Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
University of Mary Washington
4:48 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Wow! (Applause.) Thank you all so much. Wow! (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. Thank you all so much.
Look, this is a big thrill for me. But before I get started I do want to take a moment -- I did this at my last to stop -- to say, truly, how heartbroken Barack and I are about the horrific tragedy that occurred earlier this week in Libya. I’m not sure if everyone is aware, but our hearts and prayers are with the families of those who gave their lives serving our country.
I mean, the thing to remember, that these brave Americans and so many men and women just like them, they are the face of American diplomacy. They are public servants who represent our country in other countries around the world, and oftentimes they do it in harm’s way. And they do it with the same kind of courage and grace that we see every day in this country, and we just wanted to take the time to say that we are so proud of them and their families, and we’re grateful for their service and sacrifice. (Applause.)
Now, I have to start by thanking Erin, who is awesome. (Applause.) I mean, first of all she’s tall, which -- she’s got me right there. I love that. (Laughter.) But we’re so proud, not only for her kind introduction, but the sacrifice that she and her family are making and have made for this country. Let’s give Erin a round of applause. (Applause.)
A few other thank-yous. I want to say thank you to Mayor Greenlaw, who is here today, for her leadership and service. (Applause.) And I want to recognize Adam Cook, who is running for Congress, who I know is going to make an outstanding member of Congress. (Applause.)
And most of all, I want to thank all of you. Wow, what a great crowd. Thank you all for joining us. Thanks for being here. (Applause.) And I think anyone can see that you all are pretty fired up. (Applause.) Pretty ready to go! (Applause.) Well, that’s good, because after the convention down in Charlotte last week, I’m feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself. (Applause.)
Last week, we had the pleasure of hearing from folks like President Clinton, Vice President Biden. (Applause.) And they did a phenomenal job reminding us how much we’ve accomplished, how much is at stake, and why we need to reelect my husband for four more years. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
MRS. OBAMA: With your help. With your help, we will get it done. (Applause.)
But my job in Charlotte I consider was pretty simple. I had the pleasure and the honor of talking about the man I have loved and admired for 23 years, and why I decided to marry him. (Applause.) That was good for me. (Laughter.)
Now, let me just explain, ladies: When I first met Barack, he had everything going for him. He really did. He was handsome. (Applause.) Still is. (Applause.) He was charming, talented, and oh-so smart. (Applause.) But that is not why I married him. What truly made me fall in love with Barack really was his character. Understand this -- it was his decency, his honesty, his compassion, his conviction. (Applause.) See, I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs and instead started his career working to get folks back to work in communities where a steel plant had shut down and jobs had dried up.
I loved that Barack was devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. (Applause.) Yes. That made a difference. I see a lot of young men out there -- this is what we pay attention to. (Laughter and applause.) I saw the respect that he had for his own mother, how proud he was that she put herself through school while supporting him and his sister as a single mom. (Applause.) I saw the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother. I saw how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning and catching a bus to her job at a community bank to help support his family. And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman. But he saw how she kept on doing that same job, year after year, without complaint or regret.
And with Barack, I found a real connection, because in his life, I saw so much of my own. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago -- (applause) -- South Side -- 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 being able to provide for his family, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of.
And like so many families in this country, see, our families simply weren’t asking for much. They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success. No, 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, you don’t slam it shut behind you. No, you reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you 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. (Applause.) We learned that the truth matters, so you don’t take shortcuts, you don’t game the system, you don’t play by your own set of rules. And we learned that no one gets where they are on their own; that each of us has a community of people who are lifting us up -- from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean. (Applause.)
And we were taught to treat everyone with value, and 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. See, these are the values that make Barack such an extraordinary husband and partner to me, but more importantly, such a phenomenal father to our girls. (Applause.)
But I talked about Barack’s values last week not just as a wife and a mother, but also as a First Lady who has seen up close and personal what being President really looks like and just how critical those values are for leading this country. (Applause.) 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 even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. (Applause.) I’ve seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls, when everyone’s urging you to do what’s easy or what polls best or what gets good headlines, as President you need to truly be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all of the people you serve. (Applause.) 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. I mean, think back to when Barack first took office and this economy was on the brink of collapse. Newspapers were using words like “meltdown,” "calamity” -- declaring “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock.”
For years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford. 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 every month and a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression.
See now, that's what Barack faced 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. And that’s why he cracked down on lending abuses, so that today when you apply for a mortgage or a 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. (Applause.) Not 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. (Applause.)
When it comes to the health of our families, 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 preventative care like contraception, cancer screenings with no out of pocket cost. (Applause.) They won’t be able to discriminate against you because you have a pre-existing condition like diabetes or asthma. (Applause.)
And let's say you have a serious illness like breast cancer. That's when 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.)
And understand that 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.)
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’ve attended college without financial aid -- never. In fact, as I shared in my convention speech, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. So when it comes to student debt, believe me, Barack and I, we have 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 -- every one of them -- 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 -- good jobs right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)
And finally, when it comes to understanding the values of women, when it comes to standing up for our rights and our opportunities -- (applause) -- yes, indeed -- we know that my husband will always have our backs, because 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 believe me, today, 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 as President 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 can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care. (Applause.) That’s what my husband stands for.
So when people out there ask you what this President has done for our country, when they’re deciding who will keep moving America forward for four more years, here’s what I want you to tell them: I want you to tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created. Tell them about the health reform he’s passed. Tell them about all those kids who can finally afford college.
Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq -- (applause) -- how we took out Osama bin Laden. Tell them how we fought to get veterans and military families the benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.) Yes, indeed.
Tell them about all those 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 known. (Applause.)
Tell them how our brave men and women in uniform will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.) And please, please make sure they understand that their President, that Barack Obama knows the American Dream because he’s lived it, and he is fighting every day so that everyone in this country can have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love. (Applause.)
And let’s be clear -- while my husband is proud of what we have all achieved together, believe me, her is nowhere near satisfied. Barack knows that too many people are still hurting. Believe me, he knows that there’s plenty of work left to be done. And 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 what I know for sure, what I can tell you that your President is doing since the day 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 that change we all can believe in. (Applause.) That I know for sure.
So we have to ask ourselves this -- here’s the question: Are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us into the hole in the first place?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to just sit back and watch everything we’ve worked for just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to finish what we started and keep moving this country forward? (Applause.) Forward!
But in the end, here’s the thing -- the answers to these questions is up to us -- because all our work, all the progress that we’ve made, believe me, it is all on the line, it’s all at stake this November. And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one -- that’s the only guarantee. And it could all come down to what happens in just a few battleground states like Virginia. (Applause.)
And let me help put it in perspective. When you think back to what happened in this state in 2008, back then we won Virginia by 235,000 votes. (Applause.) And that may sound like a lot, but when you break it down, that’s just 100 votes per precinct. Think about that -- 100 votes. That could mean just a couple of votes in your neighborhood, right? That could be just 1 extra vote in your own apartment building, right?
So for anyone here or anyone that you know who might be thinking that their vote doesn’t matter; if you're thinking that your involvement doesn’t count, that in the complex political process, ordinary folks can't possibly make a difference -- if anyone is thinking like that, I just want to you to think about those 100 votes.
I want you to think about how, with just a few evenings on a phone bank, with just a few weekends knocking on some doors, just a few of you here today –- shoot, look at this room. (Applause.) This room alone could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama. (Applause.) And if we win enough precincts, we will win this state. And if we win Virginia, we'll be well on our way to putting Barack back in the White House for four more years. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
MRS. OBAMA: Four more years! Four more years!
So here's the charge -- direct charge coming from your First Lady -- (applause) -- from now until November, 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 in a while, that high school classmate you stopped speaking to -- find them. (Applause.) Tell them what's at stake. Bring them to events like these. More importantly, make sure they're registered, especially our young people. (Applause.) Yes, indeed, make sure you're registered to vote. (Applause.)
And think about it -- if you're a student that’s moved away, you might have to figure out -- you might have to reregister. If you just moved, you might have to reregister. If you've never voted before, you may need to register. (Laughter.) And then, once folks are registered, make sure they get to the polls and cast their ballots on Election Day. (Applause.)
And we've got tools to help. You can send them to our websites -- GottaRegister.com, GottaVote.com. There, you can find everything you need right online. I know young people, you guys are online anyway. (Laughter.) Clicking and texting and all that stuff -- help the older people out. (Laughter.) Find someone; help them get to the site. But that’s the best place to start to make their voices heard on November the 6th.
And I'm going to be honest with you all -- because I always try to be honest -- this journey is going to be long. Count on that. And it is going to be hard. But when you start to get tired -- and you will -- when you start to think about taking a day off -- and some of you might need to take a day off -- I want you to remember that what we do for the next 54 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up the day after Election Day and asking ourselves, could we have done more, or feeling the promise of four more years. (Applause.) That is the difference.
So we need you to keep working and struggling and pushing forward. (Applause.) We need you to do everything between now and November 6th. Because we have to remember, that’s how change always happens in this country. But if we keep showing up -- that’s the trick -- if we keep fighting that good fight, then eventually we get there. We always do. But maybe not in our lifetimes -- 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 why we're here. That’s what elections are always about. Don’t let anybody tell you differently -- elections are always about hope. The hope that I saw in my dad's beaming face as I crossed the stage to get my college diploma. The hope Barack's grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised. The hope of all those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could have something more. The hope that so many of us have when we look into the eyes of our kids and our grandkids.
That’s why we're here -- because we want to give all of our kids in this country that foundation for their dreams. All of our kids deserve opportunities worthy of their promise. We want to give our children in this country 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 -- always. (Applause.) That’s who we are.
So no, no, we cannot turn back now. Not -- no way. We have come so far, but we have so much more to do.
So let me ask you this: Are you fired up? (Applause.) Are you ready to go? (Applause.) All right, then. Let's get to work.
I love you all. God bless.
5:22 P.M. EDT