1:50 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness! (Applause.) Thank you so much. (Applause.) This is beautiful. I am never leaving. (Laughter.) It is such a pleasure and an honor to be back here. I remember this event so well, because the Lobos are amazing -- terrific, warm family. This is a beautiful house, beautiful venue. I think I wanted to stay last time. (Laughter.) So we have to arrange this differently from now on.
But I want to start by thanking Caren for not just that kind introduction -- (applause) -- absolutely. But I want to thank Caren and Dick and their wonderful family for hosting us in their home again, and for all that they’ve done on behalf of this administration, our family. It's this kind of consistent support -- so many of you were here that time ago -- it matters. It really does make a difference to us as we're working so hard. So we are so grateful. So a round of applause to all of you. (Applause.)
And we have to thank Alyssa White for her wonderful performance. She is a tremendous talent, a beautiful young woman. (Applause.) Sign of the future -- that's who we're working for.
And of course, I want to thank our host committee for their outstanding work -- this is an amazing turnout. And I heard you guys were flawless to work with, so thank you all. I want to make sure that we thank the caterers, the wait staff, everyone who's worked so hard to make this event such a success. Thank you all. (Applause.)
And finally, thank you for joining us this afternoon. And I know that there's a reason why you all are here today, and it has a little more to do with spending a wonderful, sunny afternoon with a wonderful view and good food and good friends. You're here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads for our country. You’re here because you know that in less than a year from now, we're going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come.
And you’re here because you know that that choice won’t just affect all of us, it will also affect our children and our grandchildren and the world we leave for them long after we’re gone. (Applause.) Absolutely.
And that is also why I’m here today. You see, as First Lady, I have had the privilege of traveling all across this great country, meeting folks from different backgrounds and hearing what’s going on in their lives. And every day, I hear about their struggles -– the bills they’re trying to pay, the businesses they’re trying to keep afloat. I hear about how people are taking that extra shift, working that extra job; how people are saving and sacrificing, never spending a dime on themselves, because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And make no mistake about it, these struggles are not new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The costs for things like gas and groceries and tuition have been rising, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up.
So when the economic crisis hit, for far too many families, the bottom just completely fell out. And now, over the past three years, we have worked very hard to dig ourselves out of this mess. And we have made some wonderful progress -- wonderful progress. (Applause.) We have had 22 straight months of private sector job growth, and the unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been in nearly three years. That's the truth. (Applause.)
But we know that we have a long way to go. And we’ve been working hard to rebuild our economy. Your President has been working hard to build that economy based on a vision, a vision that we all share -– the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay off, that responsibility should be rewarded, and that everyone should get a fair shot, everyone should do their fair share and play by the same rules. (Applause.)
And these are basic American values. They’re the values that so many of us were raised with, including myself. You know my story. My father was a blue-collar worker, worked at a water plant. My family lived in the South Side of Chicago, a little-bitty apartment. My mother still lives there. My room looks exactly the same. (Laughter.) She won't change the bedspread -- nothing. (Laughter.) Neither of my parents attended college, but they worked and they saved and they sacrificed everything, because they wanted something more for me and my brother.
And more than anything else, that is what’s at stake, that fundamental promise that no matter who you are, or how you started out, if you work hard, you can build a decent life for yourself and an even better life for your kids.
And on just about every issue -– from health care to education to the economy -– that is the choice we face. For example, when we talk about tax cuts for middle-class families, or unemployment insurance for folks out of work, that’s about whether people can heat their homes; it's about whether or not people will be able to put a hot meal on their table, or put gas in their car so that they can get to work, look for work. It’s about whether folks can afford to own a home; send their kids to college; retire with dignity and security. It’s about whether people will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs.
And that’s what’s at stake here. That is the choice that we face.
And if we think for just a minute about what this administration has done to stand up for American consumers -- I’m talking about families getting hit with those hidden credit card fees. I’m talking about students, our kids, drowning in debt; our seniors losing their homes and savings because they were tricked into loans they couldn’t afford, couldn't understand.
And that’s why my husband created a new consumer watchdog with just one simple mission –- (applause) -- and that is to protect folks from exactly these kind of abuses. Because when you’ve worked hard and you’ve saved and you’ve followed the rules, your President believes that you shouldn’t lose it all to someone looking to make some easy money. That’s not fair. It’s not right. And we are working hard, your President is working hard, to do something about it.
And what about all we’ve done together for our small businesses, the companies that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year -- two-thirds. I’m talking about the mother who opens up a dry-cleaning store in the neighborhood to provide for her kids. Or the family that’s been running that neighborhood diner for generations. Or the veteran who launches a startup and pursues that American Dream he fought so hard for.
See, those are the folks who work themselves to the bone during the day, and then they head home and they pore over their books late into the night, determined to make those numbers add up. That's who we're talking about. For these folks, the small business tax cuts this administration has passed mean the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips. It's the difference between keeping their doors open, or closing up shop for good.
And that is the choice that we face. That is the difference.
And how about the very first bill my husband signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help women get equal pay for equal work? (Applause.) The first thing he did. And he did this because he knows what it means when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace.
Barack watched his own grandmother –- a woman with a high school education, who worked her way up to become a vice president at a little community bank. And she worked hard, and she was very good at what she did. But like so many others, she hit a glass ceiling. She watched men no more qualified than she was –- men she had actually trained -– be promoted up the ladder ahead of her.
So, believe me, Barack knows that, for him, this issue is not abstract -- this isn't hypothetical. He signed this bill because he knows that closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing $50, $100, $500 from each paycheck, or having that money for gas and groceries, school clothes for their kids.
He did it because when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, he knows that women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy. (Applause.) And he did it because, as he put it, we believe that here in America, there are no second-class citizens in our workplace.
That is what's at stake here. That's what we're fighting for. (Applause.)
And let’s talk for just a minute about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally -- finally passing health reform. But now, there are folks out there actually talking about repealing that reform. And today, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to stand by and let that happen?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to let insurance companies refuse to cover things like cancer screenings, prenatal care that don’t just save money, but save lives? Or will we stand up for our lives -- and for the lives of the people that we love? (Applause.)
Are we going back to the days when insurance companies could deny our children coverage because they have a preexisting condition like cancer or diabetes or even asthma? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, no one should ever have to choose between going bankrupt or watching their child suffer because they can’t afford a doctor.
And when our kids get older and graduate from school, we know how hard it is for them to find jobs -- or jobs with insurance, which are even harder. And that's why, as part of health reform, kids can now stay on their parent's insurance until they’re 26 years old. And today, that’s how 2.5 million of our young people are getting their coverage. (Applause.)
So will we take that insurance away from our kids? Or will we say that we don’t want our sons and daughters going without health care when they’re just starting out, trying to build families and careers of their own? But that is the choice we face.
And think for a moment about what’s been done on education.
Think about all those investments to raise standards and reform our public schools. This work is about improving the circumstances for millions of children in this country. These are all our children. Kids we know are sitting right now in crumbling classrooms -- kids who have so promise, kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them a chance.
Think about how we have tripled investments for job training at community colleges. This is about hundreds of thousands of hardworking people who are determined to get the skills they need to better themselves -- get better jobs, get better wages. These are the folks that are trying to do it all. They’re working fulltime. They’re raising their kids. But they still make it to class every evening, study late into the night, because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, this investment in our students and our workers will determine nothing less than the future of our economy. It will determine whether we’re prepared to make the discoveries and to build the industries that will let us compete with any country anywhere in the world. That is what’s at stake. That's what's at stake. (Applause.)
And let’s not forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices, and for the first time in history -- (applause) -- our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seat on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.) And let’s not forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come -- on our privacy and security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, and love whomever we choose. That is what’s at stake here. That is the choice we’re facing. (Applause.)
And finally, let’s not forget all this administration has done to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. (Applause.) And thanks to our brave men and women in uniform, we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts. (Applause.)
My husband ended the war in Iraq, brought home our troops for the holidays. (Applause.) And we’re working to give our veterans and their family the education, the employment and the benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.)
And because your President ended "don't ask, don't tell," our troops will never have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)
That is what’s at stake. That is the choice we make. (Applause.)
So make no mistake about it, whether it’s health care, the economy, whether it’s education or foreign policy, the choice we make will determine nothing less than who we are as a country -- but more importantly, who we want to be. Who are we? Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? Or will we be a place where if you work hard, you can get ahead, no matter who you are or how you started out?
Who are we? Will we tell folks who’ve done everything right, but are still struggling to get by -- are we going to tell them, tough luck, you’re on your own? Who are we? Or will we honor that fundamental American belief that this country is strongest when we’re all better off? (Applause.)
Who are we? Who do we want to be? Will we continue all the change we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made? Or will we allow everything we’ve fought for to just slip away? That is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, Barack knows this better than anyone. He understands these issues because he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school, pay the bills, and when she needed help, his grandmother stepped up, working every day, going to take the bus before dawn to that job at the bank. And even though she was passed over for all those promotions, she never complained. She never complained. She just kept showing up, just kept doing her best.
So Barack knows what it means when a family struggles. He knows what it means when someone doesn’t have a chance to fulfill their potential. Those are the experiences that have made him the man -- and more importantly -- the President he is today. And we are blessed to have him. (Applause.)
And that is what I hear in his voice every day, when he returns home after a long day traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people he’s met. That’s what I see in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he’s poring over the letters people have sent him. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care. The letter from the father struggling to pay his family’s bills. The letter from too many young people with so much promise, but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says, you will not believe what folks are going through. That’s what he tells me. He says, “Michelle, this isn't right. We’ve got to fix this. We have so much more work to do.”
See, when it comes to the people that your President meets, he has a memory like a steel trap. (Laughter.) He might not remember your name, but if he’s had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries with him every single day. It is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams. And that is where Barack gets his passion. That’s where Barack gets that toughness and that fight.
And that’s why, even in the hardest moments, when it seems like all is lost and we're all sweating -- and we're sweating him -- (laughter) -- Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward. (Applause.)
And he does it because he has a vision for this country. He has a vision. A President has to have a vision. It's a vision that we all share. Deep down, we all share this vision.
But I’ve said this before, I said it to you a few years ago and I will say it again: He cannot do this alone. That was never the promise. He needs your help. He needs you to make those calls, needs you to register those voters. He needs you to take those “I’m in” cards and get them signed, and get your friends and your neighbors and colleagues to sign up. Convince them to join you in giving just a little part of their life each week for the next few months to this campaign.
Because we all know that this isn’t just about one extraordinary man -- although I admit I’m a little biased. I think he's kind of cute. (Laughter.) But it is really, and has always been, about us -- all of us -- all of us coming together for the values we believe in and the country we want to be.
And I have never been one to kid you -- right? I am not going to kid you today. This journey is going to be long. It is going to be hard -- it already has been -- with many twists and turns along the way. But what an exciting story it is. (Laughter.) But the truth is that’s exactly how change always happens in this country. The reality is that real change is slow, and it never happens all at once.
But if we keep showing up, if we keep focused and fighting the good fight, then we always get there. We always do. We always get there. 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 all about. In the end, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We’re fighting them for our sons and our daughters, for our grandsons, for our granddaughters. We’re fighting for the world we want to leave for them. (Applause.) For them.
And I’m in this not just as a mother who wants to leave a legacy for my children. I’m in this as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better. Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. They are blessed. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for so many of the kids in your lives as well. But I think that the last few years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said -- that if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if she’s not our daughter, even if he’s not our son. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune.
In the end, we cannot separate our own individual story from the broader American story. Because we know that in this country, we rise and we fall together. (Applause.) And we know that if we make the right choices, if we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone -- everyone -- gets a fair shake and everyone has a chance to get ahead. That is what’s at stake.
So it is time for us to get moving. It is time for us to get it together, to get to work. Stop complaining and worrying. We need to stand up and work. (Applause.)
So let me ask you one final question: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Wait. Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Because I am so in. (Laughter.) I am so very in.
So I hope that you all are fired up. I hope that you all are ready to go. And I look forward -- I am going to be out there so tough, as much as I can be, getting it done. You all have to have our backs once again. You have been amazing. But this is going to be hard. We can't take anything for granted and we need everyone -- every single one of you -- to be laser-focused, creating those smart women -- right? (Applause.) Building up that base. Telling people the truth of who this President is and what he's done for so many across the country and around the world. So we have to get it done.
So thank you all. Thank you for everything you've done for us. Thank you for what you're going to do in the future. We are going to work hard.
God bless you all. Thanks.
2:14 P.M. EST