Remarks by the President at a DNC Event

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: April 21, 2011
Location: San Francisco, CA

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Please -- thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Everybody sit down. Have a seat.

I know all of you wish that Stevie would just keep on playing. (Laughter.) I understand that, and I can relate to it. I was mentioning to Marc -- and I hate to do this to you, Stevie, because I'm dating you a little bit -- but the first album that I ever bought with my own little spending money was "Talking Book." I was 10 years old. (Applause.) I was 10 years old, and I would sit in my room and I had this old phonograph, and the earphones were like really big. You didn't have the little iPod buds. They covered your whole ear. And I would sit in my room and pretend I was Stevie Wonder. (Laughter.) And unfortunately, my grandparents, who were -- I was living with at the time, they had to suffer hearing me sing. I couldn't hear myself sing. I was just hearing Stevie, and I figured I sounded just like him. (Laughter.) But I'm sure that was not the case.

Anyway, Stevie and will.i.am have both been huge supporters, huge friends from very early on in this campaign process. And so it's wonderful to have them here. But I want to most of all thank Marc and Lynne -- and Leia -- for sharing their homes. This is an incredible setting, but what makes it special is the fact that I've got a lot of friends in this room.

As Marc indicated, people who are leaders, not just in this community but nationally and internationally, but so many of you helped get this project started. Some of you are involved in startups. Well, I was a startup just -- not so long ago. And when I think about that campaign in 2008, the fact is, so many of you took a chance on me. It was not at all likely that I was going to win. A lot of people couldn't pronounce my name, much less expect that I would end up being in the Oval Office.

But a lot of you put faith in that campaign, primarily because the campaign wasn't about me. What the campaign was about was a particular vision of America, an idea about who we are as a people. It was a notion that for all our differences, for all the shifts that have taken place in this country, for all our sometimes troubled history, despite -- no, because of our diversity of race and faith and region, that there was something special when we come together, and that we can somehow combine a fierce individualism and a sense of entrepreneurship and risk-taking and self-reliance and responsibility with also a sense of community, a sense of mutual obligation, a sense that our lives are better if we're looking out for one another.

And that spirit was captured in the campaign, and I was sort of a repository for a lot of hopes and expectations that we could get past so many of the divisions and start working together because we were facing some fundamental challenges in this country that we hadn't seen in a very long time.

Now, as Marc mentioned, I think none of us realized how profound some of the crises that we were going to confront would be. When I started running, and even up until maybe a couple months before the campaign, we didn't realize we faced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We didn't realize that we had already lost 4 million jobs by the time I was sworn in and would lose another 4 million probably in the first three, four, six months of my presidency.

We didn't understand the degree to which the financial system might melt down and its global consequences. And yet, despite the enormous economic challenges we faced, despite the changes that we're seeing internationally, we have made extraordinary progress -- not just pulling the economy back from the brink, but also pushing through that vision that we had, making an America that was more competitive, that was more inclusive, an America that was tapping into that entrepreneurial spirit and once again regaining our edge in this 21st-century global economy, and ended up delivering on promises and commitments that we had made to each other that we knew were going to be very hard, but we knew were going to be important for our future.

So not only did we make the biggest investment in education that the federal government has ever made, not only did we make the biggest investment in clean energy in our history, not only did we make the biggest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System, not only did we put the most money in basic research in our history, but we passed a health care bill that finally began to deliver on the promise of universal health care, something we'd been trying to do for a hundred years.

We got "don't ask, don't tell" repealed so that anybody who loves this country can serve this country. We got two women on the Supreme Court including the first Latino woman -- the first Latina on the Supreme Court. (Applause.)

On issue after issue we've made progress. Now, here's the challenge -- and then I'm going to shut up because I want to -- well, I won't shut up, I want to take some questions from folks. For all the good work that we've done, we're not finished. We've got more work to do.

And I think most of the people here understand that we still have some fundamental choices to make in this country if we're going to deliver the kind of America to our children and our grandchildren that we dreamed about and thought about in 2008.

The economy is still not as strong as it needs to be, and we've still got millions of people all around the country who are out of work, at risk of losing their home, can't pay their bills. And we've got to deliver for them.

There are still too many children out there who are in substandard schools, can't imagine working for one of the companies that are represented here today, don't even know these companies exist, can't imagine a career that was stable and steady and that would allow them to raise a family, so we're going to have to deliver on education reform here and all across the country, and make sure that those kids can go to college and get career-ready.

We're not finished when it comes to energy. Right now we've got $4-a-gallon gas, and most of the people under this tent don't have to worry about that. But for the average person who has to drive 50 miles to work and can't afford to buy the Tesla -- (laughter) -- it's hammering them. It's hurting them. So there's a huge economic imperative. There's a national security imperative, as well, because we see what's happening in the Middle East and we understand that a finite resource that is primarily located in a very unstable part of the world is not good for our long-term future.

And then there's the environmental aspect of it. There are climate change deniers in Congress and when the economy gets tough, sometimes environmental issues drop from people's radar screens. But I don't think there's any doubt that unless we are able to move forward in a serious way on clean energy that we're putting our children and our grandchildren at risk.

So that's not yet done. And then we've got this big budget debate that we're having, which really is probably the most fundamental example of the choice that we're going to be facing over the next 10, 15, 20 years. And I won't repeat some of the speeches that I've given recently because I suspect some of you have heard them. But let me just be very clear: The deficit is real. Our debt is real. We've got to do something about it. But how we do it is going to make a huge difference in terms of whether we can win the future.

And we've got a very stark choice. You've got a Republican vision right now in Congress that says we are going to slash clean energy funding by 70 percent, education funding by 25 percent, transportation funding by a third; we're going to cut taxes further for the well-to-do; and we're going to make up the entire deficit not only by cutting programs for things like Head Start, but we're also going to fundamentally change our social compact so that Medicare is no longer something that our seniors can count on.

The alternative vision, the one that I presented, says we can manage this debt and this deficit in a serious way by eliminating spending we don't need, saving $2 trillion making some tough choices, but also raising a trillion dollars' worth of revenue primarily from folks like us who have benefited incredibly from this society and everything that it offers, that will save us a trillion dollars on interest, and that we can change our health care system so instead of just shifting those costs on to people who aren't in a position to bear those costs, actually making the health care system more efficient, making it work -- using things like health IT and managing of chronic care, and making sure that our providers are reimbursed in smarter ways, to bend the cost curve on health care so that it's sustainable for the next generation.

That's a fundamental choice, a fundamental distinction in terms of how we view the future.

And so I'll just close these opening remarks by saying that I am a congenital optimist when it comes to this country, and I do not accept a vision that says America gets small, where suddenly we can't build a world-class smart grid, or we can't build the best ports and airports, or we don't have the best scientific research, or our kids can no longer access the best universities unless they're wealthy, or we can't afford to look after people who are the most vulnerable in our society, or we can't provide a guarantee to our seniors that they're going to be cared for after a lifetime of hard work.

That's the easy path, in some ways. I mean, the easiest thing to do is for the rich and the powerful to say, we've got ours and we don't have to worry about the rest. Doesn't require a lot of imagination. The easiest way to cut health care is just stop giving health care to people.

But that's not the America I believe in. That's not the America you believe in. And that's what 2012 is going to be about. We started something in 2008; we haven't finished it yet. And I'm going to need you to help me finish it.