Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
American Jazz Museum
Kansas City, Missouri
1:30 P.M. CST
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness! (Applause.) Well, thank you all so much.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You're beautiful!
MRS. OBAMA: Aw, you're so sweet! (Laughter.) It is truly a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you.
But before I started today, I just had to say that on behalf of my husband and myself, I just want to say that our thoughts and our prayers are with those affected by the storms in this state and in several other parts of the state last week. And I know that it’s been a very difficult time for many people in this part of the country -- and we’ll be keeping folks here in Missouri and elsewhere in our hearts and prayers as they begin to work on the recovery. So I just wanted to start with that. (Applause.)
But I have to also start by thanking Myra for that very kind introduction and for sharing her family’s story with all of us today. It is because of stories like these that my husband worked so hard on health reform, and it’s because of people like Myra and all of you that we actually got it done. So thank you. We have a lot to be proud of. A lot to be proud of. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize your Mayor, Mayor James, who is here today. (Applause.) He got to hang out with us hearing some blues. As he said, he got to hear the President sing -- again. (Laughter.) But I want to thank him for all of his support, and for taking the time to join me here today. And of course, I want to give a big shoutout to our co-hosts, all the people who helped to make this event a success -- Sharon Hoffman, Ursula -- thank you all for your outstanding work to make this event such a success. Let's give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
And finally, I have to thank all of you. Thank you all for your support and for taking the time to be here today.
And I know there’s a reason that you all are here. And it's not just to see me, while I'm grateful -- I am grateful for those of you who came. But I know that we're here because we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. We're here because you all know that in less than a year from now -- and the time is ticking away -- we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And I know that you’re here because you know that choice won’t just affect all of us, it is going to affect our children, it's going to affect our grandchildren, and more importantly, it's going to affect the world that we leave behind for them long after we’re gone.
And truly, that is why I’m here as well. That's why I'm going to be on the road, I'm going to be traveling around this country making sure that people understand what's at stake.
As First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this great country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds, all walks of life, and I get to hear what’s going on in their lives every day. Every day, I hear about the challenges and the struggles that people are facing -- the bills they’re trying to pay, the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat. I hear about how they’re taking that extra shift, how they're working that extra job, how they’re doing everything they can -- saving, sacrificing, never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. While the cost of things like gas and groceries, they've been rising, people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up. So when this economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom just completely fell out for them.
Now, over the past three years, your President has worked very hard to dig us out of this mess. (Applause.) And we have made some magnificent and important progress. We have had 23 straight months of private sector job growth -- (applause) -- and the unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been in nearly three years. (Applause.) But we also know that we have a long way to go. We still have work to do.
And your President has been working hard to rebuild this economy based on a vision that we all share -– the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay; that responsibility should be rewarded; and that everyone -- everyone in this country -- should get a fair shot, and do their fair share, and play by the same rules. (Applause.)
The truth is, is that these are basic American values. It's the foundation of this country. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. I've shared my story with so many of you: My father was a blue-collar city worker, worked for the city water filtration plant. My family lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. And neither of my parents went to college, but let me tell you what they did do -- they worked, and they saved, and they sacrificed everything, because they wanted something better for me and my brother.
And more than anything else, that’s what’s at stake -- 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 yourselves and, yes, an even better life for your kids.
And on just about every issue -– from health care to education to the economy -– that is the choice we face in this election.
For example, when you hear all that talk about tax cuts for middle-class families, you hear the President talking about the importance of unemployment insurance for folks out of work, that’s about whether people can heat their homes. It's about whether people can put gas in their car so that they can even look for work. It’s about whether folks can send their kids to college, maybe retire with a little dignity, just a little security. And it’s about whether people will have more money in their pockets. More money in their pockets means more money in the economy, which means more jobs. See, that’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
And when it comes to jobs, I mean, just think back to when all those folks in Washington were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under, with more than 1 million jobs on the line. But Barack had the backs of American workers. And he put his faith in the American people. And today, the auto industry is back on its feet -- (applause) -- and more importantly, people are back to work, back to work providing for their families. That’s what’s at stake. That’s the choice we face.
And think, for just a minute, about what this administration has done to stand up for the American consumer. I’m talking about families getting hit with all those hidden credit card fees; talking about our students drowning in debt; our seniors losing their homes and their savings, because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford, probably couldn’t even understand.
And that’s why your President created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission -- and that is to protect folks from exactly these kinds of abuses. (Applause.) Because when you’ve worked and you’ve saved and you’ve followed the rules, you shouldn’t lose it all to someone just looking to make some easy money. See, your President knows that’s not fair. He says, that’s not right and we’re working hard to do something about it. That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
And what about all that we have done together for small businesses? I mean, these are the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year. That’s two-thirds of all new jobs. I’m talking about the mom who opens up the drycleaner on the corner to help provide for her kids. That’s who we’re talking about. We’re talking about the family that runs that neighborhood diner that’s been in the family for generations. That’s who we’re talking about. Or the veteran who launches a startup just to pursue the American Dream he fought so hard for. See, these are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, and then they head home at night, poring over those books trying to make the numbers add up.
See, for these folks, the small business tax cuts that this administration has passed, that means the difference between these employers handing out pink slips or opening up their doors and hiring people. (Alarm sounds.) Oh, now we really got something now. (Laughter.) See, this is the truth talking. (Laughter.) You got alarms going off -- you know I’m speaking the truth. (Applause.) And it would be great to have a small business alarm company who could stop all that noise. (Laughter and applause.)
But for many of these small businesses, this tax credit means whether they’re going to be able to stay open and keep jobs in place. That’s the choice. That’s what we’re talking about. These issues are not abstract.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to make sure that women get equal pay for equal work -- the very first bill he signed into law. (Applause.)
Now, he did this because he knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother -- that's a woman with a high school education -- work her way up to become the vice president at a little community bank. And she worked hard. She was good at her job. But like so many other women, she hit that glass ceiling and she watched men no more qualified than she was -- men she had actually trained -- be promoted up the ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, for Barack, this is not abstract or hypothetical. And he signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money in their pockets to buy gas and groceries and to put clothes on the backs of their children. He did it because he knows that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, he knows that the key to a family’s success is women. That’s what he knows. (Applause.) And he believes that in this country, here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. That’s what’s at stake. (Applause.)
And let’s talk just for a minute again about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) But now there are folks talking about repealing this reform. So today, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to let this happen, are we going to stand by and watch this happen?
MRS. OBAMA: Since we passed this law, millions of our seniors have saved an average of more than $600 a year for their prescription drugs. (Applause.) So are we going to take those savings away? Or will we make sure that our parents and our grandparents can afford to stay healthy into their golden years? What are we going to do? Are we going to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because of pre-existing conditions -- things like cancer, diabetes, even asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can’t afford a doctor. (Applause.)
And when our children grow up and get older and they graduate from school, we know how hard it’s going to be for them to find jobs that provide insurance. We know how hard that will be. That’s why, as part of this reform, our kids can stay on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 years old. (Applause.) And today, that is how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage. So are we going to take that insurance away from our children?
MRS. OBAMA: Or will we say that we don’t want our sons and our daughters going without health care when they’re just starting out, trying to build their families and build their careers. Are we going to do that?
MRS. OBAMA: But that’s the choice we face. That’s the choice that we face.
And think, for a moment, about all that’s been done on education. I mean, think about all those investments this President has made to raise standards and reform our public schools. This is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children. These are our kids, all of them. Kids we know are sitting today in crumbling classrooms; kids with so much promise; kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them the chance.
And think about how my husband has been fighting so hard for the DREAM Act, so that talented, hardworking young people who were brought to this country through no fault of their own have a chance to earn their citizenship. (Applause.) This is about responsible young men and women who want to go to college, who want to defend our country, who want to contribute to our economy -- and it's time that we gave them a chance.
And think about how this President has tripled investments for job training at community colleges. I mean, this is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and better wages. These are folks who are doing everything. They are doing everything we’ve asked of them. They’re working a full-time job. They’re taking care of their kids. But they still make it to class every night, studying late because they desperately want something better for themselves and for their families.
And truly, make no mistake about it, these investments in our students and our workers will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. It will determine whether we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will let us compete with any country anywhere in the world. That’s what’s at stake.
And let’s not forget about what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices -- (applause) -- and for the first time, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest courts. (Applause.) More importantly, let us not forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -– on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and yes, love whomever we choose. But that’s what’s at stake. That’s the choice we’re facing. (Applause.)
And finally, let’s not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. (Applause.) And thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.)
Your President kept his promise and he ended the war in Iraq -- (applause) -- and brought our troops home for the holidays. We’ve been working to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment and the benefits that they’ve earned.
MRS. OBAMA: And because my husband ended "don’t ask, don’t tell," our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) That’s what’s at stake. That’s what’s at stake.
And I could go on, but you all are standing up. (Laughter.) I don’t want anybody to pass out -- it’s always a little difficult when you’ve got to stand.
But make no mistake about it, whether it’s health care or the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, well, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country. But more importantly, who do we want to be? What kind of country do we want to be? Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or how you started out? At some point we have to ask ourselves, who are we?
Will we let folks who have done everything right, but are maybe struggling just a little bit -- do we look at those folks and we tell them, “tough luck, you’re on your own”? I mean, who are we? Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when all of us are better off? (Applause.)
Will we continue all the change we’ve begun and the programs we’ve made and the progress that we’ve seen? Or will we allow everything we fought so hard for to slip away? Who are we? But that’s the choice. Those are the stakes.
And trust me, wherever I go, I just reassure people that your President knows this. Barack knows these stakes all too well. And he understands these issues because he’s lived them. This is who he is. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped up? His grandmother -- waking up early in the morning to catch that bus at the job at the bank. And even though she was passed over again and again for promotions, she never complained. She just kept moving forward, just kept showing up, doing her best. It’s like so many people in our lives, right?
So believe me, Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. And he certainly knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential. These are the experiences that have made him the man, but more importantly, the President that he is today. And we’re blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And that’s what I see when -- and hear from him when he returns home from a day of traveling or working in the Oval Office, and he tells me about all the people that he’s met. He’s always moved by the stories. That’s what I see in those quiet moments, long after the girls have gone to bed and he’s up late at night reading those briefings, the stacks of briefings and the thousands of letters that he gets that people send him. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care. The letter from the father still struggling to pay the bills for his family. The letters from far too many young people with so much promise but too little opportunity.
And I hear the passion and determination in his voice. And he says, “Michelle, you won’t believe what people are going through." He says, “This isn’t right. We’ve got to do more. We’ve got to fix this.”
I mean, the thing I share with everyone is that the beauty of your President is that when it comes to the people he meets and the stories he’s told, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. (Laughter.) Gets a little annoying at times. (Laughter.) Especially if you live with him. He’s wondering, “Why don’t you remember X from this city? He said hello. Don’t you remember him?” (Laughter.) But he might not remember your name, but if he’s had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted in his heart. See, and that is what he carries around with him -- it’s our collection of struggles and hopes, and it’s our dreams. And that is where Barack gets his passion. That’s where he gets his toughness and his fight.
And that’s why, even in some of the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. It’s just right here. He just keeps moving forward, because he has a vision for this country, and it’s a vision that we all share. We do. We do. That I know -- regardless of background, even party. It’s a vision that we all -- deep down inside, we share.
And I’ve said this before, but I will say it again: He cannot do it alone. He can’t do it alone. (Applause.) That was never the promise. He needs your help. He does. He needs you to do what you’ve been doing -- make those calls, register those voters. He needs you to take all those “I’m In” cards that you get, sign it, get your neighbors to sign it, get your church members to sign it. Get everybody you know to sign those cards and convince them to join in in just giving a little part of their lives each week to this campaign.
Because we all know that this is not about one extraordinary man -– although I love my husband. I think he’s terrific. I’m a little biased. (Applause.) I will admit not everyone agrees. (Laughter.) That’s all right. He’s pretty awesome. (Laughter.) But it was never about one man. This election was never about one man. It’s really about all of us
-- all of us coming together for the values we believe in and the country that we want to be.
And I’m not going to kid you all, this journey, it’s going to be long. It’s going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is, truly, that’s how change always happens in this country -- always does. The reality is, is that change is slow. Real change never happens all at once.
But if we keep showing up, and if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there. We always do. We always do. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. (Applause.) Because in the end, that’s what this is all about. This is not about us. In the end, we are fighting these battles for them. We’re fighting for the world we want for our sons and daughters, and our grandsons and granddaughters. This is about them. It’s not about us.
And believe me, I’m in this fight not as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my kids. I’m in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to make this country the greatest it can be. (Applause.) Because the truth is Malia and Sasha will be fine. They’re blessed, and I remind them of that every day -- "Stop complaining, you are blessed." (Laughter.) My girls and so many of the children in this room, the children you know, they’re going to be okay. They will have opportunities to live their lives and do great things. But I think the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said, that if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to us, even if he is not our son, even if she is not our daughter. These are our children. All of them are our children. (Applause.)
If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune. Because, in the end, we cannot separate our individual stories from the broader American story. Like it or not, we are all in this together. Because we know that in this country, we rise and we fall together. And that’s a good thing. And we know that if we make the right choices, if we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and everyone gets a chance to get ahead. That’s what’s at stake. Those are the choices.
(Cell phone rings.) So in the end, with all that good jazz music playing -- (laughter) -- it is time for us to get moving. It’s time for us to get to work. This isn’t going to happen on its own. It’s going to happen because people want that vision. It’s going to happen because people make the decision to get up and start working and making it happen. We did it before. We can do it again. But we need to know that you will be there for us. (Applause.)
So I have one question. One question: Are you in? Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: I got to hear this. I got to know: Are you in?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Are you ready to make this happen? (Applause.) Because I am in. I am so very in. I know the stakes, and I know the vision that we want for our children. And we can make this happen. We can do it together.
Thank you all for everything you've done. We'll work hard together. Thank you all so much. (Applause.)
2:00 P.M. CST