Remarks by the President at an OFA Event
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
7:45 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! (Applause.) Hello, OFA! (Applause.) Thank you. All right, everybody, sit down, sit down. Thank you. You get me embarrassed. (Laughter.) It is good to see all of you. (Applause.) I miss all you guys. I miss you. (Applause.) I miss you.
First of all, can everybody please give Bill a big round of applause for the great introduction and the great work he’s done. (Applause.) So proud of him.
I want to thank our outstanding partners, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for being here -- (applause) -- and our outstanding Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, for being here. (Applause.)
But mainly, I just wanted to see all you guys -- (laughter) -- and say hey.
THE PRESIDENT: Michelle says hey.
THE PRESIDENT: The girls, they went out to camp. (Laughter.) We’re a little lonely at home right now. (Laughter.) But Bo is still there. Bo says hey. (Laughter.)
And it’s wonderful just to see all of you from all across the country. I know you guys have all been working hard today, all kinds of training, all kinds of new ideas. Everybody is sharing approaches to how we get folks involved in our democracy and our country. And I could not be prouder of not just the work that you did before the campaign and during the campaign, but more importantly, the work that you’re doing now after the campaign. It’s inspiring to me. (Applause.)
And I had a chance to see some of your fellow organizers backstage and talk to them, and it just reminded me of what an incredible cross-section of people we have involved, from rural areas and big cities, educators, business people -- folks who are just committed to making sure that the promise of America is not just left to the professionals here in Washington, because that can cause problems -- (laughter) -- but that folks all across the country are consistently involved and engaged and offering their ideas, and pushing and prodding the political system to make sure it’s responsive to families.
And since I first ran for office, I’ve always said that running for office is not just about getting elected. I believe in winning; winning is good. (Laughter.) But you run for office and you win so that you can actually get things done. It’s the beginning and not the end of a process. It puts you in a position to then deliver on behalf of the folks that you’re fighting for.
And I ran in 2008 and I ran in 2012 because I believed that America was forged out of this basic bargain -- the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, if you’re willing to put in the effort, if you’re willing to sacrifice and make hard decisions and delay gratification, that if you do all those things, you can make it here in America, regardless of where you come from, what you look like, who you love, what your last name is. That was the idea behind the first campaign, and that was the idea behind everything I did after I was President.
And the good news is because of the work that we’ve been able to do together, and more importantly thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, we have made enormous progress over the last five years. Things have changed for the better, just like we sought to bring about when we worked so hard back in 2007 and 2008.
But now we’ve got to keep the momentum going. In some ways, what we’ve done is clear away the rubble of this incredible crisis that we went through. And now the challenge is to get back to the first order of business: the challenges that were facing families even before the financial crisis and the Great Recession hit.
And we’ve gotten back on level ground, but now we’ve got to keep climbing, we’ve got to keep going -- because there are still too many of our friends and our neighbors and family members who are out there hurting, who are still struggling, who are still treading water. The ground beneath our feet is a little firmer than it was, but we’ve got a long way to go before middle-class families feel secure and before those who are willing to strive to get into the middle class have more ladders or opportunity.
So our businesses have created, for example, 7.2 million jobs over the last 40 months. Fastest job growth that we’ve seen since 1999 -- (applause) -- which is good. But way too many folks out there are still looking for work. And for those who were lucky enough to have a job, wages and incomes are still flat-lined, whereas for the top 1 percent, they’re still seeing massive increases in their wealth and incomes. So we’ve got growing inequality in our society and a continued sense of insecurity when it comes to ordinary families.
We’ve seen record numbers of people go to college. But every young person you meet, they talk about the incredible debt burdens that they’re carrying as soon as they graduate, and they wonder whether or not they’re going to be able to pay it off given their employment prospects.
We’ve seen health care costs decline -- or health care inflation decline since we put the Affordable Care Act into place. But a lot of those savings still haven’t been enjoyed by a lot of ordinary families; haven’t been passed onto workers.
And so across the board, we’ve made progress but we haven’t yet delivered on restoring fully that basic bargain that we believed in -- the idea that if you act responsibly, you’re willing to work hard, that you can make it.
So because we’ve got a lot more work to do, on Wednesday I’m going to go back to Galesburg, Illinois. We got any Illinoisans here? (Applause.) All right. Folks in the house from Illinois. What, they didn’t give you any seats, the people from Illinois? (Laughter.) What’s going on here? But we’re going to Galesburg, Illinois. And the reason is, we’re going back to Knox College, which is one of the places where I gave my first -- it’s the place where I gave my first big speech after I had been elected to the U.S. Senate. And this was back in 2005, and I talked at that time about the building blocks that we needed to put into place -- the foundation, the cornerstones that we needed to make sure that the American Dream is alive and well.
And I’m going to talk about where we need to go from here; how we need to put behind us the distractions and the phony debate and nonsense that somehow passes for politics these days, and get back to basics, refocus on what it is that everybody is talking about around the kitchen table, what people are talking about day to day with their families. And it’s going to be the kickoff to what is essentially several months of us trying to get Washington and the press to refocus on the economy and the struggles that middle-class families are going through, but also for us to start exploring some big and bold ideas, some of which I’ve offered in the past, some of which will be new but allow us to consistently, steadily make progress.
Now, here’s the thing -- it will be a pretty good speech. (Laughter and applause.) But as we’ve learned -- I’ve given some pretty good speeches before -- (laughter) -- and then things still get stuck here in Washington, which is why I’m going to need your help. We had close to 20 million people who were involved in the last campaign. Think about that -- close to 20 million people. We had 4 million people actively contribute in $5 or $10 or $25 increments to the campaign. And let’s face it, some of those folks, they just wanted to have dinner with George Clooney -- I understand that. (Laughter.) But some of them -- most of them, I like to think -- (laughter) -- did so because they believed in the mission and the cause of making sure that we’re restoring a sense of what America can be and that we’re passing it onto the next generation.
So one of our challenges -- and I know what you’ve been talking about all day -- is how do we keep people involved. And naturally, it’s not going to be as full of razzmatazz as a campaign. First of all, we don’t have a billion of dollars to spend. (Laughter.) Second of all, there’s just something very clear about a campaign and an election date and voting and targeting.
Nevertheless, in some ways this stuff is more important. And that’s where all of you come in. How are we going to make sure that we’re engaging all the people that we touched during the course of the campaign in this central question of creating and building a rising, thriving, active, growing middle class.
And that’s why we’ve been mobilizing people on a whole range of other issues. It’s the reason why we’re going to need you to continue to stay involved to get immigration reform across the finish line -- because now is the time for us to get comprehensive immigration reform done. (Applause.)
It’s the reason why we’re going to need you to stay involved when it comes to climate change and making sure that we are passing on the kind of planet to our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren that is sustainable. (Applause.)
It’s why we’ve continued to have you guys get so active on the Affordable Care Act, because starting on October 1st, we are going to be able to sign up people for these marketplaces that are going to give people a square deal when it comes to their health insurance. But we can only do it with you. (Applause.)
So we’ve got to get folks activated and involved. And, ultimately, what you do day to day, away from the TV cameras, that’s what is going to make a powerful difference. In the same way that Bill used some of the skills that he learned during the campaign to now organize around wildfires and environmental issues in Colorado, hopefully all of you have taken away something from your involvement and made it manifest throughout communities all across the country. We need you to keep on doing that. That’s the essence of citizenship. If nothing else, that’s what the campaign was about.
And I always remind people, I’ve run my last campaign. Michelle is not sorry about it. (Laughter.) I’ve got a little over 1,200 days left in office. I am going to spend every waking minute of every one of those days thinking about and then acting upon any good ideas out there that are going to help ordinary Americans succeed, that are going to make sure that the next generation believes in the American Dream because they’ve seen it in their own lives. That’s how I’m going to spend my time. I hope that’s how you’re going to spend your time. (Applause.) Because if you do, I guarantee you we will continue to make progress and we will deliver on everything that we talked about in 2008 and 2012. (Applause.)
Thank you very much, OFA. I love you guys. Keep it up! Keep it up! (Applause.) Are you still fired up?
AUDIENCE: Fired up!
THE PRESIDENT: All right. (Applause.)
7:59 P.M. EDT