)
Now, over the past three and a half years, I have seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones -- the decisions that aren’t just about the bottom line, but about laying a foundation for the next generation. I’ve seen how important it is to have a President who doesn’t just tell us what we want to hear, but who tells us the truth -- even when it’s hard; especially when it’s hard. (Applause.)
And I’ve seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls, when everyone is urging you to do what’s easy, what polls best or what makes good headlines, as President, you have to be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all of the people you serve. (Applause.) As President, you truly need a strong inner compass, a core commitment to your fellow citizens. That’s how you make the right decisions for this country. That’s what it takes to be a leader.
See, let me tell you something, since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that is exactly what my husband has been doing. That’s what you’ve seen in him. We have seen his values at work. We have seen his vision unfold. We’ve seen the depths of his character, courage and conviction.
Listen, think back to when Barack first took office. Our economy was on the brink of collapse. Newspapers were using words like “meltdown” and “calamity;” they were declaring “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock.”
For years folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford, so their mortgages were underwater. Banks weren’t lending, companies weren’t hiring. The auto industry was in crisis. This economy was losing 800,000 jobs every single month, and a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression. See, now, this is what Barack Obama faced on day one as President. This is what welcomed him to the Oval Office. (Applause.)
But instead of pointing fingers or placing blame, Barack got to work. (Applause.) He got to work because he was thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother. That’s why he cracked down on lending abuses, so that today, when you apply for a mortgage or a credit card, you know exactly what you’re getting into.
That’s why he cut taxes for small businesses and working families, because he believes that in America, teachers and firefighters should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. Not in America. (Applause.)
He got the auto industry back on its feet, and today new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM. (Applause.)
And while we still have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth -- a total of 4.6 million new jobs under this administration. (Applause.) Good jobs right here in the United States of America.
Now, when it comes to the health of our families, Barack didn’t care whether health reform was the easy thing to do politically, because that’s not who he is; he cared that it was the right thing to do. (Applause.)
And today, because of health reform our parents and our grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs. Young people, like so many of you, can stay on your parent’s insurance until you’re 26 years old. (Applause.) Because of that reform, today insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care, things like contraception, cancer screenings, with no out-of-pocket cost. (Applause.) They won’t be able discriminate you because you have a preexisting condition like diabetes or even asthma. (Applause.)
See, and here’s another thing. If you get really sick, a serious illness -- something like breast cancer -- and you need expensive treatment, they can no longer tell you, sorry, you’ve hit your lifetime limit and we’re not paying a penny more. No longer. That is now illegal because of health reform. (Applause.)
And when it comes to giving all our young people the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, like Korey said, he never could have attended college without financial aid. Never. Never. (Applause.)
In fact, as I mentioned at the convention, when Barack and I were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. So when it comes to student debt, believe me, Barack and I, we’ve been there. That is why Barack doubled funding for Pell Grants and fought hard to keep interest rates down. (Applause.) Because your President wants all of you to have the skills you need for the jobs of the future -- the kind of jobs you can raise a family on, jobs that will drive our economy for decades to come.
And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women -- ladies, right? -- (applause) -- when it comes to standing up for our rights and our opportunities, we know that my husband will always have our backs. (Applause.)
Because Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren’t treated fairly in a workplace. He knows what it means when women struggle to meet the demands of their jobs and the needs of their families. And believe me, today, as a father, oh, he knows so well what it means to want our daughters to have the same freedoms and opportunities as our sons. (Applause.)
And that is why the very first bill he signed as President was to help get -- women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And that is also why he will always, always fight to ensure that women can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care. That’s what my husband stands for. (Applause.)
So when people ask you what this President has done, when you’re talking to folks who are deciding who to select to keep America moving forward for four more years, here are some of the things you can tell them. Tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created. Tell them about the health reform he passed. Tell them about all those kids who can finally attend college.
Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq. Tell them how we -- absolutely. (Applause.) Tell them how we, as a nation, took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how Barack fought to get veterans and military families the benefits they earned. (Applause.)
Tell them about all those young immigrants brought to America through no fault of their own, who will no longer have to worry about being deported from the only country they’ve ever known. (Applause.)
Tell them how our brave men and women in uniform will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)
But more than anything else, remind folks that Barack Obama knows the American Dream because he’s lived it. (Applause.) And he is fighting every day so that everyone in this country -- everyone in this country can have that same opportunity no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love. (Applause.)
But let’s be clear: While he is absolutely proud of what we’ve all achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied -- nowhere near. Barack knows that too many people are still hurting. (Applause.) He knows all too well that there’s plenty of work left to be done. And as President Clinton said in his speech in Charlotte, it is going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse. (Applause.)
But here’s what I know for sure: Barack Obama has been working every day since the day he took office. He has been fighting for us. He has been struggling with us. And together, slowly but surely, we have been pulling ourselves out of that hole we started in. For three and a half years, we have been moving forward and making progress, and we are beginning to see that change we all can believe.
So we have to step back and ask ourselves, are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us into the hole in the first place?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to just sit back and watch everything we’ve worked for and fought for to just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to keep moving this country forward? What are we going to do? What are we going to do? (Applause.)
Because in the end, the answer to these questions is on us. It is up to us. Because all our hard work, all our progress, all that -- it’s all on the line this November. It’s all at stake.
And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. And it could all come down to what happens in just a few key battleground states like North Carolina. (Applause.)
And just to put it in perspective, I want you to think back to what happened in this state in 2008. Back then, we won North Carolina by 14,000 votes. All right, now, to some of you that might sound like a lot. But when you break it down, that’s just five votes for precinct. Do you hear me? Five, all right? Five.
That could mean just one vote in your neighborhood -- just one more person getting up, going to vote in your neighborhood. One single vote in your apartment building, in your dorm room -- one. So if there is anyone here or anyone in your lives who might be thinking that their vote doesn’t matter, that their involvement doesn’t count, that in this complex political process that ordinary folks can’t possibly make a difference -- if you know anyone like that, I want you to just think about those five votes. Keep that in your head.
I want you to think about how with just a few evenings on a phone bank, a few weekends knocking on doors, the folks in this stadium could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama, all by yourselves. Five votes. (Applause.)
And if we win enough precincts, we will win this state. And if Barack wins North Carolina, we will be well on our way to putting Barack back in the White House for four more years. Think about that -- five votes. (Applause.)
So from now until November, we do need every single one of you to work like you’ve never worked before. You hear me? Does that make some sense? (Applause.)
Young people like so many of you have always driven Barack’s campaigns with your energy and your passion. You all have been the ones. So we need you. We need you to talk to everyone you know -- your friends, your neighbors, that cousin you haven’t seen in a while -- (laughter) -- that student sitting next to you in class. You know he’s not registered. (Laughter.)
Talk to your parents and your grandparents -- especially them, because they need to hear from you just what this election means for your futures. Take them to events like this. Tell them what’s at stake. Remind them about all the things this President has accomplished.
More importantly, make sure they're registered, okay? See, this is the work of right now. They have to be registered to vote. Especially if they’ve just moved, they may need to reregister. Or if they’ve never voted before, they definitely have to register first. Maybe they just changed addresses because they’ve just come back to school -- they’ve got to register.
So if any of you haven’t registered yet, we have volunteers here today, as Korey said, who can help you do that right now. We’ve got folks with clipboards. I don't know if they're out here now, but they will be out here. Find them and register to vote. (Applause.)
This is serious -- you all know those five people. Everybody in here knows five people who don't quite have it together for this election, right? (Laughter.) And once you and once they have gotten registered, make sure you then get to the polls. Get to the polls and cast your ballot on Election Day.
And here in North Carolina, you don't have to even wait. You don't even have to wait until November the 6th. You can start voting October 18th. You can vote early at your county of board of elections and at other locations right in your community. (Applause.)
And we want as many of you, especially young people -- all right, you all know you need to vote early. (Laughter.) You need a whole lot of time, right? Because Election Day, you wake up, alarm didn't go off. (Laughter.) You forgot. Is it Election Day? Was that yesterday? You know how you all are. (Laughter.) So vote early.
Because if you vote early, you get that out of the way, then you can spend Election Day working to get other people to the polls, right? (Applause.) And to find out where you can vote early, how to get registered, you can go to our websites gottaregister.com, gottavote.com. Everything you need is on that website to make a difference.
Uh-oh, we okay over here? All right. (Applause.) That’s standing up. You all, bend your knees. Bend your knees while you’re standing up. Bend your knees. (Applause.)
All right, now that she’s all right, let’s refocus. (Laughter.) Because the truth is -- let me be honest with you -- understand this, this journey is going to be hard, all right? And these last few days, they are going to be long.
But here’s what I want you to do. When you start to get tired -- and you will; when you start thinking about taking a day off -- and you will, I want you to remember that what we do for the next 48 days -- it’s not that much time, it will absolutely make the difference between waking up on the November the 7th, the day after Election Day, and asking ourselves, “Could we have done more?”, or feeling the promise of four more years. That's the difference right there. Right there -- that is the difference. (Applause.)
So from now until the November the 6th, we are going to need you to keep working, to keep struggling, to keep pushing forward.
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
MRS. OBAMA: Because here is something to think about: That kind of work, that is how change always happens in this country. That's how it always happens. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we get there. We always do. We always have. But maybe not in our lifetimes. This is the real trick -- maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because in the end, when it is all said and done, that's what this is about. That's why we’re here. That's what elections are always about. Don't let anybody tell you differently. Elections are always about hope. (Applause.)
The hope that I saw in my father’s beaming face as I crossed the stage to get my diploma from college. The hope Barack’s grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she’d loved and raised. (Applause.) The hope of all those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could have something more. The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the eyes of our own kids and grandkids.
That's why we’re here today -- because we want to give all of our children a real good foundation for their dreams. We want to give all our children opportunities worthy of their promise because all of our kids are worthy. We want to give them that sense of limitless possibility -- that belief that here in America, the greatest country on the planet, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it. (Applause.)
So this is what I tell myself: We cannot turn back now. No.
MRS. OBAMA: We have come so far, but there is still so much more work to do.
So here’s my last question. Are you ready for this? (Applause.) Are you fired up? (Applause.) Are you ready to go? (Applause.) All right, then, let’s get to work.
Thank you. God bless. (Applause.)
3:03 P.M. EDT