Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa
12:53 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Well, you all know I am so thrilled to be back here in Cedar Falls. And I want to say hello to my Panthers. (Applause.) I love it!
Let me start by thanking Rose for that very kind introduction -- my little fist bump -- and everything that she's doing for the campaign. She's doing a terrific job.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
MRS. OBAMA: I love you all, too. Love you all so much. (Applause.) I also want to say a wonderful thank you and to recognize Senator Harkin, Bruce Braley, and Mayor Crews for being here and for their leadership every single day here in this state.
And, most of all, I want to thank all of you. (Applause.) Thank you. I know you all are busy. You've got school to go to and you're here. You've got lives to lead and you're here. And to all the students of UNI, thank you. Thank you for everything that you're doing.
I know you all are pretty fired up. I know you're pretty ready to go. That's a good thing. (Applause.) And let me tell you, I'm feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself. (Applause.) Because being here with you today and traveling all around the country, I get to do one of my favorite things -- I get to talk about the man that I have loved and admired since I met him 23 years ago. (Applause.)
Next week, Barack and I, we'll be married for 20 years. (Applause.) So let me share something. See, now, back when we first met -- ladies, listen up -- (laughter) -- Barack had everything going for him. He was handsome -- still is, I think. (Applause.) He was charming, talented, and very, very smart. But that is not why I married him.
So, fellas, listen up. (Laughter.) What truly made me fall in love with Barack was his character. No, truly, it was his decency, it was his honesty, it was his compassion, his 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 struggling communities.
And I loved that Barack was so devoted to his family, especially to the women in his life. I saw the respect that he had for his mother. That meant so much to me. I saw how proud he was that she was able to put herself through school and still support him and his sister as a single mom.
I saw the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother, how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning, catching a bus to her job at a community bank to make sure she was doing everything she could to support their family. And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman, but he also saw how she kept on getting up, kept doing what she was supposed to do without complaint, without regret.
See, with Barack, I found in him 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. I saw how my father carried himself with that same dignity, the same pride that folks feel with the opportunity they have to provide for their family, that same hope that one day his kids would have things he only dreamed of. How many people here have folks like that in their lives? (Applause.) And I know there are a lot of college students that are here because they've got parents or someone in their lives who is making that same sacrifice right now for them.
See, like so many families in this country, our families weren’t asking for much. My dad, Barack's grandmother, 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. That's why they pushed us so hard. That's why they wanted us to go to college. They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, in America, if you work hard, if you do what you’re supposed to do, then you should be able to provide a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids and your grandkids. (Applause.)
And they also believed in something very important, that when you’ve worked hard and when you've done well and you finally walk 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’s how Barack, that’s how I, that’s how so many of us were raised. Those are the values that we were taught. We learned that hard work matters more than how much you make. 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. We learned that no one -- none of us gets where we are on our 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. (Applause.)
And one thing my folks always made sure we knew, you learn to value everyone’s contribution. You were taught to treat everyone with respect. We also learned about citizenship and service -- that we’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves; that with our freedoms come obligations, and with our blessings come a duty to give back to others with less. (Applause.)
See, and I love talking to young people because I know these are the values that we’re all raised with. These are the values that make Barack such an extraordinary husband to me and a phenomenal father to our girls. But Barack’s values matter to me not just as a wife and as a mother, but also as a First Lady who has seen up close and personal what being President really looks like, and how critical those values are to leading this country.
Over the past three and a half years, I’ve seen how the issues that come across the President’s desk, they’re always the hard ones -- the decisions that aren’t just about the bottom line, but about laying a foundation for the next generation. (Applause.) 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 seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls, and everyone is urging you to do what’s easy, everyone is urging you to do what polls best, what makes good headlines -- and, as President, you have to be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all the people you serve. As President, you have to have a strong internal compass, a core commitment to your fellow citizens. And that’s how you make the right decisions for this country. That’s what it takes to be a leader. (Applause.)
And let me tell you, since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that is what I have seen in my husband. Let me tell you, we have seen his values at work. We have seen his vision unfold. We’ve seen the depths of his character, his courage and his conviction.
I mean, think back to when Barack first took office. This economy was on the brink of collapse. Understand, the newspapers were using words like “meltdown,” “calamity;” declaring “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock.” See, for years -- and I don’t have to tell folks here -- for years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford, so their mortgages were underwater. Banks weren’t lending, companies weren’t hiring. The auto industry was in crisis.
This economy was losing 800,000 jobs every month. You hear me? Every month. And a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for another Great Depression. That’s where we were. This is what Barack faced on day one as President of the United States. This is what he walked into.
But let me tell you, instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, Barack got to work. (Applause.) See, because he was thinking about folks like my dad, folks like his grandmother.
See, 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. That’s why he cut taxes for small businesses and for working families -- because you have a President that believes that here in America, teachers and firefighters should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. (Applause.)
He got the auto industry back on its feet, and as a result, today, new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM. (Applause.)
And, yes, we have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, but we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth -- more than 5.1 million new jobs under this President, good jobs right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)
And 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. And today, because he fought so hard for health reform, our parents and grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less today for their prescription drugs. (Applause.) Young people, like all of you, can now stay on your parent’s insurance until you’re 26 years old because of health reform. (Applause.)
Insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care -- things like contraception, cancer screenings, with no out-of-pocket cost. (Applause.) They won’t be able to discriminate against you because you have a preexisting condition like diabetes or asthma. (Applause.)
And here’s one that really gets me: If you get a serious illness -- let’s say breast cancer -- and you need real expensive treatment, no longer can they tell you, sorry, you hit your lifetime limit and we’re not paying a penny more. No longer. That is now illegal because of health reform. (Applause.)
And when it comes to giving all our young people the education they deserve, Barack knows that, like me and like so many of you, he never, never could have afforded to attend college without financial aid. Never. In fact, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage.
So, believe me, when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we’ve been there. This is not a hypothetical. And that’s why Barack fought to double funding for Pell grants and to keep interest rates down. (Applause.) Because, fortunately, we have a President who understands how critical that is to ensuring that all of our young people have the skills that they need for the jobs of the future -- good jobs you can raise a family on; good jobs that will build this 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 -- look, we know my husband will always have our backs. See, because Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. And that’s why he made sure the first bill he signed into law was to make sure that women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.)
So he knows what it means when women struggle to meet the demands of their jobs, the needs of their families. 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. So one of the things I make sure that people understand -- Barack will always make sure that we as women have the right to decide what we want to do with our own health and with our own health care. That’s what Barack Obama stands for. (Applause.)
So when people ask you what this President has done for our country, when you run into people who are deciding which of these candidates is going to keep our country moving forward for four more years, here’s a few things that you can tell them -- and I’m only going to go through a few of them.
Tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created. Tell them about how he passed health reform. Tell them about all the kids who will now be able to finally afford college. Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq. (Applause.)
Tell them how we worked together and finally took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how Barack has fought to give veterans and military families the benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.) Tell them about all of the young immigrants brought here to this country 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 our brave men and women in uniform will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)
I could go on and on and on, but more importantly, I want you to tell them that Barack Obama knows the American dream because he’s lived it. And he has been 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.
But let me tell you, let’s be very clear: While Barack is very proud of all that we’ve accomplished together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied, trust me. Barack knows more than anyone that there are still too many people struggling. He knows that there is plenty of work left to be done. As President Clinton said, it’s going to take a lot longer than four years to build -- rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse. (Applause.)
But here’s something I can tell you for sure. 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. So we have to ask ourselves, are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us in this hole in the first place?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to just sit back and watch everything that we’ve worked for and fought for to just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: Or are we going to keep moving this country forward? What are we going to do? (Applause.) So let me tell you something. In the end, the answer to these questions is really up to us. It’s on all of us. Because all of our hard work, all the progress we’ve made -- understand it’s all on the line. It’s all at stake this November. It can all be gone. And as my husband said, this election will be even closer than the last one. That’s the only guarantee you have. And it could all come down to what happens in just a few key battleground states like right here in Iowa.
Now, just to put it in perspective for you guys, think back to what happened in 2008. Back then, we won this state by about 147,000 votes. (Applause.) Yes, well, that may sound like a lot, but when you break it down, that’s just 87 votes per precinct. Just think about that -- 87 votes. That could mean just a couple votes in a neighborhood, a single vote in the hallway of your dorm.
So if there is anyone here who might be thinking -- or maybe you know someone who might be thinking that their vote doesn’t matter, that their involvement doesn’t count, that in this complex political process that somehow ordinary folks couldn’t possibly make a difference, I want you all to just keep that number in your mind -- 87.
But I’ve got news for you -- here in this state, it is already Election Day. (Applause.) Today is Election Day. (Applause.) See, the beauty of where you are is that early voting started yesterday, and for today only, right here on this campus, there is a satellite voting site open at the Schindler Education Building until 6:00 p.m. And there, you can get registered, you can cast your ballot all in one stop.
So right after I’m done speaking, I want you all to walk out that main door, and follow the volunteers, and do your part to move this country forward. (Applause.) Listen to this -- you can be one of the first people here in 2012 to cast your ballot for Barack Obama. (Applause.) You can do that. See, and I really want to talk to the students right now, because you all know you need more than one day to vote, right? (Laughter.) You wake up late, you’ll be like, today is Election Day? (Laughter.) Oh, that was yesterday -- oh, my gosh, I didn’t know. (Laughter.) You know -- so don’t do that. You got a whole month to make it happen, a whole month to vote. (Applause.)
As I tell my children, don’t procrastinate. No procrastinations. Make it happen. Do it today. And then after you’ve voted -- see, this is also the reason we need you to vote early. We’re going to need you, every single one of you here, to work like you’ve never worked before. Young people like all of you, so many of you here have always driven Barack’s campaigns with your energy and your passion. This is your future.
And 39 days, that's how much time is left until the election -- 39 days. That's a long time in a campaign. Let me tell you. It feels short. That's a long time. (Laughter.) So we’ve got to turn all of this wonderful energy into action. That's the next step. We’ve got to work right up to the very end. So if you vote early, you can use all the time to find other people, you know? Multiply yourselves. Find five more friends that you know aren’t registered. Get them to vote early. And look in this room, you all can beat that 87 right here at UNI. You all can be the ones that do that. (Applause.)
So when I’m finished, I want you to look for one of the volunteers here today. They’ve got clipboards. Find them, okay? And when you find them, we need you to sign up with them to do more work. Make phone calls, knock on doors to get out the vote here on campus and out in the community. We need you to talk to everyone you know, everyone. Your friends, your neighbors, that cousin you haven’t seen in a while, that student sitting next to you in class, you know the one. You know he’s not registered. (Laughter.) You can just look at him. You can tell. You can pick them out. Find them, shake them.
Also talk to your parents and your grandparents. In 2008, I can't tell you how many grandparents came up to me and said that they voted for Barack because of their grandchildren, because of your enthusiasm, because you told them what it meant for your future. (Applause.) Let them know what this election means to you. Tell them what’s at stake. Remind them of all the things this President has done. Bring them to events like this one. But make sure you’re registered, all right? Especially if you just moved. Students, if you registered and you moved, you got to re-register, right? Or if you’ve never voted before, you’ve got to register.
And once folks are registered, make sure they get to the polls, cast their ballot on Election Day. If they don't know where to go, here’s more information. Go to GottaRegister.com. You don't even need to leave your room. Go right there. You can find everything you need to make your voices heard this Election Day.
And I’m not going to kid you. This journey is -- it’s going to be hard. These next days are going to be long. And trust me, there are going to be plenty of ups and downs all the rest of the way, all right? So just count on that. This stuff is never smooth sailing. It’s up, it’s down. It’s up again. Trust me. I’ve learned.
But when you start to get tired, and you will -- when you start to get bored with all of this, and you will -- when you want to take a day off, and you will, I want you to remember don't do it. (Laughter.) I want you to remember that what we do for the next 39 days, especially you guys, 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.
So I need you all to work like you've never worked before between now and November 6th. I want us to keep working, keep struggling, keep pushing forward. And remember that that is how change always happens in this country. Change is hard, and it requires patience and tenacity. It always does. But if we keep showing up -- this is what I want young people to know because this is your journey, right?
From now on everything you want in your life will require you to work and keep working. But know that if you keep fighting for what you know is right, know that eventually we get there. Because in this country we always do. Don't get discouraged. In this country, we have always moved forward. (Applause.) Always. But here's the trick -- maybe not in our lifetimes. This is how I think, so many people think -- maybe in our children’s lifetimes. See, that's who I'm working for. Maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.
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. Like the hope that I saw on my father's beaming face as he watched me cross that stage to get my college diploma. The hope that Barack’s grandmother must have felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised. (Applause.) The hope that all of those men and women in our lives who worked for us -- they worked that extra shift, they saved for us, they sacrificed for us, they are praying for us so that we could have something more. The hope that so many of us feel when we look into your eyes, the eyes of our kids and our grandkids.
That’s why we're here today -- because we want to give you all that foundation for your dreams. All of our children are worthy of that promise, and we want to give all our children that sense of limitless possibility, that belief that here in America, the greatest country on the planet -- (applause) -- there is always something better out there if you're willing to work for it.
So what I tell myself, we cannot turn back now. No, not now. We have come so far -- look at you all -- we have come so far. (Applause.) But we have so much more work to do. So let me ask you one last thing -- are you ready for this? (Applause.) Are you ready to work for this? (Applause.) Are you fired up? (Applause.) Are you ready to vote? (Applause.) Are you going to go vote right now? (Applause.)
Early vote! Find your friends. Get them to early vote! Do that work!
Thank you, guys. God bless you. (Applause.)
1:28 P.M. CDT