Remarks by the First Lady at a Campaign Event

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Lawrence University
Appleton, Wisconsin

3:45 P.M. CDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you so much!  (Applause.)  Oh, yes.  I am very excited to be with you all today.  (Applause.) 

I want to start by thanking Eli for that very kind introduction, for everything he's doing for this campaign.  I want to thank a couple of -- one more person as well.  I want to recognize former Senator Russ Feingold.  (Applause.)  Thank you for everything you've done for this state, and everything that he's doing for the campaign here in Wisconsin.  (Applause.)

And most of all, I want to thank all of you -- especially all of the students here at Lawrence University.  Thanks for being here.  (Applause.)  Yes!  Yes!  Now, you all seem pretty fired up and ready to go.  (Applause.)  And that’s great, because I'm feeling pretty fired up and ready to go myself.  Yes, indeed.

The wonderful thing about coming out into the country, coming and doing rallies, speaking to you guys is that I get to do one of my favorite things -- I get to talk about the man I have loved and admired for -- since we met 23 years ago.  (Applause.) 

Now, this is what -- I've been sharing a little of our business.  (Laughter.)  Just a little.  But back when we first met, Barack had everything going for him.  Ladies, listen -- he was handsome -- still is.  Still is.  (Applause.)  He was charming, talented, and oh, so very, very smart.  But that is not why I married him.  So fellas, listen to this.  (Laughter.)  What truly made me fall in love with Barack was his character -- did you hear what I said, gentlemen?  It was his character.  Truly.

It was his decency.  It was his honesty, his compassion, it was his conviction.  I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs, and instead started his career fighting to get folks back to work in struggling communities.  I loved that about him.  (Applause.)

I also loved that Barack was so devoted to his family, especially the women in his life.  I watched this.  (Applause.)  I saw the respect that he had for his own mother, 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 he felt for his grandmother, and how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning, catching her bus to that job at the community bank; making sure she did everything to support his 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 doing that same job, kept getting up year after year -- without complaint, without regret. 

And 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 own 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 us, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of.  How many people do we know like that in our lives?  (Applause.) 

Like so many families in this country, our families weren’t asking for much.  They didn’t want 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.  That’s why they pushed us to do better.  They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start out with much, if you work hard, if you 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.  Absolutely.  (Applause.)

And our families believed that when you’ve worked hard, then you’ve done well and you’ve finally walked 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.)

See, that’s how Barack, that’s how I, that’s how so many of us were raised.  Those are the values we were taught growing up.  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, you don’t game the system, you don’t play by your own set of rules.

We also learned that none of us gets where we are on our own; that each of us -- (applause) -- every single one 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 what our parents and grandparents taught us is that you value everyone's contribution; you 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 who have less.  And these are the values, truly, that make Barack such an extraordinary husband to me, and a phenomenal father to our girls.  (Applause.) 

I will tell Sasha and Malia you say hi.  That’s very sweet.  (Applause.) 

But I talk about Barack’s values 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 to leading this country.  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 are not just about the bottom line, but about laying a foundation for the next generation.  I’ve seen how important -- yes.  (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 also 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 gets good headlines, as President, you have got to be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all of the people you serve.  As President, you have to have a strong inner 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 just say, 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 his conviction.

I mean, think back to when Barack first took office, the very first day -- right after he was inaugurated.  Where were we?  Our economy was on the brink of collapse.  Newspapers were using words like "meltdown," "calamity;" they were declaring "Wall Street Implodes," "Economy in Crisis."  Look, 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 -- 800,000 jobs every month.  And a lot of folks wondered whether we were headed for a Great Depression. 

See, now that’s what Barack faced on day one as President of the United States.  But instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, your President got to work -- because he was thinking about folks like my dad.  (Applause.)  He was thinking about us.  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 folks 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 working families -- because we have a President who believes that teachers and firefighters should not be paying higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires -- 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, understand we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth -- a total of 5.1 million new jobs under this President.  Good jobs right here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Let’s talk about 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.  (Applause.)  He cared that it was the right thing to do.  And thankfully, because he fought for health reform, today our parents and grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs; our young people can stay on our parent’s insurance until they’re 26 years old.  (Applause.) 

Insurance companies now have to cover basic preventive care -- things like contraception, cancer screenings -- with no out-of-pocket cost.  (Applause.)  They won’t be able discriminate against you because you have a preexisting condition like diabetes or asthma.  (Applause.)  And if you get a 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 covering a penny more -- no more.  That is illegal because of health reform.  (Applause.)

And as Eli mentioned, when it comes to giving our young people the education they deserve, see, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never, never could have attended college without financial aid -- never.  In fact, as I shared in my speech in Charlotte, when we were first married, our combined student loan bills were higher than our mortgage.  So when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we've been there.  This is not a hypothetical. 

And that’s why Barack fought so hard to double funding for Pell grants and keep interest rates down.  (Applause.)  Because he knows how important it is for all of our young people to be trained to have the skills that you need for the jobs of the future -- good jobs you can raise a family on, jobs that will drive our economy for decades to come.

And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women, when it comes to standing up for our rights and opportunities -- (applause) -- we know that my husband will always have our backs -- always.  (Applause.)  See, 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 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. 

And that’s why the first bill he signed into law as President was to help women get equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  And that is 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 talking to folks who are deciding who is going to keep our country moving forward for four more years, here's what I want you to tell them -- just a few things, because we don’t have all day.  (Laughter.) 

I want you to tell them about the millions of jobs Barack created.  Tell them about how he passed health reform.  Tell them about all our kids who will finally be able to afford college.  

Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq.  (Applause.)  Tell them how together, we took out Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Tell them how Barack fought to get veterans and military families the 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 our brave men and women in uniform will never, never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love.  (Applause.)  You know this. 

You know I could go on and on and on.  But here's what I want you to tell them:  Tell them that Barack knows the American Dream because he's lived it. (Applause.)  He's lived it.  And he has been fighting every day so that every one of us 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.)  

But let’s be clear -- while my husband is proud of what we have achieved together, he is nowhere near satisfied.  Not at all.  Not for one second.  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 in Charlotte, it is going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse.  (Applause.)  But here's something that I know for sure --

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!

MRS. OBAMA:  There's one thing that I know for sure -- our President has been fighting for us.  He has been struggling with us.  And together, slowly but surely, we have been pulling ourselves out of that hole we started in.  For three and a half years, we have been moving forward, we've been 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 into that hole in the first place?

AUDIENCE:  No!

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

AUDIENCE:  No!

MRS. OBAMA:  Are we going to keep moving this country forward?  What are we going to do?  Forward!  (Applause.)  We got to keep moving forward.  Yes!  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!

MRS. OBAMA:  Right, four more years.  We'll get it done. 

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!   

But here's the thing -- the answer to these questions, it's on us.  It's up to us.  Because all our hard work, all the progress we’ve made together, it’s all on the line.  Everything is at stake this November.  And as my husband has said, the only guarantee is that this election will be closer than the last one, and it could all come down to just a few battleground states like Wisconsin -- can decide the whole thing by just a few thousand votes. 

And while that might not sound like a lot when you're talking about a few thousand votes, remember that those votes are spread out all across an entire state -- across hundreds of cities and thousands of wards.  So when you think about it like that, just a handful of votes in every ward could make all the difference in the world.  That could mean just a couple of votes in a neighborhood, just a single vote in an apartment building or in a dorm room.  (Applause.)

So understand, especially for our students, that one neighbor, that one classmate you get to the polls on November 6th, that one voter you persuade, that one new volunteer you recruit -- that could be the one that puts us over the top. 

So with just a few evenings on a phone bank, with just a few hours knocking on some doors, everybody in this room has the chance to swing an entire ward for Barack Obama.  (Applause.)  And if we win enough wards, we will win this state.  And if we win this state, we will be well on our way to putting Barack Obama back in the White House for four more years.  (Applause.)

So here's what I need you to do.  Here's the plan -- the secret plan.  (Laughter.)  You guys, turn off your cameras.  (Laughter.)  Just kidding.  (Laughter.)  So from now until November we're going to need every single one -- look at this room!  Look at the power in this room!  We're going to need every single one of you to work like you've never worked before.  I mean, young people, all like so many of you here, you all have always driven Barack's campaigns with your passion and your energy.  God, you guys are good.  (Applause.)

And 39 days is a long, long time in any campaign.  Don't be fooled.  So we’ve got to turn all of this energy and excitement into action.  It doesn’t count if it doesn’t go into action.  We’ve got to work right up until the very end, okay?  So we need you to find one of our volunteers today -- they’re around here.  They've got clipboards.  We need you to sign up with them to make calls, knock on doors to help get the vote out here on campus and out in the community.

And we also 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 -- who you know is not registered -- (laughter) -- you know it.  And for our students especially, talk to your parents and grandparents.  I can’t tell you how many grandparents came up to me and told me that the only reason they voted for Barack Obama in 2008 was because of what it meant for their grandchildren.  (Applause.) 

So what you say matters more than you know.  So talk to them.  Tell them what’s at stake in this election.  Remind them of all the wonderful things this President has accomplished.  Bring them to events like this one if you can. 

But most of all, make sure that the folks you talk to, and yourselves, make sure that you’re registered to vote.  Especially for students -- if you’ve just moved, you’ve got to reregister.  If you’ve never voted before, you can’t vote until you register, right?  So the first step is getting registered. 

Make sure that you know that here in Wisconsin, you can vote early.  You can start voting as early as October 22nd at any municipal clerk’s office.  You can start -- you students, all right?  (Laughter.)  You all in particular -- you need to vote early.  You know what’s going to happen on Election Day, right?  You’re going to oversleep, and you’re going to be like, was it Election Day?  That was yesterday?  (Laughter.)

So we need you to vote early, because you have weeks to do it.  You can do it between classes.  You can do it on a weekend.  You don’t have to wait for that one day. 

And for the folks that you talk to, tell them that they can register and vote on the same day, whether you’re voting early or on Election Day, okay?  But don’t procrastinate, as I tell my children.  Don’t wait.  And if folks don’t know where to go for the information they need, you can send them to ownyourvotewi.com, okay?  Ownyourvotewi.com -- there you can find everything that you need, everything they need to make their voices heard.  All this information is on this website.  So make sure you send people there if you don’t know offhand.

We got it?  (Applause.)  Secret plan?  Okay, you may turn your cameras back on.  (Laughter.) 

But, I want to be honest with you, this journey is going to be hard, okay, and these next days are going to feel long, all right?  And here’s the thing -- there will be plenty of ups and downs along the way.  That’s how it works in a campaign.  But 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 39 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up the day after Election Day and wondering, “Could I have done more?”, or feeling the promise of four more years.  It’s the difference in how we work.

So from now until November 6th, we need you to keep on working and struggling and pushing forward.  Because here’s the thing -- especially for our young people -- that is how change always happens in this country, all right?  Real change takes time.  It requires patience and tenacity.  And that’s not just with politics -- it’s with everything that happens in life.  It takes time, right?  But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, if we keep doing what we know is right, then eventually we get there. 

This is what I want you all to know:  In America, we always move forward.  We always move forward.  (Applause.)  Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes; maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. 

Because in the end, that’s what this is about.  That’s what elections are always about.  Don’t let anybody tell you differently, ever -- elections are always about hope.  The hope that I saw on my father’s beaming face as I crossed the stage to get my college diploma; the hope that I’m sure Barack’s grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised; the hope that all of those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift for us, who saved and sacrificed and prayed 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 children and our grandchildren.

That’s why we're here.  That’s why I'm here.  Because we want to give all of our children a foundation for their dreams -- all of them.  We want to give all of our children opportunities worthy of their dreams, because what we all know for sure -- I don’t care what party you're from -- all of our kids are worthy, every last one of them.  (Applause.) 

We want to give our kids 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.

So what I tell myself is we cannot turn back now.  Not now.  We have come so far, but we have so much more work to do, don’t we? 

So are we ready to do this?  (Applause.)  Are you all ready to roll up your sleeves?  Are you fired up?  Are you ready to go?  Are you ready to work?  (Applause.)  Let's get it done.

Thank you, guys.  God bless.  (Applause.)

END  
4:15 P.M. CDT