REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY AT 2012 LUNCH RECEPTION
Private Residence Cape Elizabeth, Maine
1:33 P.M. EDT
No, it is beautiful. I want to start by thanking Bonnie and Karen for that beautiful introduction, for all the work that they’re doing, as well as their better halves, Bobby, Rob. I know you guys did a little, too, I’m sure. But Bobby and Bonnie, thank you for hosting us in this magnificent home. I would love to take you up on the offer of coming back and being normal, whenever that happens. (Laughter.)
But thank you for this time as well. So let’s give them a round of applause for all their hard work. (Applause.)
And I also want to recognize a couple of other people who are here and will be hanging out with me today. Representatives Michaud, who’s here, and Pingree, who’s here. Yay, they’re here. (Applause.) As well as former Governor Baldacci, who is working with us every step of the way doing a great job over at DOD. And of course my dear friend and our DNC finance chair, Jane Stetson, who is here with her beautiful daughter. (Applause.) Thanks for hanging out.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for taking the time on this beautiful day. You probably would rather be walking around in the park or doing something. But you’re here with me at this event. (Laughter.) Yeah, you would. The lobster is good, I can see.
But I am thrilled to see so many new faces, but I’m also thrilled to see so many old friends as well, folks who have been with us since the very beginning, through all the ups and downs along the way. And I know that there is a reason other than the great weather and lobster that you’re here today. You’re here because you know that we stand at a fundamental crossroads in our country. You’re here because you know that in 13 months we’re going to make a choice that will impact our lives for decades to come. And you’re here because you love this country. You love your fellow citizens. You’re here because you care about your kids and grandkids and you care about the world that we’re going to be leaving for them.
And that’s why I’m here. That’s why I am going to be working so hard over this next year, for that very reason. You see, as First Lady, I have the privilege of traveling all across the country, meeting folks from all different backgrounds, and hearing what’s going on in their lives every day. Every day I hear about the businesses that folks are trying to keep afloat. I hear about the doctor’s bills that they cannot pay, or the mortgage that they can no longer afford. I hear about how they’re taking on that extra shift, or working that extra job, how they’re saving and sacrificing, never spending a dime on themselves because they desperately want something better for their kids.
And make no mistake about it, if we think about it, these struggles aren’t new. For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The cost of things like gas and groceries and tuition have been rising continuously, but people’s paychecks just haven’t kept up. And when this economic crisis hit, for so many families, the bottom just fell out.
So the question today is, what are we as a country going to do about all this? Where do we go from here? And I know that in the midst of all the chatter and the debates, it can be hard to see clearly what’s at stake. Because these issues are complicated, and folks are busy. We’re raising our families, working full-time jobs, many of us helping out in our communities.
So many of us, we just don’t have the time to follow the news and sort through all the back and forth and figure out how all of this connects to our daily lives. But the fact is that in a little over a year from now, we are going to make a decision between two very different visions for this country.
And I’m here today because when it comes to just about every single issue we face — from our health, to our economic security, to the quality of our schools — the stakes for our families, and for our country, have never been higher.
Let’s start with the American Jobs Act that my husband just sent to Congress. (Applause.)
When we talk about how this bill will give tax cuts to 6 million small businesses, we’re talking about folks who run the restaurants and the stores and the startups that create two-thirds of all new jobs each year. Two-thirds. We’re talking about people who work themselves to the bone during the day every day, then head home and pore over the books late into the night, determined to make those numbers add up.
We’re talking about a tax cut that could mean the difference between providing for their families or not, the difference between hiring new employees or handing out pink slips, between keeping their doors open, or closing up shop for good.
That’s what’s at stake in this election.
When we talk about how this bill would extend unemployment insurance for 6 million Americans, we’re talking about folks who are just weeks away from losing their only source of income.
Now, this literally means that millions of families and children will be affected in terms of how much food they can put on the table, whether they have a roof over their heads. It’s about whether folks will have more money in their pockets, which means more money in our economy, which means more jobs.
But more importantly, it’s about whether we as a country will honor that fundamental promise that we made generations ago, that when times are hard, we don’t abandon our fellow citizens. We don’t let everything fall apart for struggling families.
Instead, we say, “There but for the grace of God goes my family.” Instead, we remember that we’re all in this together, and we extend a helping hand.
That is the choice in this election.
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.)
He did this because, as he put it, we believe that here in America there are no second-class citizens in our workplace. And he did it because he understands that when nearly two-thirds of women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, women’s success in this economy is the key to families’ success in this economy, and closing that pay gap can mean the difference between women losing 50, 100, 500 dollars from each paycheck, or having that money to put gas in their car, buy groceries, school clothes for their kids.
That is the choice that we’re making in this election.
And let’s talk a minute about health care. Last year, we made history together by finally passing health reform. (Applause.) But now, there are folks out there talking about repealing this reform. And today, we need to ask ourselves, will we let them succeed? Will we let insurance companies deny us coverage because we have preexisting conditions like breast cancer or diabetes? Or will we stand up and say that in this country, we will not allow folks to go bankrupt because they get sick? Who are we?
Will we let insurance companies refuse to cover basic preventative care — things like cancer screenings and prenatal care that saves money and saves lives? Or will we stand up not just for our lives but for the lives of the people we love?
That is what’s at stake here. That is the choice in this election.
And think for a moment about what we’ve done on education. Think about the investments we’ve made to raise standards and reform public schools. It’s about improving the circumstances for millions of children in this country — kids sitting in crumbling classrooms who have so much promise. You’ve seen these kids. Kids who could be anything they wanted if we just gave them a chance.
Think about how we’ve tripled investments for job training at community colleges just this year. That’s about millions of hardworking folks who are determined to get the skills they need for a better job and for better wages — folks willing to do whatever it takes to improve their own lives.
These folks are working full-time, they’re raising their kids, yet they still make it to class every night, study late into the night because they desperately want something better for their families.
And make no mistake about it, this kind of investment in our students and in our workers will determine nothing less than the future of this economy. It’s going to 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 in this election.
And we can’t forget what it meant when my husband appointed those two brilliant Supreme Court justices. (Applause.) And for the first time in history, our daughters and our sons watched three women take their seats on our nation’s highest court.
And let’s not forget the impact their decisions will have on our lives for decades to come — on our privacy, our security, on whether we can speak freely, worship openly, love whomever we choose. (Applause.)
That is what’s at stake in this election.
And think about how we are finally bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan — (applause) — and helping them and their families get the education, the employment and the benefits that they’ve earned.
And we can’t forget about how we finally ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” — (applause) — and now our troops will never again have to lie about who they love to serve the country they love.
Think about how we finally brought to justice the man behind the 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific acts of terror. (Applause.)
And think about what it means to finally have a foreign policy where we work to keep our country safe but we also restore our standing in the world.
That is what is at stake in this election.
So make no mistake about it, whether it’s health care or our economy, education, foreign policy, the choice we make in this election will determine nothing less than who we are as a country — and more importantly, who we want to be.
Will we be a country that tells folks who’ve done everything right but are struggling, “tough luck, you’re on your own”? Is that who we are? Or will we honor the fundamental American belief that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, and if one of us is hurting, then we all are hurting? Who are we? Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to a few at the top? Or will we give every child a chance to succeed no matter where she’s from or what she looks like or how much money her parents have? Who are we?
Will we lose sight of those basic values that made our country great and built a thriving middle class? Or will we rebuild our economy for the long term so that work pays, responsibility is rewarded, and everyone — everyone — gets a fair shake and does their fair share? Who are we?
That is the choice we face. Those are the stakes.
And believe me, Barack Obama knows this. He understands these issues, not just because he’s smart but because he’s lived them. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to put herself through school and pay the bills. And when she needed help, who stepped in? His grandmother, waking up early every morning to take a bus to her job at the bank. His grandmother worked hard and she was good at what she did. But he watched as, for nearly two decades, she was passed over for promotions. Why? Because she was a woman. And she watched men no more qualified than she was — men she had actually trained — climb the corporate ladder ahead of her.
So believe me, 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.
And today, as a father, believe me, he knows what it means when you want your children to grow up with no limits to their dreams.
Those are the experiences that have made him the man and the President that he is today.
And that’s what I hear in his voice when he returns home from a long day traveling around the country, and he tells me about the people that he’s met. Those moments that I see late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and he’s in his office poring over the letters and the briefings, letters from people who have — just want him to hear his story. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose insurance company won’t cover her care. Or the letter from the father struggling to pay his family’s bills. The letter from the young person with so much promise but so few opportunities.
And I hear the passion in his voice and the determination. He says, “You won’t believe what these folks are going through.” That’s what he tells me. He says, “Michelle, this isn’t right. We have to fix this. We have so much more to do.”
What you all need to understand is that when it comes to the people Barack meets, he has a memory like a steel trap. He might not remember your name, but if he’s had a few moments and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It’s as if it becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries with him every day — that collection of hopes and dreams and struggles.
And that is where Barack Obama gets his passion. That is where he gets his toughness and his fight. And that’s why even in the hardest moments, when it seems as if all is lost, Barack never loses sight of the end goal. He’s looking at the long picture. He just keeps moving forward.
But I have said this before, and I will say to all of you again, he cannot do this alone. Never could. That was never the deal. He needs you to keep up that extraordinary work you’ve been doing. He needs you to keep on making those calls and registering voters. He needs you to take those — I know you’ve got “I’m in” cards on your table — fill them out, sign them up, get your friends, your neighbors, you colleagues to sign up. Convince them to join this effort, and along with you devote just a little part of their lives each week to this campaign.
And I’m not going to fool you. This journey is going to be long. It is going to be hard. And there will be plenty of twists and turns along the way. But the truth is that that’s really how change always happens in this country. It’s never easy. The reality is that change is slow. Barack said that. It doesn’t happen all at once. But the beauty is, if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, doing what we know is right, then eventually we get there. We always do. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes or our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Because in the end, that is what this is all about. In the end, we are not fighting these battles for ourselves. We are fighting them for our sons and our daughters, our grandsons and our granddaughters. We’re fighting for the world we want to leave for them.
And I’m in this fight 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. We know better. Because the truth is, no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. We’re blessed. My girls will still have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for many of your children and grandchildren as well.
But I think 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 he’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 because that’s not what we do in this country. That is 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 is a good thing. And we know that there, out there, here in this country, that we can shape our own destiny. We know that if we make the right choices and we have the right priorities, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair shake. We can do that. We can give everyone a chance to get ahead. We have that capacity.
So we can’t afford to be complacent, or tired, or frustrated. We don’t have time for that. It’s time to get to work.
So let me ask you one final question: Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Really, I need to hear this. (Applause.) Are you in?
MRS. OBAMA: Let me tell you, because I’m in. I am ready to fight for the country that we know we believe in. And I need you fired up. Are you fired up?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you ready to go?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, let’s get going. We need you, plus 10 times more. Can you do that?
MRS. OBAMA: We are going to work our butts off to make this right. So we need you behind us. Thank you so much, Maine. Thank you. Let’s get going! Let’s get to work!
END 1:55 P.M. EDT