Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
Peabody Opera House
St. Louis, Missouri
4:41 P.M. CST
MRS. OBAMA: My goodness. (Applause.) Naga, what did you say to them? They're all fired up. It's good. (Applause.)
Before I begin I just want to, first of all, say thank you. I am thrilled to be here. It's an honor. But before I begin I just wanted to, on behalf of myself and my husband, I wanted to say that our thoughts and prayers are with all those who were affected by the storms in the state and other parts of the state. I know that it’s been just a very difficult time for many families in this part of the country, and we will be keeping everyone in the state and elsewhere in our prayers. So I just wanted to start with that. (Applause.)
Now, again, back to Naga. Thank you for that very kind introduction. I missed it -- (laughter) -- but I know it was good. (Laughter.) She and her family are wonderful. It's just great to have her here. I also want to thank former Senator Carnahan, who I think is here. (Applause.) Yay! We have County Executive Charlie Dooley who's here. (Applause.) We've got your Mayor, Mayor Slay, who's just been tremendous. He was here. I'm not sure if he's still here, but he was. It was great to see him.
I just am thrilled that everyone could come and join in, in this celebration. And of course, I have to give a big thank you to the entire host committee -- everyone who helped put this together -- you all, thank you so much. (Applause.) Host committee, way to go! Many of you have been with us from the very beginning. It's just tremendous to be back. And of course, I want to thank all of you for making this event a success.
And finally, I want to thank everybody here for being here, for your support, for taking the time to come and see me. And I know that there's a reason why you're all here today. And it's not just to see me. (Laughter.) While I'm flattered. But I know there's a reason. Okay, thank you. (Laughter.) My exercise -- she's working out there.
But I know you’re here because we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. And you’re here because you know that in less than a year from now -- the time is ticking, we're getting close to November -- we are going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And you’re here because you know that choice won’t just affect all of us, but it's going to affect our children, it's going to affect our grandchildren, and it's going to affect the world that we leave behind for them long after we are gone. And believe me, that’s why I’m here today as well. And that's why I will be traveling around the country, working so very hard, because I know what’s at stake.
As First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across our magnificent country and I have the pleasure of meeting with folks from all different kinds of backgrounds and I get to hear what’s going on in people’s daily lives. And every day I hear about how people are trying to keep it together. I hear about their struggles, about the bills they’re trying to pay, about the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat. I hear about how they’re taking that extra shift, working that extra job, doing everything they can -- saving, sacrificing -- never spending a dime on themselves, because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And truly make no mistake about it, these challenges and struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The cost of things like gas, groceries, tuition, have continued to rise, but people’s paychecks just have not kept up. So when the economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom completely fell out -- completely fell out.
But in the past three years, your President has worked so very hard to dig us out of this mess. (Applause.) And we have made some very important progress. We’ve had 23 straight months of private sector job growth -- (applause) -- 23 straight months. And the unemployment rate is now the lowest it has been in three years. (Applause.)
But we know we have a long way to go. And your President has been working so very hard to rebuild our economy based on a vision that we all share -- the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay off, that responsibility should be rewarded, and that everyone should get a fair shot and do their fair share and play by the same rules. (Applause.)
And truly, these are basic American values. It’s the basics, right. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. You all know my story by now. My father was a blue-collar worker, worked for the city filtration plant. My family lived in a little-bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago. Mother still has that house.Neither of my parents attended college. But let me tell you what they did do. They worked, my parents; they saved and, God knows, they sacrificed everything, because they wanted something better for me and my brother. That’s such a familiar story, right, I know here.
And more than anything else, that is what’s at stake in this election, that fundamental promise that no matter who you are, no matter how you started out, if you work hard you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids. (Applause.) And on just about every issue -- from health care to education to the economy -- that is the choice we face. That's the choice.
For example, when we hear the President talk about tax cuts for middle-class families or when he is talking about the importance of unemployment insurance for folks out of work, he is talking about whether people can heat their homes. This is about whether people can put gas in their car so that they can even look for a job. It’s about whether folks can send their kids to college, retire with a little dignity and security. And it’s about whether people will have more money in their pockets. And when they have more money in their pockets, that’s more money in the economy, which means more jobs. And that is what’s at stake. That’s what we’re talking about.
And when it comes to jobs, I mean, just think back to when all those folks in Washington, you remember, they were telling Barack to let the auto industry go under -- with more than a million jobs on the line. Just let it go. But Barack had the backs of American workers. (Applause.) He put his faith in the American people. And as a result, the auto industry is back. It’s back on its feet. (Applause.) And, more importantly, people are back at work, providing for their families. That’s really what it’s about. But that’s what’s at stake. That's the choice we face.
And think for a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for the American consumers. We’re talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card feeds. I’m talking about our students, young people drowning in debt. Our seniors losing their homes, losing their savings, because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford and probably couldn’t understand. That’s why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission: to protect folks from exactly these kinds of abuses because -- (applause) -- because Barack believes that when you’ve worked and when you’ve saved and you’ve followed the rules, you shouldn’t lose it all to someone just trying to make easy money. We all know that’s not fair -- that’s not right. (Applause.) And your President is working hard to do something about it, believe me.
And what about all we’ve done together for our small businesses? These are the kind -- yay, yes! (Laughter.) But these are the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year -- two-thirds of our economy. I’m talking about the mom, right? Mom opens up the business to provide for her kids. Or the family that’s been running that neighborhood diner for generations. Or the veteran who -- (applause) -- yes -- who launches a start-up to try to pursue the American Dream he fought so hard for. That’s who we’re talking about. These are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day and then head home to pore over the books at night, determined to make those numbers add up.
And for these folks, the small business tax cuts that this administration has passed -- that means the difference for these people between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips. It means the difference between them keeping their doors open or closing up shop for good. That’s what’s at stake. That’s the choice we face. (Applause.)
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law as President -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) The very first thing he did as President. And he did this because Barack knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. He watched his own grandmother, a woman with a high school education, who worked her way up to become the vice president at a little community bank. She worked hard and she was good at what she did. But like too many women, she hit that glass ceiling and watched men no more qualified than she was, men she had actually trained, be promoted up that ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, Barack -- for him, this issue is not abstract. This isn’t hypothetical. 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 to buy gas, groceries, to put clothes on the backs of their kids. He did it because when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, your President understands that women’s success in this economy is the key to family success in this economy. (Applause.)
And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. None at all. But that’s what’s at stake. That is what's at stake. (Applause.)
And let’s talk about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) Together. It was a wonderful accomplishment. But now there are folks who are talking about repealing that reform. So the question we have to ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let that happen?
MRS. OBAMA: Since we passed this law, millions of our senior citizens have saved on average, more than $600 a year on their prescription drugs. (Applause.) So are we going to take that savings away from them?
MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to 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 for preexisting conditions -- things like cancer, diabetes, 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?
And when those kids grow up and they get older and they graduate from school, we all know how hard it is for them to find a job that provides insurance, right? That’s why, as part of this reform, kids can now 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 health care. So are we going to take that insurance away from our kids? 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 families and careers of their own? But that's the choice we face.
And think, for a moment, about what your President has done on education. (Applause.) Think about all of the investments to raise standards and reform our public schools. This is about improving the circumstances for millions of our children in this country -- kids we know today are sitting in crumbling classrooms; kids we know have so much promise if we only gave them a chance.
Think about how my husband has been fighting so hard for the DREAM Act, so that talented, hardworking young people who were brought in this country through no fault of their own can have a chance to earn their citizenship. I mean, this is about responsible young men and women who want to go to college, they want to defend our country, they want to contribute to our economy -- and it's time we gave them the chance. (Applause.) It's time we gave them a chance.
And think about how we've tripled investments for job training at community colleges. Tripled. This is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking people who are determined to do what it takes to get ahead, to get a better job, better wages. I mean, these are the folks that are doing everything we would ask them to do. They’re working full-time, raising their kids. But they still make it to class every evening, study late into the night, because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, these kind of investments in our students and in our workers will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. It will determine whether or not we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will allow us to compete with any country anywhere in the world. But that's what’s at stake. That's the choice we face.
And let’s not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices -- (applause) -- and for the first time in history, our sons and daughters watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) And we cannot forget the impact that 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 love whomever we choose. That is what’s at stake. That's the choice that 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.) 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.)
My husband kept his promise and ended the war in Iraq, brought our troops home in time for the holidays. (Applause.) And we are working very hard to give our veterans and their families the education, the employment, and the benefits they have earned. (Applause.) 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 is what’s at stake. (Applause.) That is the choice we face.
So make no mistake about it, I mean, whether it’s health care or the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country. But more importantly, who do we want to be? I mean, who do we want to be? Will we be the 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? Who are we? Who are we? Who do we want to be?
Will we tell our fellow citizens who have done everything right, but are struggling just a little bit, do we tell those folks, tough luck, you’re on your own? Is that who we are? Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we’re all better off? Who are we?l
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much.
But will we continue all the change we’ve begun, all the progress that we’ve made, or will we let everything that we fought for just slip away? Who are we? Who do we want to be? That is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, Barack knows this all too well. He understands these issues, because he has lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to keep it all together, to put he and his sister through school, struggling to get herself through school, pay the bills. And when she couldn’t handle it, needed help, who stepped up? His grandmother -- waking up every morning before dawn to take the bus to that job at the bank. And even though she was passed over for all those promotions, she never complained -- like so many people in our lives, right, never complained. She just kept getting up, just kept showing up, doing her best. How many people do we have like that in our lives?
So Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential. So these are the experiences that have made Barack the man -- but more importantly, the President -- he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.) We are.
And I share this everywhere I go. When Barack comes home after a long day traveling around the country, I hear that in his voice. I hear him. He tells me about all the people he has met, all the stories he hears. That’s what I see in those quiet moments, his focus on what’s going on after the girls have long gone to bed, and he is poring over his briefings and reading letters from people they send him. He reads them all -- the letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care. The letter from the father struggling to pay the bills for his family. The letters from far too many young people with so much promise but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and determination in his voice. He says, Michelle, you will not believe what people are going through. He says, this is not right and we’ve got to fix it. We have way too much more work to do.
See, what you need to know about your President is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap. (Laughter.) It kind of gets on your nerves if you live with him -- (laughter) -- but it’s a good thing. Because he might not remember your name, but if he's had a few minutes and a decent conversation he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries around with him every day -- it is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams. And that is where he gets his passion and his toughness and his fight. And that’s why, even in the worst moments, the hardest times when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. Never does. He never lets himself get distracted by all the chatter and the noise. (Applause.) He just keeps moving forward every day, making progress. (Applause.)
Because your President has a vision for this country and it’s a vision that we all share. You’ve got to have a vision. But I have said this before and I will say it again -- he cannot do it alone. He cannot do it alone. That was never the promise. He needs your help. He needs your help.
He needs you to make those calls, do that hard work, knock on those doors, get people registered. Help people understand what’s at stake -- because not everybody is paying attention. That’s why you’re here. You’ve got to talk to people, take your “I’m In” cards -- we’ve been passing those around -- sign up! Sign it. Get everybody in your life to sign up. (Applause.) Tell them, convince them, how important it is for them to invest just a little bit of themselves each week to this campaign. It makes a difference. That’s how we win -- on the ground, people doing that hard work. That’s how it happened before.
Because we all know that this has never been about just one extraordinary man -- although I’ll admit my husband is awesome. (Applause.) But it has never been just about Barack Obama. It has always been about us. It has always been about all of us -- all of us coming together all the time. Coming together for the values we believe in and the country we want to be.
Now, it’s not going to be easy. The journey will be long, be hard, and there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. Always is, right? But the truth is that’s how change always happens in this country. It’s how it always does. The reality is, change is slow. Real change doesn’t happen all at once. But if we keep showing up -- like those people in our lives, those grandparents -- if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, then eventually we get there, because we always do. We always do. We never move back. We always keep moving forward. Maybe not in our lifetimes. Maybe not in our children’s lifetime. Maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
Because in the end, we cannot forget that that’s what this is all about. In the end, we’re not fighting these battles for ourselves. We are fighting them for our sons and our daughters. We’re fighting them for our grandsons and our granddaughters. We’re fighting for the world we want to leave for them. This is all for them.
Believe me, I’m in this fight not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my children. I’m in this as a citizen who knows what we can do to change this country for the better. Because the truth is, for me, and I’m sure for many of you, my girls will be okay. Malia and Sasha are blessed -- nd I tell them that every other minute -- "Girl, you better pick up that lip. You’re blessed." (Laughter.) And I know the same thing is true for many of these children. Many of our children will have the advantages and opportunities in their lives.
But I think the truth of what my husband has said for the past few years is that if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if he is not our son, even if she is not our daughter. 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 own story from the broader American story. That is not who we are.
Because we know that in this country, we rise and we fall together. (Applause.) And that’s a good thing. And we know that in this country, if we make the right choices and have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead. That’s who we are. That’s what’s at stake.
So it is time for us to get to work. I mean, that’s why I’m so fired up. I am fired up because it is time for us to get to work. We have a lot to do. We have a lot riding on this election for ourselves and for our children.
So I have one final question: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, wait, really? Are you really in?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you fired up? I hope you are, because I am. I’m going to be working so hard over the next few month and I need to see and know in my heart that each of you are putting in that kind of effort. We have too much at stake. We have too much riding on this election. We've made too much progress.
There is a vision that all of us shares. We know it, regardless of race or gender or party. The truth is our values here in this country are real and they unify us. So we’ve got to work for them. It’s worth the fight. It’s worth that extra effort. We need you all. We need you every step of the way.
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
5:10 P.M. CST