THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I just want to thank Stewart and Sandra for setting up this extraordinary event. It is true that this is now the third time I've been here. It's been said by a friend of mine, Abner Mikva, former member of Congress, that being friends with a politician is like perpetually having a student in college. (Laughter.) But this is the last campaign. I'm about to graduate. (Laughter.) So those tuition checks will slowly diminish.
There was also suggestion that we might sing a duet together. (Applause.) And I have to tell you, though, you try to limit these appearances so that you leave them hungry for more. (Laughter.) So we may not hear me singing for quite some time.
I'm going to be very brief on the front end because I want to spend most of my time in a conversation with you guys and make sure that we have time for questions.
There he is. (Laughter.) She stole your thunder, man.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I decided to show up. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: But, look, we've gone through three of the toughest years that we've seen in our lifetimes. And a lot of folks are still hurting out there. But as I said at the State of the Union last week, we're beginning to see progress. We averted a great depression. The auto industry has come back and GM is number one again. I just went to the auto show today to see some of the terrific cars that Detroit is churning out.
We've had 3 million jobs created over the last 22 months and we had the highest job growth last year since 2005, the highest manufacturing job growth since the 1990s. There is a sense that although there's still a lot of uncertainties out there -- Europe, the price of oil -- that America is slowly repairing from this extraordinary economic and financial crisis.
And during the last three years, even as we singularly focused on making sure that we were able to right the ship, we were also able to accomplish a lot of goals that we had set for ourselves in 2008 -- whether it was passing health care reform so that already 2.5 million young people have insurance that wouldn't have it otherwise and senior citizens are seeing discounts on their prescription drugs, and we're now setting up exchanges all across the country so that never again would somebody with a preexisting condition finds themselves barred from being able to get health insurance.
We were able to end "don't ask, don't tell" so that it doesn't matter who you love, you can serve the country that you love. We were able to take billions of dollars that were going to banks as middlemen for students loans and now it's being channeled directly to students so that millions of young people across the country find college a little bit more affordable.
We have made progress on a whole variety of fronts, domestically. And obviously, internationally we kept one of the first promises I made as President of the United States and that was to end the war in Iraq in a responsible way. And we're now in the process of transitioning in Afghanistan.
But having said all that, we have so much more work to do -- because what compelled me to run in the first place back in 2008 was a larger challenge. It had to do with what had happened to the American promise, the idea if you work hard then you can find a job that supports a family, and you can send your kids to college, and you can retire with dignity and respect -- that basic compact that said no matter who you are, no matter where you came from, you could make it if you try, that had been slipping away from too many people for too long.
And that was a set of challenges that were decades in the making. We never expected to solve those overnight, but what we understand is that the defining issue of our time is how we restore the basic promise of the American Dream.
And last week at the State of the Union, I laid out a blueprint for how we get there that involves rebuilding American manufacturing and replicating the success we've had in the auto industry across the board. It means revitalizing how we train our young people for the jobs of the 21st century, creating skills for American workers, not just through four-year colleges but also through two-year colleges.
It means having an American energy policy that doesn't just look to the past, but also looks to the future -- clean energy, solar, wind, biodiesel, and electric cars.
And it means the restoration of American values where we're certain that everybody is playing by the same set of rules, whether it comes to Wall Street and how they treat their customers, whether it comes to dealing with polluters and making sure that we still have clean air and clean water, but also when it comes to our tax code and ensuring that those investments we have to make in basic research and science and infrastructure -- all the things that help make us an economic superpower -- that we're able to pay for those without adding to the deficit. And that means that we have a tax system that's more equitable, and we're stripping out the loopholes and the special deals that have been carved out for so long.
That's our challenge. That's what we're fighting for. And the other side has a fundamentally different idea about how to move this country forward. It's a vision that got us into this mess in the first place and we can't go back to it. And, frankly, the American people are not buying this notion that what will cure our ills is more tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans, and a rolling back of regulations designed to protect American consumers and our children from pollution. People don't believe that that somehow is a recipe for success over the long term.
The challenge we have is people have gone through three years of really tough times. And so they don't experience the economy in some abstract way; they're experiencing it in terms of not being able to find a job, or their house being underwater, or their kids having to come back even after they've gotten a college education and tens of thousands of dollars in debt and still not being able to find a job. And given the difficulties that a lot of folks are still going through, it's not surprising that they're feeling doubtful. Even if we're moving in the right direction, their sense is, gosh, we sure hope -- we sure wish that it went faster.
So this is going to be a tough race because of that economic reality, not because of the ideas of the other side. And our job over the next year is to make sure that, number one, we make the case about what we've done, because we have an extraordinary record, a story to tell that resonates with the American people when they have the facts -- and, number two, to lift up the prospects, the possibility, of an America where once again people who are responsible and are doing the right thing are able to get ahead.
And I think we can accomplish those things, but I'm going to need your help. This is not going to be easy. This is going to be tough. And since 2008, as I often say, my hair is now grayer and I've got a few more dings. (Laughter.) Sometimes I look at pictures of the campaign and I say, gosh, I was really young. (Laughter.)
But you know my determination, my passion for making sure that everybody has a chance in this country, the same sense of determination that I had in 2008, it's stronger now than it was then. I am absolutely convinced that we're on the right track and we just got to fight for it.
I'm going to need you to help, but if you do, then we're going to have five more years to be able to get everything done that needs to get done so that this country reflects the values that we all care so deeply about.