The White House

Office of the First Lady

Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event

 

University of Wisconsin
Wausau, Wisconsin
 
 
4:26 P.M. CDT
 
 
MRS. OBAMA:  Oh, wow!  You guys look great!  (Applause.)  All right.  Wausau is looking pretty beautiful today.  Did you all -- you all ordered up this special fall weather just for me, right?  (Laughter.)  It's beautiful here.  I am thrilled to be back.  It's good to see you all.  Thank you for joining us.  
 
Let me start by thanking Cynthia.  I mean, wasn't that an eloquent, concise, poignant -- it was just a beautiful introduction.  From a first-time voter, we are so proud of everything she's doing for this campaign.  Cynthia, well done.  (Applause.)  See, this is why I know our country is in good hands, because we've got a lot of wonderful young people who are working for us and doing great things in communities across the country.  
 
I also want to acknowledge State Senator Pat Kreitlow, who is going to make a tremendous congressman for all of you right here in Wisconsin.  (Applause.)  He has been such a tremendous supporter, and the President is going to need good folks in Congress over the next four years -- for the four more years he's going to be there, right?  (Applause.)  
 
But most of all, truly, from the bottom of my heart, as we are 18 days away from what has been a wonderful journey, I want to thank all of you -- truly.  I mean, we were -- I was already in the overflow room where we were all crying, and I said, you know, you can't make me cry at the beginning of a speech.  (Laughter.)  But I started to get a little melancholy, because we get to travel around the country and really see how tremendous our supporters are -- and not just our supporters, because not everybody supports us -- but it reminds us what a good country we live in, and just all the wonderful things we're all working towards.
 
So I just want to thank you all.  Thank you for being here, for being fired up and ready to go.  (Applause.)  And truly, after hearing my husband once again talk about his values and his vision for this country at the debate on Tuesday, let me tell you, I am more fired up and ready to go than ever before.  (Applause.)  I really am.
 
But what I also like about campaigning, in addition to meeting all of you guys, and getting hugs, and remembering what we're doing and why -- it's that I get to do one of my favorite things -- that is to talk about the man that I have loved and admired since the day we met 23 years ago -- my husband, your President.  (Applause.)  
 
And I don’t say all these nice things in front of him.  (Laughter.)  I mean, to all the husbands, you understand.  I mean, we love you; we generally try not to talk that -- give you that much -- keep your egos in check, right?  (Laughter.)  Same thing in my household.  So I get to say some pretty nice things about the man that I love.
 
And he is handsome, and charming, and incredibly smart.  But that is not why I married him.  One of the things I tell young people -- especially young women -- the reason I married Barack Obama was something you all see all the time -- you saw it in the debate, you see it in how he carries himself as President, in what he's done.  It's his character.  I married him because of his heart, his decency, his honesty, the fact that he has always been someone that I could trust in so many different ways, his compassion, his conviction.  
 
When I first met Barack, I loved that he was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs and instead, he started his career working in struggling neighborhoods to help folks get back to work.  That was the very first thing he was doing.
 
And I loved just how devoted he was to his family.  That meant a lot to me -- especially the women in his life.  Because Barack is surrounded by women; Bo is probably the only boy in his life these days.  (Laughter.)  But growing up, it was the same way.  I saw the respect he had for his mother.  I saw how proud he was that she was able to put herself through school while still supporting he and his little sister as a single mom.  
 
And I saw the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother.  He talks about her all the time -- Tutu; I talked about her at the convention.  But how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, should have been able to put her feet up, she was still waking up every morning to catch her bus to that job at the community bank.  She was doing everything she could to help support his family.  
 
And he also watched as she was passed over again and again for promotions simply because she was a woman.  But he also learned something very important from his grandmother -- he learned the importance of getting up, because he saw her get up every day, year after year, going to that same job, and doing it without complaint and without regret.  And with Barack, I found a real connection, because in his life story, I saw so much of my own.  
 
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I watched my own father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant.  (Applause.)  And I saw how my dad carried himself with that same dignity -- we all know that dignity that comes with being able to provide for your family -- that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he could only dream of.  
 
And here's the thing -- like so many families in this country, our families just weren’t asking for that much.  That’s the darn thing.  Our folks didn’t want much.  They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success.  They didn’t mind if others had much more than they did –- they didn’t care about that.  In fact, they admired it.  And that’s why they pushed us to be the best people we could be.  
 
But what they did believe was 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 your grandkids.  (Applause.)    
 
And another important thing they taught us is that when you’ve worked hard and when you've done well and you've finally walked through that doorway of opportunity, you don't slam it shut behind you.  You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.  (Applause.)  
 
That is how Barack and I and I know so many of you were raised.  Those are the values we were taught growing up.  And more than anything else, the reason why I am so passionate about this election is that that’s what this is all about.  That’s the choice we face.  It’s a choice about our values, our hopes, and our aspirations.  It’s a choice about the America we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids.   
 
And let's talk a little bit about this America that we're trying to build together.  We believe in an America where every child -- do you hear -- every child -- no matter where they’re born, or how much money their parents have -- every child should have good schools -- the kind of schools that push them, and inspire them, and prepare them for jobs of the future.  (Applause.)    
 
We believe in an America where no one goes broke because someone gets sick -- (applause) -- where no one loses their home because someone lost a job.  (Applause.)  We believe in an America where we all understand that none of us gets where we are on our own; that there is always a community of people lifting us all up; where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who keep our schools clean.  (Applause.)  
 
And in this America that we are trying to build -- that when one of us stumbles -- and each of us has the potential of stumbling sometime -- when one of us falls on hard times, we don’t turn our backs and tell them, “Tough luck, you’re on your own.”  No, instead, we extend a helping hand until they get back on their feet.  That’s the America we're building.  (Applause.)    
 
We also believe that the truth matters.  (Applause.)  You don’t take shortcuts, you don't game the system, you don’t play by your own set of rules.  And finally, we believe in keeping our priorities straight -- because we know good and well that cutting Sesame Street is no way to balance our budget.  (Applause.)  We know better than that.  We know that shortchanging our kids is not how we tackle the deficit.  
 
If we truly want to build opportunities for all Americans, yes, we need to cut wasteful spending.  But we also have to make smart investments in things like education and infrastructure in this country.  (Applause.)  That is what my husband stands for.  That is the country he's been working to build.  And those are his values.
 
And over the past four years as First Lady, I have seen up close and personal what being President really looks like and I have seen how critical those values are for leading this country.  I’ve 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 they're 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.  (Applause.)  
 
And I’ve also seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls, and everyone around you is urging you to do what’s easy, what polls best, what gets good headlines, as President, you have to be driven by the struggles, hopes, and dreams of all of the people you serve.  That is how you make the right decisions for this country, and that's what it takes to be a leader.
 
And let me tell you, since the day he took office, on issue after issue -- I've been there -- crisis after crisis, that is exactly what we've seen in my husband.  I mean, think back to when Barack first took office.  Where was this country?  Do we recall?  (Laughter.)  Our economy was on the brink of collapse -- and that is not an exaggeration.  Newspapers were using words like “meltdown," "calamity;” declaring “Wall Street implodes,"  "Economy in Shock.”  Those aren't my words.  
 
For years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford, so their mortgages were underwater.  As you recall, the auto industry was in crisis.  This economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month -- some conveniently forget about that -- and a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression -- do you hear me?  A Great Depression.  This is what Barack faced on day one as President.  He inherited an economy in rapid decline.  
 
But let me tell you what happened -- instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, your President got to work.  Because he was thinking about folks like my Dad and like his grandmother.  (Applause.)  And that is why he cut taxes for who?  For small businesses and for working families, because he believes that here in America, teachers and firefighters should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires.  That’s not right.  (Applause.)  That is not right.  
 
And that’s why, while there were some folks, if you recall, who were willing to let the auto industry go under with more than a million jobs that would have been lost, Barack had the backs of the American workers.  He put his faith in the American people, and he fought hard to make sure that many American families did not lose those jobs.  And that is why, today, the auto industry is back on its feet again, and new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM.  (Applause.)    
 
And, yes, we still have a way to go to completely rebuild our economy.  But today, there are more and more signs every day that we are headed in the right direction:  The stock market has doubled.  Exports have grown by 45 percent.  Manufacturers have added 500,000 jobs under this President.  Since he's taken office, the majority of his time in office -- private sector job growth has occurred for 31 straight months; 5.2 million jobs under this President -- (applause) -- good jobs right here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)
 
And in addition to focusing on creating jobs, as President, you've got to be able to do more than one thing at a time -- (laughter) -- and fortunately, our President was doing that.  He also was working on improving access to health care for millions of Americans in this country.  (Applause.)  
 
And here's another thing I love about my husband -- Barack did not care whether health reform was the easy thing to do politically.  That’s not who he is.  He cared that it was the right thing to do, because he was thinking of all the folks that we still need all over the country whose lives are being changed by this reform -- the woman diagnosed with breast cancer whose insurance company wouldn’t cover her care, the seniors pinching pennies to save up for the medicine they need.  How many parents do we know who couldn’t get live-saving treatment for their children because someone lost a job?  
 
See, those were the stories that were in his mind when he engaged in that battle.  And today, because of that reform, because of that fight, our parents and grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs.  As Cynthia said, our kids can stay on our insurance until they’re 26 years old.  And every parent in here understands the importance of that.  (Applause.)  
 
Insurance companies now have to cover basic preventive care -- things like contraception, cancer screenings -- with no-out-of-pocket cost.  (Applause.)  They won’t be able to discriminate against us because we have preexisting conditions like diabetes or asthma.  No more.  (Applause.)  
 
And here's the one I always mention that really gets me -- that today, now, if you get a serious illness -- a life-threatening cancer -- and you need really expensive treatment, no longer can the insurance companies look you in the eye and tell you, "Sorry, you've hit your lifetime limit, and we’re not paying a penny more.”  Because of health care, that is now illegal.  No more.  (Applause.)    
 
When it comes to our young people, and making sure they get the education they deserve, fortunately, we have a President who knows that like me and I know like so many of you, we could have never gone to college -- never, ever -- without financial aid.  We wouldn’t be here if it weren't for financial aid.  (Applause.)  In fact, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage.  And I know a lot of people in that situation.  
 
So when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we've been there.  This is not a hypothetical for us.  And that is why Barack worked to ensure that Pell grant funding was doubled, and he fought hard to keep interest rates down.  (Applause.)  He wants every young person in this country to have the opportunity to afford college.  (Applause.)  
 
And finally, as Cynthia said in her introduction, when it comes to standing up for the lives of women, when it comes to understanding what we go through, fighting for our rights and opportunities, let me tell you, we know that our husband -- my husband, your President -- (laughter) -- I guess you're not married to him.  (Laughter.)  So he wouldn’t be our husband.  (Laughter.) 
 
But let me tell you, this man will always have our backs.  And why do we know that -- and we're going make this happen.  (Applause.)  See, because the thing about Barack -- (applause) -- the passion he feels for women comes from his personal experience of knowing what it means for a family when women aren't treated fairly in the workplace.  And trust me, as a father of two girls, he knows what it means to want our daughters to have the same freedoms and opportunities as our sons.  
 
And that is why the very first bill he signed into law as President of the United States was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make sure women get equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  And that is why he will always, always fight to ensure that we as women can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care, because that’s what my husband stands for.  (Applause.) 
 
So, Wausau, we've got 18 days left -- and I know you all are glad about that.  (Laughter.)  And I know you're going to be out there; I know there may be people here who are still making up their minds.  But when people ask you what this President has done for our country, when you're talking to people who are trying to decide which of these candidates will be best to keep this country moving forward, here are a few things that you can tell them -- and we don’t have a lot of time, so I'm going to give you a few. 
 
You can start with telling them about the millions of jobs that this President has created.  Tell them about all of the kids in this country who can finally afford college.  Tell them about the millions of lives that will be changed because of health reform.
 
Tell them how this President ended the war in Iraq -- (applause) -- took out Osama bin Laden.  Tell them how Barack has been fighting for veterans and military families to make sure they get the benefits they have earned.  (Applause.)  Tell them about all of the young immigrants who will no longer live in fear of being deported from the only country they’ve ever called home.  (Applause.)  Tell them about the brave servicemembers who will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love.  (Applause.)   
 
Look, I could go on, and on, and on.  But the most important thing that I want you to make sure people understand is that Barack Obama knows the American Dream because he’s lived it, and he has been fighting every day so that every one of us 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 I also want people to be clear -- while he’s very proud of all that we have achieved together -- because he did not do this alone; he did it with your help -- my husband is nowhere near satisfied.  Not at all.  Barack of all people in this country knows that there are still too many people hurting.  He knows better than anyone else that there’s plenty of work left to be done.  And as President Clinton said, it is going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse.  (Applause.)  Everybody knows better than that.  (Applause.)    
 
But here's the thing -- thankfully, in Barack, we have a leader with a deep and unyielding faith in the American people; a leader who understands that this country was built by men and women like my parents, like so many people here who wake up every day and work hard for their families without complaint or regret.
 
And as President, that's what my husband has been fighting for.  As President, he’s been fighting for us.  And that’s why, when the stakes are so high, we can always trust this man to have our backs -- because he always has.
 
And over these past years, know this -- I don’t care what you hear -- for four years, together, we slowly but surely have been pulling ourselves out of that hole we started in.  We are steadily moving this country forward and making real, important change that’s going to affect our kids for the better.  (Applause.) 
 
So we have to ask ourselves a basic question:  Are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us in this hole in the first place?  Are we going to just sit back and watch everything that we’ve worked for and fought for to just slip away?  
 
AUDIENCE:  No!
 
MRS. OBAMA:  Or are we going to keep moving forward?  (Applause.)  What are we going to do?  We've got to keep moving forward!  
 
AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!  
 
MRS. OBAMA:  Forward!    
 
But in the end -- here's the thing -- the answer to these questions is on us.  Because, truly, all our hard work and all the progress we’ve made, it’s all on the line.  It’s all at stake this November.  The choices are so clear.
 
And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one.  That is the only guarantee.  And it could all come down to just a few battleground states like right here in Wisconsin -- states that could be decided by just a few thousand votes -- a few thousand votes, you know?  And a thousand sounds like a lot -- I know kids.  A thousand seems like a lot, right?  (Laughter.)  When it's in dollars, it is a lot.  (Laughter.)  
 
But when you take that number and you spread those votes out across this entire state, across hundreds of cities and thousands of wards, it becomes smaller.  So when you break it down, it turns out that just a handful of votes in every ward could make all the difference in this election.  That could mean just one vote in a neighborhood, just a single vote in an apartment building or in a dorm room.  
 
So if we forget about who we even care about in this election -- which is not something I do often in a stump speech -- (laughter) -- but if there is anyone here who thinks -- or ever thinks that their vote doesn’t matter, that their involvement doesn’t count, that in this complex political process with all these TV ads and this money and -- if anybody thinks that their involvement can't make a difference, I just want you to think about those handful of votes in a single ward that can make all the difference. 
 
I want you to think about how with just a few evenings on a phone bank, just a few hours knocking on some doors, just a few of you here in this room could swing an entire ward for Barack Obama.  And if we win enough wards, we will win this state.  And if we win Wisconsin, we’ll be well on our way to putting Barack back in the White House for four more years.  (Applause.)  
 
So the power is here.  So for the next 18 days, we need you to work like never before.  Sign up with one of our volunteers here today to make phone calls or to knock on doors.  But more importantly, talk to everyone you know -- your neighbors, your friends, that cousin you haven’t seen in a while -- you know the one you ignore; they page you or text you.  Pick it up, talk to them.  Tell them what's at stake -- especially for the young people who are here.  
 
I have met so many young people who’ve said to me that back in 2008 -- they said, my parents and grandparents weren’t going to vote for Barack Obama, but because I talked to them about what this election means for my future, they changed their minds.  So that’s the power that our young people have.  
 
And sometimes it's hard to think that you can move people, but we've got volunteers in offices across this country who are ten years old; getting on the phone, making calls, talking to people.  It's amazing to see young people feel their own power at this age.
 
And you can also tell people that they don’t have to wait until November the 6th to cast their ballots, because you can do it early.  On Monday, I led by example -- I mailed in my ballot early.  I voted for Barack Obama, just in case you were wondering.  (Applause.)  And I did it because I want to spend Election Day really working to turn out the vote.  And that’s something that you may want to think about doing.  
 
Early voting is important because it gives you that convenience, truly -- especially students with busy schedules, families with busy lives.  You wake up on Election Day, you might have a cold, babysitter, kid's sick, it's raining, car broke down -- I mean, I could go on -- toilet overflowing.  (Laughter.)  There are so many ways to mess up a day when you don’t have a lot of time.  
 
So with early voting, which starts here on Monday -- this coming Monday in Wisconsin, you have a lot of time to vote when it works for you.  So we encourage you to get out there.  
 
And if you're not registered yet -- young people out there, or first-time voters, or people who have never voted before -- here in this state, you can register on the spot when you go to vote.  And that’s a beautiful thing, because that’s not something that people can do in other states.  (Applause.)  So that’s a unique aspect of voting here in Wisconsin.  You can also go to our website -- OwnYourVoteWI.com to find out where and when you can vote early.  
 
And if you know anyone who doesn’t vote early, then make sure that they get to the polls on Election Day.  Because if you voted early, you know some of those folks who just need an extra helping hand -- especially new voters.  It just helps to have somebody they know right there with them.  Drop them off; they don’t have to park -- all that good stuff.
 
And I will be honest with you, this journey is going to be hard, and there will be plenty of ups and downs over the next 18 days.  But when you start to get tired -- and I know you will 
-- when you start to need to take some time off -- and I know you will -- I just want you to remember that what happens in the next 18 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up the day after Election Day 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 working, and struggling, and pushing forward.  Because -- and this is something that I want the young people to understand -- regardless of elections, that’s how change always happens in this country.  That’s how life is.  
 
Life is a struggle, especially when you're young.  But we know from our history that change is hard, but it requires a level of patience and tenacity.  Because you are going to hit bumps in your life along the way -- all of us grown-ups know what that feels like.  But we want our young people in this country to understand what it feels like to push beyond any barriers that somebody sets before you.  
 
And we know that if we keep showing up like our parents and -- getting up every day, fighting that good fight and doing in our hearts what we know is right -- because there is that instinct that comes with the values we were taught -- we know what's right.  If we do that, then we always get there. 
 
So don’t let anyone ever talk down your dreams.  Don’t let anybody ever talk you away from your aspirations.  Don’t let anybody talk down this country or the future of this country.  (Applause.)  Because we have every reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead, and we need our young people to believe that.  
 
We don’t win when our kids don’t feel good about their future.  And you all have every reason to feel good, because in America, we always move forward.  Look at us.  We always make progress.  We don’t go back.  
 
And in the end, that’s what this is about.  That’s what elections are always about.  That’s why it's important for you to be involved.  Don't let anybody tell you any differently.  Elections are always about hope.  Hope.  (Applause.)    
 
The kind of hope that I saw on my father's beaming face as he watched me cross the stage to get my college diploma -- the diploma that he took out loans to help me get.  The hope that Barack’s grandmother felt when she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised -- that’s the kind of hope I'm talking about.  The hope that all of those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift for us, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could be here and be the best people we could be.  The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the eyes of our own kids and grandkids -- that’s the hope that I'm talking about.  Do you feel me?  (Applause.)  
 
That is why we're here today -- because we want all of our children in this country to have a solid foundation for their dreams.  I don’t care what party you belong to, we want to give all of our children opportunities worthy of their promise.  Because we know good and well that 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 here's what I tell myself -- that’s what me and Barack say to each other -- we will not turn back now.  Not now.  We have come so far, but we have so much more work to do.
 
So here's my last question:  Are you ready for this?  (Applause.)  Are you in?  (Applause.)  You ready to roll up your sleeves, makes some calls?  18 more days -- fired up!  Be ready to go.
 
I'm going to be out there every single day.  We are going to make this happen for our kids and our grandkids.  
 
Thank you all.  God bless.
 
 
END
5:00 P.M CDT

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