THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release June 14, 2011
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT DNC EVENT
10:21 A.M. PDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. (Applause.) Thank you so much. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. (Applause.) Now, this is the way you start your day, right? (Applause.) You all, thank you so much. Please rest yourselves. (Laughter.) I want to make sure you have some energy to work. (Laughter.)
Thank you again. It is a pleasure, it is a thrill to be with all of you this morning. And I have to start by thanking one of my dear friends not just for that kind introduction — because that was really nice — (laughter) — but for her leadership in Washington, for her outstanding work to make today such a success — she really pulled it all in for this one — but more importantly she has been a real friend to me in Washington, because you have those people at these events where you can just kind of pull aside and go, “Whew, goodness!” (Laughter.) That’s Barbara for me.
And she talks about the nutrition legislation as a victory for me. No, no. This wouldn’t have happened without her. Barbara is always focused on her base. She is always fighting tooth and nail to do the right thing. And we are just so grateful for your friendship, your leadership, your support. We love you. Let’s give Barbara another round of applause (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.)
And of course I have to recognize the fabulous Alice Waters for preparing this delicious breakfast I didn’t get to eat, but it’s okay. (Laughter.) They don’t let me eat at these things. (Laughter.) Just keep moving. But I can only imagine — (laughter) — because it was at one of the first fundraising lunches in Chicago that Alice did for me, where it began the spark of understanding this issue. And thank you for that. Thank you for your continued support. Thank you for laying the foundation for this issue and so many others. We are so grateful. I’m proud to call you a supporter and a friend. Thank you so much, Alice. (Applause.)
And we’ve got some mayors here — Mayor Quan, Major Johnson. You all — hey, what’s happening? (Laughter.)
And I know we have other elected officials. You all, thank you all for your leadership and for taking time to join us this morning and for all your work you guys are doing — got to talk — amazing work supporting “Let’s Move” and so many other things. You’re holding it down. Thank you.
And I have to acknowledge our National Finance Committee members for helping to make this event such a success.
And finally, I have to thank all of you for being here today. Again, I’m thrilled to see so many new faces. And that’s always a good thing in round two, is seeing new faces, people we haven’t engaged before. But I’m also thrilled to see many folks who’ve been with us right from the very beginning, I mean, folks who have been through all the ups and downs, all the nail-biting moments along the way. It’s been a thrill.
And today, as we look ahead to the next part of this journey, I can’t help but think back to how it all began, because I have to be honest with you — and many of you know this, if you were following my campaign — Barack, when he first started talking about running for President, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea. (Laughter.)
Now, granted, I was proud of — always been proud of the work that he’s done in the U.S. Senate, and I knew that he would make an extraordinary President. That, I knew, and I always told you that.
But like a lot of folks, I still had some cynicism about politics. Yeah, believe that. (Laughter.) And more importantly, I was worried about the toll that a presidential campaign would take on our family. We had two young daughters at the time, even though Malia is now my height, and the last thing I wanted to do was to disrupt their lives and to knock their routines upside down. The last thing I wanted to do was to spend time apart from my girls, and that’s all a campaign meant to me.
So it took some convincing on Barack’s part, and by “some,” I mean a lot. (Laughter.) A little begging, a little convincing. (Laughter.) And even as I hit the campaign trail, I was still uneasy about this whole “President thing,” as Malia would call it. (Laughter.)
But the truth is that something happened to me during those first few months on the campaign trail that changed me, because when I was campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, it wasn’t just about handshakes and stump speeches. It was about real conversations that we could have with folks on their front porches, going into people’s living rooms, people opening up their homes to folks they didn’t even know. You know, Barack Obama wasn’t always Barack Obama. (Laughter.) He was just this strange kid with the big ears. But people still let him in their house — (laughter) — and into their lives.
And one of my very first events was in Iowa, and I’ve told this story often at commencements — when I was in Iowa. It was a gathering in a backyard. And I remember — beautiful day, sunny, people sitting on the lawn, everybody was relaxed. They didn’t know me. Never been to the home before. But within a few minutes, I was so comfortable that I kicked off my shoes, because I was wearing high heels — (laughter) — and I was standing barefoot in the grass, just talking to folks. And it felt as natural as being in my own backyard.
And that’s what campaigning was about for me. It was about meeting people one-on-one, which we rarely get to do as Americans; hearing what was going on in each other’s lives. And I learned about the businesses that were trying to stay afloat; the home that someone loved, but could no longer afford; stories about the spouse who came back from war and needed a whole lot more help; the child who was so smart, the child we all know, who could be anything she wanted, if only her parents could find a way to pay that tuition.
These stories moved me. And even more than that, these stories were familiar to me. And that’s something that we as Americans don’t understand, is that our stories are so linked.
You see, in the parents that were working that extra shift, and taking that extra job, I saw Barack’s mother, that young single mom struggling to support Barack and his sister.
I saw my father, who, as you know, would get up every day, drag himself to work, even as he got weaker and weaker from Multiple Sclerosis, because he was determined to be our family’s provider.
In the grandparents coming out of retirement to pitch in and help make ends meet, I saw my own mother who has helped raise our girls since the day they were born. And I wouldn’t be standing here without her.
I saw Barack’s grandmother — got up and caught the bus to work before dawn every day. She was his family’s sole provider — primary provider.
And in the children I met who were worried about a mom who’s lost her job, or a dad deployed far from home, kids so full of promise and dreams, of course I saw my own daughters, who are the center of my world.
See, and the beauty of this is that these folks weren’t asking for much. They don’t want much. They’re looking for basic things — like being able to see a doctor when you’re sick. Things like having a decent public school to send your kids to, and maybe a chance to send them to college even if you’re not rich. Things like making a decent wage. People aren’t trying to be rich. They just want a decent wage, and having a secure retirement, and maybe, just maybe leaving something better for their kids.
And while we may have grown up in different places and seemed different in many ways, these folks’ stories were my family’s stories. They were Barack’s family’s stories. Even more poignantly, their values were our values — things like you treat people how you want to be treated — simple things — that you always put your family first no matter what, that you work hard always, that you do what you say you’re going to do, even if it’s not easy, even if it hurts. These were our family’s values, and we shared these things.
And then suddenly, everything Barack had been saying about how we are all interconnected, about how we’re not just red states and blue states, those weren’t just lines in a speech for me. It was what I was seeing with my own eyes. And that changed me.
And you know what else changed me during those months that got me fired up and ready to go and ready to do all this First Lady stuff? (Laughter.) You all did. All of you who are all over the country and quite frankly all over the world changed me.
Because when I got tired, I would think of folks out there making calls and knocking on doors day after day in the cold, in the wind, in the rain for Barack Obama. People who would have never done that — people like my mother. (Laughter.) And that would energize me.
And when I got discouraged, I would think of folks opening their wallets even when they didn’t have much to give. The one dollar. The 25 dollars. People who would take their last little bit and give it to this campaign.
I would think of folks who had the courage to let themselves believe again and hope again. You know, the folks who never thought this country would ever embrace the Obamas, right, because of all the pain, all the history. But they let themselves. They took that chance to put their emotions on the line again. And that would give me hope.
And the simple truth is that today, four years later, we are here because of all of you. And I’m not just talking about winning an election. I’m talking about what we have been doing every day in the White House since that time to keep fighting for the folks we met on that campaign trail and the values we share. I’m talking about what your President Barack Obama has been doing to help all of us win the future. All of us.
And at a time when we still have so many challenges and so much work ahead — because we do — it is very easy to forget about what we’ve done along the way.
So let me just step back a moment and let’s think about these last couple of years. Two years, okay?
We’ve gone from an economy on the brink of collapse to an economy that’s starting to grow. (Applause.) Two years. (Applause.) We’re helping middle class families by cutting taxes for them, working to stop credit card companies from taking advantage of those folks. We’re going to give working moms and dads a childcare tax credit because we know how those costs add up. We’re helping women get equal pay for equal work. That was my husband’s first bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act — (applause) — very first thing he did when he entered office. (Applause.)
And of course, because of health reform, millions of folks will finally be able to afford a doctor. (Applause.) Their insurance companies won’t be able to drop their coverage when they get sick, or charge them through the roof because their child has a pre-existing condition. Never again. And they now have to cover preventative care — you know, things like prenatal care, mammograms. And this isn’t just about saving money. It’s about saving lives.
And because we don’t want to leave our kids a mountain of debt, we’re reducing our deficit by doing what families across America have to do already — cutting back so that we can start living within our means, and then investing in the things that really matter — things like clean energy, so that we can really bring those gas prices down. (Applause.) Things like scientific research, including stem cell research. (Applause.)
We’re also investing in community colleges. (Applause.) And we all know for so many people these are the gateway to opportunity for so many people, and Pell Grants, which help so many young people afford their tuition. And through a competition called Race to the Top, we’ve got 40 states working to raise standards and reform their schools.
We’re working to live up to our founding values of freedom and equality. And today, because the President of the United States ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. (Applause.)
And it may have felt like this happened a while ago, but it still counts, you may recall that my husband appointed two brilliant Supreme Court Justices, and for the first time in history, our daughters — and our sons — watched three women take their seats on our nation’s highest court. (Applause.)
This administration is also working to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. We’re responsibly ending the war in Iraq; already brought home 100,000 men and women in uniform who have served our country so bravely. (Applause.)
And thanks to the tireless work of our intelligence and counter-terrorism communities, the heroic efforts of our troops, the man behind 9/11 and so many other horrific acts of terror has finally been brought to justice. That’s what this President did. (Applause.)
And finally, as Barbara mentioned, we’re also tackling two issues near and dear to my heart, not just as a First Lady but as a mom.
And the first is childhood obesity, childhood nutrition. This issue doesn’t just affect our kids’ health and how they feel. But we all know it affects how they feel about themselves, it affects whether they will have the energy and the stamina to succeed in school and in life and to be the leaders we know they must be. So we’re working hard to get better food into our schools and into our communities and help parents make better decisions for their kids.
The second issue is one that I came to on the campaign trail, meeting so many extraordinary military families. These folks, as Barbara mentioned, are raising their kids and running their households all alone while they have spouses who have been deployed and redeployed and redeployed. And they do it with courage and strength and pride. So that’s why Jill Biden and I launched a nationwide campaign to rally our country so that we serve them as well as they serve us.
So that’s what — the few things we’ve done for two years. (Laughter and applause.) I could go on, but this is breakfast and I don’t want to hold you.
So I think it’s fair to say that we have made some significant change these last couple of years. And we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished. But we should never be satisfied, because we know that we still have a lot of work to do. We know that too many of our kids still don’t have what they need to succeed. We know that too many folks are still struggling to pay the bills.
And the truth is, is that all the folks that we campaigned for, and that we won for, and that we’ve been fighting for these past two years, those folks still need our help.
And that, more than anything else, is what drives my husband as President. That’s what I see when he comes home after a long day at the Oval or traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people that he meets. And I see those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he’s reading letters from people — because he always reads people’s letters, always. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose health insurance wouldn’t cover her care. The letter from the young person with so much promise, but so few opportunities.
And I see the sadness and the worry creasing his face. I hear the passion and determination in his voice. Says, “You won’t believe what folks are going through.” Says, “Michelle, this isn’t right. And we have to fix it. We have to do more.”
See, what you all need to know about the President you helped to elect is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap, and that 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 in his heart. And that is what he carries with him every day — that collection of hopes, and dreams, and struggles.
That is where Barack gets his passion. And that’s why he works so hard every day. I mean, this is a hardworking man. (Laughter.) Starting first thing in the morning everyday — everyday — going bed late at night everyday, hunched over briefing books, reading every single word. And he has a gift in that way, able to retain information, know more than those who are briefing him, asking critical questions, because all of those wins and losses are not wins and losses for him. They are wins and losses for the folks whose stories he carries with him, the folks that he worries about and prays about before he goes to bed at night.
And in the end, for Barack, and for me, and I know for all of you, that is what politics is about. That’s what it’s supposed to be about. It is not about one person. It has never been about one President. I said that all during the campaign. It’s not about electing Barack Obama. It’s about how we work together to make real changes that make a real difference in people’s lives. And we’re doing that. The young person attending college today because she can finally afford it, that is happening. The mom or the dad who can take their child to a doctor because of health reform, that is happening. The folks who are working on the line today at places like GM, and bringing home a good paycheck for their families, that’s real.
And now, more than ever before, we have to finish what we started. And we need your help. We need all of you to be with us for the next phase of this journey. And I’m not going to kid you, it is going to be long. It is going to be hard. It’s supposed to be. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way.
But here’s the thing about Barack Obama — and this is something that I’d appreciate even if he hadn’t shown the good sense to marry me. (Laughter and applause.) I truly believe that one of his greatest strengths is that in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, and we’re all wringing our hands — oh, Lord, what’s he doing now? Why is he doing that? (Laughter.) Just shake him! (Laughter.) We all want Barack to lose his cool and do something. (Laughter.)
I know. I’ve said it before. (Laughter.) I’m right there. But 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.
And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, when we’re worried about whether the bill will pass, or the negotiations might fall through, Barack always reminds me that we are playing a long game here. Our vision is way back there. And he reminds me that change is slow; that good things take time. But he also tells me that if we keep showing up, and if we keep fighting the good fight, and more importantly doing what we know is right, then we’ll always get there, because we always have. And that’s something we have to remember. We always have. In this country we get to the right place. It may hurt a little bit, it may take more time than we’d like, but we get there.
And that’s what he needs from you. He needs you to be in this with him for the long haul. He needs you to hold fast to our vision and our values and our dreams for our kids and for this country. He needs you to work like you’ve never worked before, because that’s what I plan on doing. And I will do it happily.
And I won’t be doing it as a wife or as a First Lady. I do this because I’m a mother who wants my kids to have a legacy that they can be proud of. More importantly, I do it as a citizen who knows that we can do amazing things together to change this country for the better — I know that now — because the truth is, is that no matter what happens to life along the way, my girls are going to be okay. I’m going to see to that. My girls will have advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for all the kids in this room. They are blessed.
But I think the last four years have shown us that the — 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 it is not our son or our daughter. (Applause.) If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune, because that’s not what we do in this country. That’s not who we are.
In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story. Like it or not, we are all in this together. And that’s a good thing, as it should be. And I know that if we put our hearts and our souls into this, and if we do what we need to do over these next couple of years, then we can keep making that change we believe in. I know that we can build that country we want for our kids.
So I have one last question. Are you all in? (Applause.) I mean, are you ready for this? Because I am. I’m ready and I hope that you are all fired up — not little flames, but big, huge, gigantic flames — fired up and ready to go, because we are going to need you. Barack and I are going to work our tails off. (Laughter.) And we’re going to need you praying for us and loving us and caring about us and caring about these issues more than anything else.
I look forward to getting back out there with all of you in the months and years ahead. Thank you for all you’ve done for us to this day. (Applause.) And thank you for everything we’re going to do in the years to come.
You all take care. It was great to be here. (Applause.)
END 10:48 A.M. PDT