And see what happens when you live in a nation where the vast majority of Americans are struggling every day to reach an ever-shifting and moving bar, then what happens in that nation is that people do become isolated. They do live in a level of division, because see, when you’re that busy struggling all the time, which most people that you know and I know are, that you don’t have time to get to know your neighbor. You don’t have time to reach out and have conversations, to share stories. In fact, you feel very alone in your struggle, because you feel that somehow, it must be your fault that you’re struggling so hard. Everybody else must be doing okay. I must be doing something wrong, so you hide. You don’t realize that the struggles of that farmer in rural Iowa are the same as the struggles as a city worker in the south side of Chicago, because we don’t talk to each other. And when you live in a nation with a vast majority of Americans are struggling to reach an ever-shifting and moving bar, then naturally, people become cynical. They don’t believe that politics can do anything for them. So they fold their arms in disgust, and they say you know, I can’t be bothered voting, because it has never done anything for me before. So let me stay home, let me not bother. Naturally, we as a nation get cynical.
And when you live in a nation where people are struggling every day to reach an ever-shifting and moving bar, then what happens in that kind of nation is that people are afraid, because when your world’s not right, no matter how hard you work, then you become afraid of everyone and everything, because you don’t know who’s fault it is, why you can’t get a handle on life, why you can’t secure a better future for your kids. And the problem with fear is that it cuts us off. Fear is the worst enemy. It cuts us off from one another and our own families, and our communities, and it has certainly cut us off from the rest of the world. It’s like fear creates this veil of impossibility, and it is hanging over all of our heads, and we spend more time now in this nation talking about what we can’t do, what won’t work, what can’t change. See, and the problem with that kind of thinking is that we passed that on to our children, because see, the thing I know as a mother is our children are watching everything we do and say, every explicit and implicit sign, they are watching us. And our fear is helping us to raise a nation of young doubters, young people who are insular and they’re timid. And they don’t try, because they already heard us tell them why they can’t succeed. See, and I don’t want that for my kids.
But the truth is, right now, that little nugget of a dream that was my life is getting further and further out of reach for most Americans because of that bar constantly moving. You know, jobs like my father had those blue collar jobs where you got pensions, vacation, all that, they’re dwindling. They’re drying up. They’re disappearing, going overseas. And if you’re lucky enough to have a job, nine times out of ten, your salary’s not keeping up with the cost of living. Barack and I met with a family of railroad workers, union folks. They said for eight years, they hadn’t seen a pay increase. For eight years, zero pay increase. Eight years. No increase. Gas prices going up, food going up, rent, insurance, own a home, what’s going with the mortgages? That’s going up. It’s all going up, and salaries are staying stagnant. So no wonder that bar feels like it’s moving. And I don’t know how single parents do it. There are millions of them all over this country. Let me tell you, single parents love their kids, too. But it is almost impossible to raise a family of any size on a single salary. So now you’ve got single parents who have to double and triple shift, taking on two, three jobs, working all the time, and feeling like they’re failing because that bar is moving, because how on Earth are you going to work as hard as you need to to pay the bills and be at parent/teacher conferences, and sit down and do homework when a kid has trouble? How are you going to manage all that? Well, folks are not, and they’re doing it suffering in silence, blaming themselves for the fact that they’re not working hard enough. Maybe something’s wrong.
The bar is moving and shifting on them, and it’s moving and it’s shifting with regard to education, because we all know that No Child Left Behind is not doing what it needs to do for children in this country. So now on top of all the other worries that families have, now they’re worried about education, because we all know that you cannot measure the success of a child by a single test. And if that were the case, I wouldn’t be here, because I was not a good test taker. How many kids do you know who are like me? Teachers don’t have the resources to teach, the freedom to do what they know that they need to do. So the bar is shifting and moving, and college is another ever-shifting and moving bar. Even when kids do everything that’s asked of them, do your homework, stay out of trouble, get good grades, take those tests, do well on them, many of them apply, got into the colleges of their choices, only to look at the cost, look at their family’s income, sticker shock, so they walk away from college, not because they didn’t get in, but they couldn’t afford it.
And [Barack] has spent every ounce of his time running over the decisions in his head – do I…when graduating from college, do I work on Wall Street? Make a lot of money, that’d be better for me, or do I go work in a community as an organizer? Well, what did Barack do? He became a community organizer, working in some of the toughest neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago, worked for years in neighborhoods where people had a reason to give up hope, because their jobs had been lost, steel mills shut down, living in brown fields left by those closed steel plants, unsafe streets, schools deteriorating, grandparents raising grandkids. Barack spent years working with churches, busing single mothers down to City Hall to help them find their voice, building the kind of operations on the ground just like he’s doing in this race, block by block, person by person. Now you tell me whether there’s anybody in this race who can claim to have made the same choice with their lives. You tell me, but I think that Barack Obama is the only person that can claim that kind of choice.
And finally, this bit of winsome humility: "So trust me, we’ve seen it all. Barack has seen it all."
Michelle Obama isn't running for the presidency, but she is at center stage of her husband's campaign, and her vision of America will obviously inform Barack Obama's vision of America if he becomes president.
And her vision isn't one that most Americans share.