the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event

Richmond Centerstage
Richmond, Virginia

1:54 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:   Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Oh, my goodness.  You all rest yourselves.  You have to rest yourselves.  Four more years.

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

MRS. OBAMA:  All right, you all.  I would love to hang out all day, but I know you all have things to do.  But, please, rest yourselves.  You all aren’t going to sit down.  I love you all.

But before we get started, though, in all seriousness, because I want to take a moment to say how heartbroken Barack and I are about the horrific tragedy that happened earlier this week in Libya.

And it’s just important to say that our hearts and our prayers are with the families of those who gave their lives serving our country.  We have to remember -- (Applause.)  Yes, absolutely.

I just want us to remember that those brave Americans who died in that tragedy -- and men and women just like them -- they are the face of American diplomacy, truly.  They are public servants who represent our country in countries around the world, and often they do it in harm’s way.  And they do this every day, these people.  Every day, they do it with courage and with grace.  And it’s important for them to know, for their families to know that we are so proud of them and that we are so grateful for their service and their sacrifice.  (Applause.)

So I wanted us to start with that, right?  Just take a moment.  But I do want to thank Jean.  We’re going to put Jean on the road, don't you think?  (Applause.)  Jean was good.  That was a very kind introduction.  And I want to thank her for her outstanding work here in this state.

I also want to recognize Mayor Jones, for his leadership and service.  (Applause.)

And most of all, I want to thank all of you for joining us here today.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.) 

Well, it is quite clear that you all seem pretty fired up.  (Applause.)  And ready to go. 

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

MRS. OBAMA:  And that's a very good thing because after our convention in Charlotte, I’m feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself.  (Applause.)

Last week, we heard from folks like President Clinton, Vice President Biden.  (Applause.)  They reminded us how much we’ve accomplished together, how much is at stake and why we need to re-elect my husband for four more years.  (Applause.)

Now my job in Charlotte was pretty simple, I had the pleasure and the honor of talking about the man I’ve loved and admired for 23 years -- (applause)  -- and why I decided to marry him.  Now, ladies, understand this, when I first met Barack, now it’s true he had everything going for him. 

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

MRS. OBAMA:  He was handsome, still is.  (Applause.)  He was charming, talented and smart.  But that’s not why I married him.   What truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama was his character -– his decency, his honesty, his compassion and conviction.

I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs, and instead, he started his career fighting to get folks back to work in their communities where a steel plant shut down and jobs had dried up.  And I loved that Barack was devoted to his family, especially the women in his life.  (Applause.)

I saw the respect that he had for his mother, how proud he was that she’d put herself through school while supporting him and his sister as a single mom.  I saw the tenderness he felt for his grandmother.  I saw how grateful he was that long after she should’ve retired, she was still waking up every morning and catching a bus to her job at a community bank to help support his family.  (Applause.)

And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman, but how she kept on doing that same job year after year without complaint or regret.  See, with Barack, I found a real connection because in his life story, I saw so much of my own. 

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I watched my father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant.  I saw how he carried himself with that same dignity, that same pride in providing for his family, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of. 

See, and like so many families, right?  So many families in this country, our families weren’t asking for much.  They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success.  They didn’t mind if others had much more than they did -– in fact, they admired it.

They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and grandkids.  (Applause.)

And they believed that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, right?  You do not slam it shut behind you.  You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that you had to succeed.  (Applause.)

That’s how Barack and I and so many of you were raised.  Those are the values we were taught.  We learned that how hard you work matters more than how much you make.  We learned that the truth matters, so you don’t take shortcuts, or game the system, or play by your own set of rules.  (Applause.)

We learned that no one gets where they are on their own, that each of us has a community of people lifting us up, from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean, and we value everyone’s contribution and we treat everyone with respect. 

We learned about citizenship and service -– that we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves, that with our freedoms come obligations, and with our blessings come a duty to give back to others who have less.  These are the values -- these are the values that make Barack such an extraordinary husband and partner to me, and a phenomenal father to our girls.

But let me tell you, I talked about Barack’s values last week not just as a wife and mother, but also as a First Lady who’s seen up close and personal what being President really looks like and just how critical those values are for leading this country. 

See, over the past three and a half years, 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 about laying a foundation for the next generation. 

I’ve seen how important it is to have a President who doesn’t just tell us what we want to hear, but who tells us the truth, especially when it’s hard.  (Applause.)  And I’ve seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls, and everyone’s urging you to do what’s easy, or what polls best, or what gets good headlines, as President, you need to be truly driven by the struggles, hopes, and dreams of all of the people you serve.  As President, you need a strong inner compass and a core commitment to your fellow citizens.

That’s how you make the right decisions for this country.  That’s what it takes to be a leader.  (Applause.)  And since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that’s what we’ve seen in my husband. 

We’ve seen his values at work.  We’ve seen his vision unfold.  We’ve seen the depths of his character, courage and conviction.  Think back to when Barack first took office, and our economy was on the brink of collapse.  Newspapers were using words like “meltdown” and “calamity” and declaring “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock.” 

For years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford, and their mortgages were underwater.  Banks weren’t lending.  Companies weren’t hiring.  The auto industry was in crisis.  The economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month.  And a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression.  This is what faced Barack Obama on day one as President.  (Applause.)

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

That's why he cut taxes for small businesses and working families because he believes teachers and firefighters shouldn’t pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires in America.  (Applause.)  

He got the auto industry back on its feet, and today, new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM.  (Applause.)  And, yes, while we still have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth -– a total of 4.6 million new jobs, good jobs right here in the United States of America.

Now, when it comes to the health of our families, see, Barack didn’t 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.  (Applause.)

And today, because of health reform, our parents and grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs.  (Applause.)  Our kids can stay on our insurance until they’re 26 years old.  (Applause.)  Insurance companies now have to cover basic preventive care like contraception, cancer screenings with no out of pocket cost.  (Applause.)

They won’t be able discriminate you because you have a preexisting condition like diabetes, or even asthma.  (Applause.)  And if you get really sick, serious illness, let’s say breast cancer and you need expensive treatment, they can no longer tell you, “Sorry, you’ve hit your lifetime limit, and we’re not paying a penny more.  No longer can they do that.  (Applause.) 

Barack fought for these reforms because he believes that here in America, no one should ever go broke just because of an accident or an illness.  That’s what he stands for.  (Applause.)  And when it comes to giving our kids the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never could have gotten a college education without financial aid --  never, never.  (Applause.) 

In fact, as I shared last week, when we were first married our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage.  So when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we’ve been there.  And that’s why Barack doubled funding for Pell grants and fought so hard to keep interest rates down -- (applause) -- because he wants every young person in this country to get an education without a mountain of debt.  He wants all of our young people to have the skills they need for the jobs of the future -- jobs you can raise a family on, jobs that will drive our economy for decades to come.  (Applause.) 

And, 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.  (Applause.)  See, Barack 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.  And today, believe me, as a father, he knows what it means to want our daughters to have the same freedoms and opportunities as our sons.  (Applause.) 

And that’s why the very first bill he signed into law was to help women get equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  That’s why he’s worked so hard to support women-owned small businesses.  And that’s why he will always, always fight to ensure that women, that we can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care.  That’s what my husband stands for.  (Applause.)

So when people ask you what this President has done for our country, when you’re deciding who will keep America moving forward for four more years, here is what I want you to tell them. 

I want you to tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created and the health reform he passed and all those kids who can finally afford college.  (Applause.) 

Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq.  (Applause.)  Tell them how we took out Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Tell them how he has fought to give veterans and military families benefits they’ve earned.  (Applause.) 

Tell them about young immigrants brought to America through no fault of their own and how they will no longer be deported from the only country they’ve ever called home.  (Applause.) 

Tell them how brave men and women in uniform will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love.  (Applause.) 

And 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 the same opportunity no matter who we are or where we’re from or what we look like or who we love.  Let them know.  (Applause.) 

But let’s be clear.  While he is proud of what he’s achieved and what we’ve achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied.  (Applause.)  Barack knows that too many people are still hurting.  He knows that there’s plenty of work left to be done.  As President Clinton said last week, it’s going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse.  (Applause.) 

But one thing I know 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 the hole that we started in.  For three and a half years, we’ve been moving forward and making progress, and we’re beginning to see the change we all believe in. 

So we have to ask ourselves:  Are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us into that hole in the first place?

AUDIENCE:  No!

MRS. OBAMA:  Are we going to sit back and allow everything we’ve worked for and fought for to just slip away?

AUDIENCE:  No!

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

Because, in the end, the answer to these questions is truly up to us, because all our hard work, all the progress we’ve made, it’s all on the line.  It’s all at stake this November.  And as my husband has said, this election will be closer than the last one.  And it could all come down to what happens in just a few battleground states, like Virginia.  (Applause.) 

And I want to put it in perspective.  I want you to think back to what happened in this state in 2008.  Back then, we won Virginia by 235,000 votes.  (Applause.)  Now, that’s wonderful.  And while that might sound like a lot, think about this:  When you break that number down, that’s just 100 votes per precinct.  Now think about that -- 100 votes.  That could mean just a couple of votes in your neighborhood, just a single vote in your apartment building. 

So for anyone here who might be thinking that your vote doesn’t matter, that your involvement doesn’t count, that in this complex political process ordinary folks can’t possibly make a difference -- anyone who is thinking about that, I want you to think about those 100 votes.  Think about that.  I want you to think about, with just a few evenings on a phone bank, with just a few weekends knocking on doors, just a few of you -- (applause) -- just a few of you here today could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama.  (Applause.)  Just you all here could do that.

And just understand this:  If we win enough precincts, we will win this state.  And if we win Virginia, we will be well on our way to putting Barack Obama back in the White House for four more years.  (Applause.)  Right here, you all have the power to do that.

So that means from now until November -- all right, marching orders -- (laughter) -- we need every single one of you to work like you’ve never worked before.  We need you to talk to everyone you know -- your friends, your neighbors, that nephew you haven’t seen for a while, that high school classmate you don’t talk to in years.  Find them.  Tell them what’s at stake.  Bring them to events like this.  More importantly, make sure they’re registered to vote.  (Applause.)  Especially if somebody has just moved, they’ve got to reregister.  If a student is away at school, they’ve got to reregister.  Or if they’ve never voted before, they have to register. 

And once folks are registered, then you’ve got to make sure they get to the polls and cast their ballots on Election Day.  (Applause.)  And here’s a tool.  If folks you encounter don’t know where to go or what to do, just send them to a couple of our websites.  We’ve got gottaregister.com, we’ve got gottavote.com.  Everything they need to make their voices heard on Election Day is are on these sites.  So we can get this done, right?  (Applause.)  We can get this done.  With your help, we can get this done.

And I’m going to be honest with you, because I always am -- this journey is going to be long and it is going to be hard.  So when you start to get tired -- and you will; when you start to think about taking a day off -- and you will; I just want you to remember that what we do for the next 54 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up on November the 7th, the day after the election, and wondering, “Could I have done more”, or feeling the promise of four more years.  That’s the difference.  (Applause.) 

So from now until November the 6th we need you to keep on working and struggling and pushing forward.  (Applause.)  Because that is how change always happens in this country.  That’s how it always happens.  But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, then eventually we get there.  We always do.  Maybe not in our lifetimes -- here’s the thing -- 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.  That’s what elections are always about.  Don’t let anybody tell you any differently -- elections are always about hope.  The hope I saw in my father’s beaming face as I crossed the stage to get my college diploma.  The hope of Barack’s grandmother that she felt when she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised.  (Applause.)  The hope of all those men and women 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 have when we look into the eyes of our own children and grandchildren.

See, that’s why we’re all here today.  (Applause.)  Because we do want -- we want all of our children in this country to have that foundation for their dreams.  We want to give all of our children opportunities worthy of their promise, because all of our children are worthy.  (Applause.)  We want to give them, as I said in my speech, that sense of limitless possibility; that belief that here in America, the greatest country on Earth, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it.

So we cannot turn back now.  No.  Not now.  We have come so far, but we have so much more to do.  So let me ask you one more time:  Are you fired up?  (Applause.)  Are you ready to go?  (Applause.)  Well, all right, then.  Let’s get to work.

Thank you all.  Thank you.  God bless you all.  Thanks so much.

END
2:24 P.M. EDT