The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event -- Phoenix, Maryland

Private Residence

Phoenix, Maryland

8:21 P.M. EDT

     MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you all.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  All right, I get embarrassed.  You’re embarrassing me.  (Laughter.)  But thank you so much.  

It is beyond a thrill to be here with all of you in this magnificent space with so many wonderful people.  It was just a real joy for me to get to meet each and every one of you in the photo line and just to share a few seconds of something that connects us.  So that meant a lot to me.

     But I want to thank Bob for that very kind introduction, and I want to thank both Bob and Rheda for hosting us here in this -- to say this is a beautiful home seems like a really inadequate way to put it.  (Laughter.)  But thank you, and to your entire families.  It was wonderful to meet your sons and daughters and grandchildren -- gorgeous, wonderful people.  Thank you so much.

     Of course, I want to thank Governor O’Malley for not just being a terrific governor, but he did an amazing job at the convention, as well.  (Applause.)

     And Senator Mikulski, my girlfriend in arms.  (Laughter and applause.)  Steel-toed shoes.  Of course, Senator Cardin, as well.  Thank you so much.  You all have been amazing -- you both.  Thank you for all your work on behalf of the people of Maryland.

And of course, again I want to echo my thanks to all of the musicians.  To hear what you all have done to make this night possible with your busy schedules, with your limited time and with your wonderful gifts, it just warms my heart.  Yo-Yo Ma, Jaime Laredo, Leon, Pamela, Hilary, you all -- thank you, thank you, thank you so much.  (Applause.)

     And most of all for taking -- it is Friday.  You realize that?  (Laughter.)  This is how you’ve chosen to spend your Friday evening, so I am grateful.  (Laughter.)  Hopefully you all are feeling as excited as I am after our wonderful convention in Charlotte a few weeks ago.  Wasn’t it amazing?  It was truly an amazing convention.  (Applause.)  Very proud, very proud.

     We heard from folks like Governor O’Malley, President Clinton, Vice President Biden, and they reminded us of a few things.  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 everyone congratulates me on my speech, but -- I do mean this - my job was pretty simple.  (Laughter.)  Because I had some good material to work with.  (Laughter.)  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.  And that was an easy job because back when Barack I first met, he had everything going for him.  Yes, he was handsome -- I think he still is.  (Laughter.)  He was charming and talented and that wicked kind of smart. 

     But that's not why I married him.  It was truly his character that made me fall in love with Barack, his decency and honesty; his compassion and conviction.  I could see that straight away.  I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned high-paying jobs.  I mean this was the guy who was the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review; could have worked anywhere.  And instead, he started his career fighting to get folks back to work in struggling communities.  I loved that.

     And I loved that Barack was so devoted to his family, especially the women in his life.  I got to know his mother before she passed, and I saw the respect he had for her.  I saw how proud he was that she was able to 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 a bus to her job at a community bank to make sure that he and his family had what they need to get through.

     And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman.  But he also saw how she kept getting up, kept doing that same job, doing her best, year after year without complaint, without regret. 

     And with Barack I found a real connection, because in his story, I saw so much of my own.  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, and I saw how he carried himself with that dignity, that same pride that you find in people when they can provide for their family; the same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of.

And as I explained in Charlotte, like so many families in our country, our families weren’t asking for much.  They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success, and they didn’t mind if others had much more than they did -- in fact, they admired it.  That’s why they pushed us to excel.  They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and if you do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and maybe an even better life for your kids and grandkids.

     And they also believed that when you’ve worked hard and done well, and you’ve had the chance to walk through that doorway of opportunity, you just don’t slam it shut behind you, but you reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed. 

     And as I shared in Charlotte, that’s how Barack and I and so many of you were raised.  These are the values we were taught.  We learned that hard work matters more than how much you make.  We learned that the truth actually matters.  So you don’t take shortcuts; you don’t game the system; you don’t play by your own set of rules.

     We learned that no one gets where they are on their own; that we all have a community of people lifting us up in some way -- from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean.  And we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and to treat everyone with respect. 

We also learned about citizenship and service -- that we’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves; that with our freedoms and our rights come obligations, and with our blessings come a duty to give back to others who have less. 

     And these are the values that make Barack such an extraordinary husband to me and such a phenomenal father to our daughters.  But Barack’s values matter to me not just as a wife and 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.

Over the past three and a half years, I’ve seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk, they’re always the hard ones, right?  Our Senators know that -- or Governor.  They’re always the hard ones.  As Barack says, the easy ones get answered before they get to his desk.  The decisions that aren’t just about the bottom line, but about laying a foundation for the next generation.  And 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.

And I’ve seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls and everyone is urging you to do what’s easy or what polls best, or what gets good headlines, as President, you have got to be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all the people you serve.  As President, you really have to have that strong inner compass, that 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 good leader. 

And since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that’s exactly what you’ve seen in my husband.  We have seen his values at work.  We’ve seen his vision unfold, and we’ve seen the depths of his character, courage and conviction.  I mean, if we think back to when Barack first took office and our economy was on the brink of collapse, newspapers were using words like “meltdown,” “calamity,” “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock.” 

As many of you know, for years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford, so that mortgages were under water.  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.  That was the talk.  And that’s exactly what Barack Obama faced on day one as President.  That’s what he walked into. 

But instead of pointing fingers or placing blame, Barack got to work -- because he was thinking about folks like my dad, like his grandmother.  And that’s why he cracked down on lending abuses, so that today, when folks apply for a mortgage or a credit card, they know exactly what they’re getting into. 

That’s why he cut taxes for small businesses and working families -- because he believes that in America, teachers and firefighters shouldn’t pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires.  Not in America. 

He got the auto industry back on its feet, so that today new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM. 

And, yeah, while we still have a long way to go to rebuild this economy, the truth is we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth -- a total of 4.6 million jobs, good jobs right here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

And 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.  And today because of health reform, our parents and grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs today.

Today our kids can stay on our insurance until they’re 26 years old.  Insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care -- things like contraception, cancer screenings -- with no out-of-pocket costs today because of health reform -- it’s okay, you can applaud.  (Applause.)  I know I’m talking a lot, it’s a good thing.  We all know it. 

     They can’t discriminate against you because you have a preexisting condition -- diabetes or asthma.  And this is the one that really gets me is that now if you get a serious illness, let’s say breast cancer, and you need really expensive treatment, no longer can they tell you, sorry, you’ve hit your lifetime limit and we’re not covering a penny more -- no longer.  That is now illegal because of health reform.  (Applause.)

     And when it comes to giving our kids the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many people in this country, he never could have attended college without financial aid -- never.  Princeton, Columbia never would have happened. 

In fact, as I shared in the convention, when we were first married our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage.  And it was actually a nice condo.  (Laughter.)  So when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we’ve been there. 

And that’s why it was so important to Barack to double funding for Pell grants and to fight to keep interest rates down on student loans.  (Applause.)  Because he knows how it important it is to make sure that all of our young people have the chance to get the skills they need for the jobs of the future -- good jobs you can raise a family on, jobs that will drive our economy for decades to come.

     And then, finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women, when it comes to standing up for our rights and opportunities, we know that my husband will always have our backs.  We know this because he knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace.  He knows what it means when women struggle to meet the demands of their jobs and the needs of their families.  He’s seen it in me. 

And today as a father, believe me, he knows what it means to want our daughters to have the same freedoms and opportunities as our sons.  And that’s why the very first bill he signed as President was to ensure that women get equal pay for equal work, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- the very first thing he did.  (Applause.)

     And that is why my husband, your President, will always, always fight to ensure that women -- that we can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care, because that’s what my husband stands for.  That you can be sure of.  (Applause.)

     So when people ask you what this President has done for our country, when you’ve got folks who are deciding which candidate is going to keep America moving forward for the next four years, here’s a few things you can tell them. 

Tell them about the millions of jobs Barack created.  Tell them about health reform.  Tell them about all those kids who can finally afford college.

Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq.  Tell them how together we took out Osama bin Laden.  Tell them about how he has been fighting to get veterans and military families the benefits they’ve earned.  Tell them about the young immigrants brought to America through no fault of their own, and how they will no longer be deported from the only country they have ever called home.  (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.)  I could go on and on and on. 

But more importantly, tell them that Barack Obama knows the American Dream because he’s lived it.  And he is fighting every day so that 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. 

But let’s be clear -- while he is very proud of what we’ve all achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied.  Barack more than anyone knows that too many people are still struggling.  He knows that there is plenty of work left to be done.  And as President Clinton said in Charlotte, it’s going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse.

But here’s one thing I can tell you for sure -- since he took office, Barack 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 that we started in.  For the last three and a half years, we have been moving forward and making progress, and we’re beginning to see that change we believe in.

So we have to ask ourselves, are we going to back to the same policies that got us into that hole in the first place?  Are we going to just sit back and watch everything we’ve worked for, everything we fought for just slip away?

AUDIENCE:  No!

MRS. OBAMA:  Or are we going to keep this country moving forward?  What are we going to do?  What are we going to do?  (Applause.)

Because as you all know, in the end the answer to these questions is still up to us.  Because all our hard work, all the progress we’ve made, it is all on the line.  It’s all at stake this November, every bit of progress.  And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one.  That is a guarantee. 

And it could all come down to what happens in just a few key battleground states like Virginia or North Carolina.  And what I’ve been doing when I go out on the campaign trail is helping people understand what this actually looks like, giving them some perspective. 

So back when we won Virginia in 2008, we won it by 235,000 votes.  And to some that might sound like a lot, particularly young people -- yeah, 230, that’s great!  (Laughter.)  But when you break it down, that’s just 100 votes per precinct -- 100 votes per precinct. 

And if you think that’s close, let’s look at North Carolina, where he won by just 14,000 votes.  And that’s just five votes per precinct -- five.  That could mean just one vote in a neighborhood.  That’s one vote in somebody’s dorm.  That’s one vote in an apartment building. 

So what I urge people to think about -- for those who might wonder whether their vote matters, for those folks who might be thinking that their involvement doesn’t count, that in this complex political process that ordinary folks can’t possibly make a difference -- and I just urge them to think about those five votes.  You know?

I want them to think about how with just a few evenings on a phone bank, just a few hours knocking doors, one person could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama all by themselves.  And of course, if we win enough precincts, we'll win these battleground states.  And if we win enough states, we'll be well on our way to putting back -- Barack back in the White House for four more years.  (Applause.)

So that’s how real it is.  That’s how plausible.  That’s how in control we are of this process.

So from now until November, we're going to need everyone we know to work like you've never worked before.  We need you to go to Dashboard.barackobama.com -- I don’t know.  We don’t see people running to their computers.  Talk to your kids, your grandkids, they'll help you out with that.  (Laughter.)  But it's very easy to connect, to make phone calls from your home in key battleground states just by linking up.

We need you to head over to Virginia -- if you're not in a battleground state, you're close to one -- for a few days or weekends to help get the vote out.  And truly, we need you to talk to everyone you know -- those friends, those neighbors, the folks that are still undecided, that nephew you haven't seen for a while, high school classmate who got on your nerves.  (Laughter.)  Now is the time to reach out and remind them what's at stake, remind them of all the things this President has accomplish -- even bring them to as many events as you can.

But make sure that we're working to get people registered to vote.  That’s really our push right now, because we're hitting on registration deadlines, especially for college kids who have just moved, they're away from home; people who have never voted before.  That’s really the push with registration.  And then to make sure that folks who are registered actually get to the polls and cast their ballots on Election Day.

And we also have registration websites -- GottaRegister.com, GottaVote.com.  So if you have young people, they can get to find out everything they need to know just from these websites.

So we've got some work to do.  But it is so close.  It is so possible. 

And I'm going to be honest with you, like I always am -- this journey is going to be hard.  There are going to be ups and downs and twists and turns.  No matter how we're feeling today, it will change -- it always does.  And these days are going to be long.  But when you start getting tired -- and you will -- when you start thinking about taking a day off -- and maybe you will -- I just want you to remember that what we do for the next 46 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up on November the 7th and wondering "Could I have done more?", or feeling the promise of four more years.

So from now until November the 6th, we need you to keep on working and struggling and pushing forward -- all of you.  Because what I remind people is, that is how change always happens in this country -- I say this everywhere I go.  Change is slow.  It requires patience and diligence and tenacity.  But if we keep showing up, and we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know in our hearts is right, then eventually, we get there -- because we always do.

In this country, we have always moved forward -- always have.  But here's the thing -- maybe not in our lifetimes.  Maybe in our children's lifetimes; maybe in our grandchildren's lifetimes.  Because in the end, that’s what this is all about -- we talked about that in the photoline.  In the end, that’s what elections are always about.

And don’t let anybody ever tell you any differently -- elections are always about hope.  The hope that I saw on my father's beaming face as I crossed the stage to get my Princeton diploma.  The hope on Barack's grandmother's face as she felt -- as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised.  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.

And hopefully, that’s why we're all here today -- because we do want to give all of our children that solid foundation for their dreams.  We do want to give all of our children opportunities worthy of their promise.

Because let me tell you, I have traveled the country, and every single child in this country is worthy of everything we can give them.  We want to give all these kids that sense of limitless possibility, that belief that in America, the greatest country on the planet, that there is always something better out there if you're willing to work for it.

So what I tell myself is that we simply cannot turn back now.  We cannot turn back now.  We have come so far, but we've got so much more work to do.

So my final question before I leave you and go back to my children is, are you ready for this?  Do you think we can do this?  (Applause.)  Do you think we can make this happen together?

We are close -- 46 more days.  (Applause.)  If any of you has a second in your life, get out there and find your five and turn them into voters.

You all, thank you so much.  Thank you for your constant support, your love, your prayers, your thoughts.  It means the world to me, Barack, Malia, Sasha, and Bo.  (Laughter.)

We love you all so much. Thank you.

                         END                   8:45 P.M. EDT

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