THE PRESIDENT: I'm going to use a mic just because we've got two rooms. Everybody please have a seat. Sit down, sit down.
I'm among a lot of friends and I, first of all, obviously want to thank Jon and Sharon for hosting us in this extraordinary venue. These guys have been just great friends from the start. Some of you know that Jon was a big supporter of mine in my first U.S. Senate race when nobody could pronounce my name. (Laughter.) And I had a chance to meet Sharon then and could already see that -- where that was going. (Laughter.) So it is wonderful to see them together as newly-weds and we are just thrilled to be with them.
I also want to thank Orin and Michael for the extraordinary work that you guys did. I know that you guys worked really hard as co-hosts to this event, and I'm very grateful. They have both been long-time supporters and long-time friends and I really appreciate them. So give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)
So today was a fun day. (Laughter.) I wasn't -- nobody checked my ID at the door. (Laughter.) But it was also a serious day because part of what happened this morning was me trying to remind the press and trying to remind both parties that what we do in politics is not a reality show. It's serious.
I get, as many of you know, 10 letters a night from citizens all across the country, and the letters you get, some of them are heartbreaking; almost all of them are inspiring. And the story these letters tell are of people who have done everything right, are looking after their families, are looking after their communities, are participating in Little League, are members of their church or their synagogues and active participants, volunteer, and yet are worried. They're worried about the direction of our country. They're worried about their specific circumstances.
Sometimes I get letters from children who are worried about their parents losing a job. And I get letters from parents describing what it's like to send 16 resumes out and not get a response. I hear from families who are worried about losing their homes. I worry about small businesses who have put their heart and soul and everything they own into something that was working and now suddenly credit has been pulled back and they're not sure if they're going to make it.
And most of all, I think what you find are people who are worried about the future of the American Dream. Now, everybody here, almost by definition, has lived out that American Dream. We have been extraordinarily blessed by a country that historically has provided more opportunity to more people than any other in history. Many of us are children of immigrants. Sharon was just describing what it was like for her parents to come here from other countries -- in some cases, fleeing the Holocaust -- and somehow being able to make a life for their families and then ultimately see their children and their grandchildren succeed in ways that they never dreamed before. And that's the story for most of us.
And the question is, will that same story be told by our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren? And more importantly, will it be told by the folks who do all the work here in New York City and all across the country, washing dishes and maintaining lawns and working at factories? Are they going to be able to tell that same story?
That's what prompted me to run for the United States Senate when Jon first supported me; that's what prompted me to run for President. I wanted to be the advocate for an America that continues to offer opportunity to everybody, regardless of race and creed and color.
And I didn't expect that not only I would have the extraordinary honor of taking this highest office, but also doing so at a time when we were facing the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Now, we've spent two years cleaning up after a big mess. And not all the decisions that we made were popular. I think most of the decisions we made were right. Because of the actions that we took swiftly upon coming into office, the financial system stabilized, and I think that if you asked anybody back in March of 2009 whether we were going to see almost all of the losses on Wall Street recover, the financial system working again at relatively modest costs to taxpayers, I think most of us would have taken that scenario.
We have a auto industry that for the first time in a very long time is turning a profit, and has hired back workers instead of laying them off. We have been able to take an economy that was shrinking at about 6 percent per quarter and is now growing. And we've added 2 million jobs over the last 13 months in the private sector alone.
So we've made extraordinary process. And along the way we've done a few other things, like make sure that families aren't going bankrupt because they get sick; and making sure that equal pay for equal work is a reality; and appointing a couple of women to the Supreme Court -- because Lord knows we need more women on that court -- (applause) -- and ending policies like "don't ask, don't tell," that were prohibiting people who loved each other from being able to serve. (Applause.)
So we've made enormous progress, but those letters tell me that we haven't made enough. We've still got a lot of work to do. We've got a lot of work to do to continue to lower the unemployment rate and grow the economy. We've got a lot of work to do to make sure that we get control over a deficit and debt that is a serious threat to our long-term future. And we've got to do it in a way that ensures that we're making the investments that allow us to be competitive in the 21st century -- investments in education, investments in infrastructure, investments in basic research and science, which have always been the hallmark of a dynamic American economy.
We've got a lot more work to do to fix an immigration system that's broken. And we have a lot more work to do to make sure that we've got an energy policy that works. So I am not satisfied with the progress we've made, but we're on the right track.
One other area that I'm not satisfied about is the fact that we haven't been able to create the kind of politics that I think we're going to need to meet all these challenges. Partly because of the stresses of the recession over the last couple of years, politics is as polarized as ever. And I think the hope that I have that we would start coming together in a serious way and have a serious debate about how we move the country forward has been resisted. I won't say that the Democrats have never been at fault in that, but I will say that my administration and I think Democrats in Congress are serious about trying to solve these problems and not simply to score political points. And I think it can be done.
But part of what's going to have to happen is that serious politics will need to be rewarded. We're going to have, between now and 2012, a serious debate about the kind of America we believe in. And it is my intention to make sure that as hopeful as 2008 was, I want 2012 to be an election in which we're not just talking slogans, we don't just have pretty posters, but we are looking soberly at the choices we face. Because, ultimately, I think if we had a serious debate, not only will Democrats win, not only will I win, but I think America will win.
I think the American people have good instincts. They're busy, they are preoccupied with family and work, and so sometimes they're not always paying close attention to these debates. But there is a clarifying moment that is occurring now symbolized by the debate between the House Republican budget and the budget that I presented in terms of how we deal with deficit and debt that I think will focus people's attention.
And we've got the potential, I think, to make some decisions that are going to have ramifications for the next 50 years. I'm optimistic we'll make the right decisions. And I'm optimistic that for the next five-and-a-half years I'm going to be able to do my part in leading the country in a good direction.
But I'm not going to be able to do it alone. I'm going to have to have the help of all of you. And, as I said, in 2008, it was -- I had a lot less gray hair -- (laughter) -- and it was exciting, partly because it was so unlikely that I could be elected. And now I'm the incumbent and folks have various disappointments and, well, he hasn't gotten this done fast enough and we're still waiting for that to happen.
And that's understandable. We're not going to have the same kind of campaign entirely that we had in 2008. But the animated spirit behind it, the desire to make sure that that American Dream is available for everybody and that we have -- when we have tough decisions to make, we have shared sacrifice, no single group or person is bearing that burden, and that we're also making sure that we've got shared opportunity and access -- that animating spirit at the core of my campaign, the belief that there's a lot more that we have in common than what drives us apart, that hasn't changed. And my enthusiasm for this job and my optimism about America is not diminished.
So I hope that all of you guys understand that this is going to be a long, hard road. In some ways, it's going to be a little bit harder than the first time around. But I'm confident we're going to succeed. And I'm confident America is going to succeed. And, in part, all of you make me confident about that.
So thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)