Chicago Cultural Center
6:27 P.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Chicago! (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Ah, it is good to be back home. I am sleeping in my bed tonight. (Applause.) I’m going to go into my kitchen; I might cook something for myself. (Laughter.) Putter around in the backyard a little bit. It’s good to be home. The White House is nice, but I’m just leasing. (Laughter.)
It is so good to see so many great friends. But I just have to point out the person who introduced me -- he was one of the best chiefs of staff that you could ever want to have. He would be in the White House at 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m., and he’d leave there at 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. He’d take work home with him. He’d be there on the weekends; sacrifices -- all the stuff that he did. But as good as he was at being a chief of staff, I have never seen him happier than he is as Mayor of the City of Chicago. (Applause.)
He loves Chicago. He loves its people. He loves its institutions. He loves its kids. And so all the work that he is doing on behalf of making the schools better and streamlining government and making things work in every part of the city and not just some parts of the city -- that's all reflective -- all that energy, all that pent up energy -- (laughter) -- that's reflective of his love of the city. So I just wanted to give -- everybody give a big round of applause to an outstanding Mayor, Rahm Emanuel. (Applause.)
So I’m here because not only do I need your help, but your country needs your help. Some of you have known me since I was running for the state senate. (Applause.) There were folks who saw me lose a congressional race and saw me win a U.S. Senate race. And I know you, and I know your values, and I know what you care about. And as much as we may have had friendships and relationships -- and that’s part of the reason you supported me in 2008 -- the election four years ago wasn’t just about me; it wasn’t about one person. It was about our commitments to each other. It was about core, basic beliefs we had in America and America’s future.
We believed that everybody should have a fair shot, that everybody should do their fair share, and everybody should play by the same set of rules. We believed that if you’re willing to work hard, if you’re willing to take responsibility, if you’re willing to be part of a community, then it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from, what your last name is, who you love -- (applause) -- the bottom line is that you should be able to make it in America. That’s what this city is all about. That’s reflective of this city. You’ve got surnames from everywhere in Chicago -- not just Obamas -- because this has been a magnet for people who say if I work hard, I can make it.
CHILD: I love you, Obama.
AUDIENCE: Aww --
THE PRESIDENT: Hi. (Laughter.) One of my younger friends was there.
And that’s why we came together in 2008 -- because we felt as if, for a decade, those values were being betrayed, or at least we weren’t living up to them. We had seen a surplus turned into a deficit -- massive deficits -- because folks got tax cuts who didn’t need them and weren’t even asking for them; two wars run on a credit card; first time in our history where we cut taxes while sending young men and women off to fight.
We had seen an economic system that was dependent on financial speculation and, frankly, a lot of recklessness. We had seen manufacturing move overseas. We became known as the country that was consuming things -- we were the engine of the world economy because of what we bought on credit cards or on home equity loans, instead of what we had previously been known as: a country that made things and sold them all around the world with those three proud words: “Made in America.”
And all of this came tumbling down in a financial crisis that really began to happen just as we were still in the midst of the campaign. So before I took office, we had lost 3 million jobs. The month I took office, we lost 800,000 jobs; 8 million all told -- before our economic policies had a chance to take effect. And so we had to make a series of tough decisions quickly. We had to make sure that an iconic auto industry was saved. (Applause.) We had to make sure that the banking system was stabilized. We had to make sure that teachers’ layoffs were minimized and states got some help, and middle-class families got tax cuts. (Applause.)
And because of those decisions, we were able to stabilize the economy and begin to grow again -- because we had faith in the American people. Most of those decisions weren’t easy. We knew we’d be subject to political criticism, but they were the right thing to do for our country. (Applause.) And despite all the noise and the misinformation and the obfuscation and bamboozling -- (laughter) -- that you hear, what we did worked to help make sure that the economy began to grow again, so that we have now seen over two years of the economy growing and jobs being produced -- more than 4 million jobs produced; over 800,000 produced just this year alone. (Applause.)
Now, here’s the thing, though: We’re not where we need to be. We’re not there yet. We saw that in today’s jobs report. Yes, a lot of that is attributable to Europe and the cloud that’s coming over from the Atlantic, and the whole world economy has been weakened by it. And it’s having an impact on us. But beyond that, we still know too many of our friends and family who are out of work. And there are too many folks whose homes are still underwater. Too many people still struggling to pay the bills. Too many kids still locked out of opportunity.
And when we embarked on this journey in 2008, it wasn’t just to get back to where we were before the financial crisis. The idea was to start fixing things in a more fundamental way -- to make sure that every child in America gets a good education; to make sure people aren’t bankrupt when they get sick; to make sure we’ve actually got an energy policy that works for this country; to make sure we’re still a nation of innovators. (Applause.) To build an economy that lasts and that allows middle-class families to get a sense of security again. That’s what we were fighting for.
And we’ve got more work to do. On that front, we’ve got more work to do. We are not satisfied. As proud as we are of the work that we’ve gotten done, we’ve still got miles to go on this journey.
Now, what makes this year so important is because we’ve got a contrast this time that we may not have seen in American politics in quite some time. Even the last time we ran, we had a Republican candidate who -- I had some profound disagreements with him, but he acknowledged the need for immigration reform, and acknowledged the need for campaign finance reform -- (applause) -- acknowledged the need for policies that would do something about climate change.
Now what we’ve got is not just a nominee but a Congress and a Republican Party that have a fundamentally different vision about where we need to go as a country. Look, I believe they love this country. The nominee, he’s achieved great personal success, seems to have a wonderful family -- God bless them. But the vision that he has for this country, like the vision that Republicans in Congress have for this country, is exactly the vision that got us into this mess in the first place. (Applause.) Except, as Bill Clinton said a few weeks ago, it’s on steroids this time. (Laughter.)
They don’t have a new idea about how to move the country forward. They’re just regurgitating all the old ideas: We want more tax cuts for some of the wealthiest individuals. We want to cut back further on things like education and transportation and the basic investments that have allowed America to succeed. They want further rollback to pay for the tax cuts -- our core social safety net of Medicare and Medicaid. They want to strip away regulations that we fought to put in place to make sure, for example, that we don’t have the same kind of financial crisis on Wall Street that we just went through. They want to strip it all away.
Their basic philosophy is: If a few folks are doing really, really well, and we strip away whatever restraints on how the market operates to protect consumers and to make sure that everybody gets a chance and everybody can start a small business, or everybody can be out there and compete and succeed -- that if we just let everybody be on their own, that somehow we’re going to be better off. And that is a fundamental misreading of American history. That is not how Chicago became a great city. That is not Illinois became a great state. That’s not how America became a great nation.
We’re a nation of rugged individualists with an entrepreneurial spirit. We believe in rewarding risk takers and innovators, but we also believe that we’re all in this together. (Applause.) We also believe that when we make investments together in quality public schools, then those kids who are being educated are going to be the workers of the future and the business leaders of the future, and we will all be richer for it. We will all benefit. So it’s worth us making that investment. (Applause.)
As I was coming down the lakefront today and thinking about Daniel Burnham and “Make No Little Plans,” we understand that when we build our infrastructure and great roads and railways, and the 21st century broadband lines and wireless and high-speed rail, that that’s what helped drive us as an economic superpower.
When we make investments in research and science, so that the government gets involved and suddenly there’s an Internet, that creates a platform for all kinds of private industry, all sorts of wealth creation, all sorts of opportunity. We don’t do it for one individual, for one group -- we do it for everybody.
The same way that together we paid for firefighting and police departments and national defense, there are some things we do better together. That’s what we’ve always understood, and that is what has made this country great.
And so the choice in this election is going to be between a vision that didn’t work during 2000 and 2008; didn’t work right before the Great Depression. We’ve gone through periodic spasms of this -- the Gilded Age, Roaring Twenties. We've seen this philosophy before. But the good thing is usually we come to our senses. (Laughter.) We realize, you know what, that's not the way our democracy is built. That's not how this country is built. And that's the vision that we're going to have to confront and address in this election.
Now, the good news is when you cut through the noise, if you just ask people, it turns out most people agree with this, the things that we've already done. When you ask people, you know what, is it a good idea to make sure that we have more teachers in the classroom? People say, absolutely. When we tell them, you know what, taking tens of billions of dollars that were going to the banks in the student loan program, cutting out the middleman and giving that money directly to students so that college was more affordable, is that a good idea? Absolutely. (Applause.)
Does it make sense for us to double fuel efficiency standards on cars, so that a decade from now every car is going to be getting 55 miles per gallon, so that even though our oil production is higher than it's been in the last eight years and imports of foreign oil have actually dropped, we've also doubled clean energy so that we are starting to control our energy future and be able to do something about climate change? Is that a good idea? People say, yes. (Applause.)
When we tell people, you know what, manufacturing is coming back -- you see more jobs in manufacturing than at any time since the 1990s, not just in the auto industry -- and companies are starting to say, you know what, it makes sense for us to reinvest in America again, because America has still got the best market and the best workers, why not bring some jobs home. We're starting to see that happen. And so, when you ask people, does it make sense for us to stop giving tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas, let's give those tax breaks to companies to help with their moving expenses to bring jobs back to America, they say, that's a good idea, we agree. (Applause.)
And when we say to people, doesn't it make sense for us to make sure that young people can stay on their parents' health insurance plan until they're 26 -- (applause) -- and make seniors' prescription drug plans more affordable, and make sure that everybody is guaranteed preventive care and women are able to get preventive care and make determinations about their own health -- (applause) -- people say, yes, that's a good idea. And we tell them, well, that's my health care bill. (Laughter.)
So the good news is that the majority of the American people share our vision. They believe that we have to work hard, each of us. We have to take responsibility, each of us, for our families, for ourselves, for our neighborhoods, for our communities. They understand government can't solve every problem and it shouldn't try. They understand that not everybody can be helped if they're not willing to help themselves. They understand that not every regulation is a smart one and not every dollar of government money is well spent. They want lean and smarter government, the kind of government that Rahm is providing here in Chicago. They understand those things.
But they also say, you know what, I've got obligations to something bigger. I've got obligations to the next generation. I've got obligations to the future. That's worth fighting for. (Applause.) That's worth fighting for. (Applause.)
And nowhere do we see it more than in our men and women in uniform. Now, I talked today about one more initiative that I'm trying to push Congress to create a Veterans Jobs Corp, so that all these young men and women, now that we've ended the war in Iraq and are starting to wind down the war in Afghanistan, that anybody who fought for this country doesn't have to fight for a job when they come home or fight for a roof over their heads when they come home. (Applause.)
But in our troops, we see that spirit, that sense of common purpose and that sense of mission and that sense of sacrifice. And everybody feels that to some degree. We just have to tap into it. We know that is right, not just right for the country, but right for ourselves. Because I don't want to live in a country where all we're doing is thinking about ourselves, where we're not thinking about future generations.
Now, when you make this argument, by the way, to the other side, what they'll say is: We're thinking about the future --that's why we have to do something about these deficits -- that's what they call it -- out of control government spending. And I smile, and I say, you are absolutely right. We've got to get government spending and our deficits and our debt under control, which is why I signed a trillion dollars -- $2 trillion worth of tax cuts in this last plan. It’s the reason why government spending has gone up at a slower rate under my administration than any administration since Dwight Eisenhower. (Applause.)
But I say, you know what, if you’re really serious about deficit reduction, then why don’t we get together? We’ll build on the cuts we’ve already made. We’ll work with you to see if there are some additional waste, and streamlining and government organization we can do. We’ll look at health care costs in Medicare and Medicaid, which are the main drivers of the deficit. And as long as we’re not voucherizing that program like you guys have proposed, and as long as we’re keeping that basic commitment we make to folks in their golden years, as long we’re keeping that intact, I’m happy to work with you.
But here’s just one thing. I think somebody like myself, I should pay a little bit more in taxes, because I don’t want us to be cutting student loans to young people or Medicaid for a disabled child or shortchanging our veterans for the care they need when they come home. (Applause.) I don’t want that, because I don’t need that tax cut big enough. I don’t need it bad enough. And you know what, it turns out most millionaires and billionaires don’t need it either. They’re doing just fine. Their tax rates are lower than they’ve been in 50 years.
And what we’ve proposed is simply, well, let’s go back to the rates under the last Democratic administration when we created 22 million jobs. It didn’t seem to be a problem for job creators then. Why is it a problem for job creators now? (Applause.) What happened? What happened? (Applause.)
So we put forward plans. Here’s $4 trillion that we can reduce our deficit in a balanced way that protects the investments we need for growth and helps our middle class. I haven’t gotten any takers so far on that side. (Laughter.) Actually, there are a number of Republicans who think it’s a good idea to have a balanced approach like this, but they’re out of office now. (Laughter.)
So don’t tell me that you’re interested in the future but you’re not willing to make just an iota of sacrifice, a little bit of modification of your ideology in order to secure that future. And if you look at Mr. Romney's plan, he has got $5 trillion worth of additional tax cuts on top of the Bush tax cuts, and he hasn't identified how they'd be paid for. He says, well, we'll close some loopholes. Well, which loopholes? I don't know. (Laughter.)
I mean, we put forward a detailed budget. Here, here's how we can do it. I haven't gotten any takers so far. So don't buy that song and dance about, yes, we're concerned about future generations, but you don't think Warren Buffett can pay a dime more in taxes in order to support that future? So that's the debate we're going to be having over the next several months. It's a critical debate about the economy.
There are a lot of other issues out there. I believe that we've got to have comprehensive immigration reform. We're a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. (Applause.) My opponent has a different view. I believe we did the right thing in repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and that we have to fight for a future of fairness and equality in this country under the law. (Applause.) My opponent has a different view. I think I did the right thing in ending the war in Iraq and in setting a timeline for getting out of Afghanistan. (Applause.) My opponent has a different view.
So there are going to be a whole bunch of issues to fuss about. But the central one, about how we build an economy that works for everybody, that's the one I want everybody to pay attention to. But this is going to be a close race. And the reason it's going to be a close race is we've gone through a tough four years on top of a tough decade for a lot of families before that, and folks feel worn out.
And if you don't have a job, you don't care that there have been 4 million jobs created. You're still waiting for yours. Your house is $100,000 underwater, the fact that the housing market is beginning to stabilize isn't satisfactory. You're still trying to figure out how you dig yourself out of a hole.
And that's going to make it tough. And, frankly, it makes it easier for the other guys, because the other side, all they’ve got to do is just say, you know what, you're frustrated things aren't where they need to be and it's Obama's fault. And if they can spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting that argument, then they don't have to come up with answers. They don't have to come up with a credible plan. They figure they can surf folks' frustrations all the way to the White House.
We've seen this game before, we've just never seen this much money behind the game. So the question, then, for us, is going to end up being, well, how badly do we believe in what we say we believe in? How hard are we willing to fight for the future that we say we want for our kids and our grandkids?
The one thing I learned in 2008 -- traveling all across the country, starting in Iowa -- was for all the cynicism and negativity and phony issues, and sometimes outright lies that passed for political campaigns, when a group of ordinary citizens say, we want to bring change to our country, we want to make this work for everybody -- when voters start talking to each other and making commitments to each other, not just to a candidate but to an idea, change happens. That's what you showed me last time.
And so, this time we're going to have to be more determined and we're going to have to make those same commitments. I told people back in 2008, I said, I'm not a perfect man and I won't be a perfect President. But I promise you this, I will always tell you what I think and I'll always tell you where I stand. And I'll wake up every single day just working as hard as I can to make your lives a little better. (Applause.) And you know what, I've kept that promise. (Applause.) I've kept that promise. (Applause.)
I still believe in you. I still believe in the American people. I still believe in the American idea. And if you still believe in me -- and if you are willing to knock on some doors and make some phone calls -- and get out there and get working, and fight to finish what we started in 2008, we will not just win an election, we will continue down a path of glory for this country and remind the entire world just why it is that America is the greatest nation on earth.
Thank you, everybody, God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
6:58 P.M. CDT