THE PRESIDENT: Well, I can follow a lawyer, but following a poet. (Laughter.) That's hard. (Laughter.)
I'm so grateful to Chaka and Tracey and their beautiful daughters for opening up this great home. I want to acknowledge somebody who is doing outstanding work on behalf of Illinois families every single day -- your Governor, Pat Quinn. (Applause.)
It's nice to be back on the South Side. (Applause.) For some reason they didn't -- whoever organized this didn't understand the geography of Chicago. (Laughter.) I came south, now I'm going to have to go back north. (Laughter.) And then I go home back south. (Laughter.) We could have just kept on going. (Laughter.) But it's good to be home and it's good to see so many good friends, and I appreciate all the new ones.
It is true Chaka and I have know each other for a long time. The first time we met he was still a young up-and-comer. (Laughter.) Now he's a big ship. (Laughter.) Now he's a big ship in the deep ocean. (Laughter.) But not only has he not gotten any gray hair -- whereas I have -- (laughter) -- but he hasn't changed in terms of his graciousness and his character. And so we're just really appreciative of the friendship that we have.
Usually in intimate settings like this, I don't like to give a long speech. I'd rather have a conversation with everybody, have a chance to answer questions, take comments. So let me just say a few things at the top.
First of all, obviously we've gone through an extraordinary time over the last four years -- the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression -- a worldwide contraction, a locking-up of the financial markets, businesses bleeding, blue-chip companies not being able to finance themselves, consumers getting hammered in the housing market crashing. And so we had to make a series of decisions very quickly at the beginning of my administration.
And we, for the most part, made the right decisions. They weren't always popular, but because of those decisions, the auto industry came roaring back. Because of those decisions, suddenly credit started flowing again. Because of those decisions, we were out there exporting goods once again all around the world. Because of those decisions, the ship was righted and we started growing again, and started producing jobs again. And we've now seen over 4 million jobs created over the last couple years, and we've seen just in the last six months alone over 800,000 jobs created, the strongest manufacturing job growth since the 1990s.
And so there's a sense, even with a disappointing jobs report today because of what's happening in Europe -- we're now a global economy, it's integrated, so when something happens across the Atlantic or across the Pacific it gives us a shock. Despite all that, though, we're moving in the right direction. But we're not moving as fast as we could be. And more importantly, the reason I ran, and the reason a lot of you supported me, wasn't just to get back to the status quo; it was to address the underlying challenges that had prevented us from creating an economy that on a sustained basis can provide the security and hope and promise for people who were willing to work hard, middle-class families who want to live out that dream of being able to buy a home and raise a family and send their kids to college and make sure that they're doing even better than they did.
And that's the reason why, even as we've done all this work to try to get the economy moving in the right direction -- in fits and starts, as frustrating as it sometimes has been -- what we've also tried to do is think about the future, where are we going. And that's the reason why we dealt with fuel-efficiency standards on cars, and doubled the production of clean energy, even as we were increasing the production of oil and gas -- because we want to make sure that we've got control of our energy future. That's going to be critical for our success.
That's the reason we decided to double exports, because we don't want to just be a country that consumes things, we want to be a country that sells things.
That's the reason why we invested so heavily in education reform. And some great work is being done in Illinois, but all across the country -- over 40 states have engaged in some unprecedented reforms looking for results. And that's the reason why we made college more accessible by greatly increasing the access to student loans and Pell grants, making sure that young people have the ability to train themselves for the skills they need for the 21st century.
That's the reason why we did health care reform, because not only was health care killing families but it was also just -- it was the single factor in driving our deficits and a huge strain on American businesses that were making us less competitive. So I could not be prouder of the fact that 30 million people are going to have access to health care who didn't have it before. Young people already are able to stay on their parent's plan. Seniors are seeing discounts for their prescription drugs that are making the difference in their quality of life.
And on the international scene, because, as I said, we don't live -- just to continue the nautical theme -- (laughter) -- no country is an island. (Laughter.) Some countries are islands. (Laughter.) Europe -- the world is interconnected. And so we had a goal of righting the ship of foreign policy, regaining respect around the world, strengthening our alliances, ending the war in Iraq, phasing down the war in Afghanistan, going after al Qaeda in a way that's smart so that not only did we get bin Laden, but also we weakened al Qaeda to the point where it's much more difficult for them to threaten our homeland or our allies.
So that's a lot of work for a relatively short period of time. But we've got so much more work to do. And that's where we're going to need your help. This is going to be a close election; this is going to be a tough election. I'm absolutely confident that the agenda we have to further expand clean energy and to invest in science and technology, in balancing our deficits and reducing our debt in a balanced way, in making sure that we keep Wall Street reform that will prevent the kinds of shenanigans that got us into this mess in the first place, making sure we maintain health care reform that is providing, for example, preventive care for women -- I want to make sure that stays in place and we're implementing it effectively because that's going to be part of how we create an economy that lasts for everybody, not just for a few.
But in order to do it, we're going have to want it; we're going to have to fight for it. And you proved in 2008 when people come together they can't be stopped. That's what we're going to do in 2012 as well.
So thank you very much. (Applause.)