Michelle Obama's visit aims to aid husband's re-election effort
First Lady Michelle Obama embraced military veterans and promoted the federal health-care law during her visit Monday to St. Louis, as part of a fund-raising swing through the Show Me state for her husband's re-election campaign.
During an appearance before several hundred donors at the newly refurbished Peabody Opera House, Obama spent about a half-hour laying out what she viewed as her husband's achievements and the voters' crucial "choices that will affect our lives for decades to come."
This fall's election, she said, could well determine "who we are" and "who we want to be."
"You’re here because you know that choice won’t just affect all of us, but it's going to affect our children, it's going to affect our grandchildren, and it's going to affect the world that we leave behind for them long after we are gone," she said. "And believe me, that’s why I’m here today as well. And that's why I will be traveling around the country, working so very hard, because I know what’s at stake."
During her travels, Obama said she often hears about the "challenges and struggles" facing many Americans even before the economic downturn hit in 2008, before her husband took office.
"I hear how they are taking that extra shift, working that extra job," she said. "For decades now, middle-class folks have been squeezed from all sides. The cost of things like gas, groceries, tuition, have continued to rise, but people’s paychecks just have not kept up. So when the economic crisis hit, for far too many families the bottom completely fell out -- completely fell out."
The crowd cheered as she emphasized how "your president has worked very hard to dig us out of this mess," and cited "23 straight months of private sector job growth."
"Your president has been working so very hard to rebuild our economy based on a vision that we all share -- the belief, as my husband says, that hard work should pay off, that responsibility should be rewarded, and that everyone should get a fair shot and do their fair share and play by the same rules," she said, touching off applause. "And truly, these are basic American values."
Highlights economy, health care
Obama added that what was most important was that her husband cares about what people are going through. She cited times when her husband has told of reading a letter from an American in trouble, and telling her, "This is not right, and we've got to fix it."
The first lady was introduced Monday by one such American: Dr. Naga Yalla, a St. Louis physician who talked movingly about her family's own medical issues that she said has helped make her a strong supporter of Obama and the federal Affordable Health Care Act.
Four years ago, said Yalla, she gave birth to a son who suffered a fractured skull and brain damage during delivery. As a result, Janak has required ongoing medical care and continues to suffer from seizures.
Her son's first few weeks in intensive care cost $150,000, Nalla said. But there also are longstanding challenges beyond the obvious medical ones.
"Would he be able to get health insurance? Or would this pre-existing condition preclude him from coverage?" his mother said. "Would he exceed some arbitrary lifetime limit on spending that our insurer had imposed him?"
Yalla said that the Affordable Care Act offered the best hope for her son's future -- and other children like him. Obama, she said, "made sure Janak could get health insurance and not be unfairly discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition that wasn’t his fault. The president believes that nobody -- whether it's my son or someone else's parent or child -- should be treated unfairly."
The decision to use Yalla to introduce the first lady indicated that the Obama campaign has decided to take on directly the barrage of Republican attacks over health insurance since the law was approved in 2010.
Uses jokes to make a point
The supporters at the Peabody had paid at least $150 apiece, with some larger donors paying $2,500 or more to have a private meeting with the first lady, and get their picture taken with her before she took the stage.
The crowd was a mix of rank-and-file Democratic activists, prominent Democratic donors, and public officials, such as Mayor Francis Slay, who also briefly addressed the crowd.
Obama arrived a few minutes late on stage because, aides said, she took photos with the local police officers providing security at the Peabody.
She began her remarks by offering sympathy and concern for the latest Missouri victims of a deadly storm, which killed several people in southern Missouri and neighboring states.
But amid the serious message, Mrs. Obama also sprinkled her campaign pitch with bits of humor aimed at humanizing the president, who often has been characterized by his critics as cold.
"When it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap," Mrs. Obama said, touching off chuckles when she added, "Kind of gets on your nerves a bit. But it's a good thing....He will never forget your story. It will be imprinted on his heart."
As a result, she said, "Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal" -- which is fairness for all.
"Barack had the backs of American workers," she said, citing the resurrection of the nation's auto industry.
She also pointed to the administration's work to help veterans, young people "drowning in debt" from college, and Americans "tricked into loans they couldn't afford, and probably didn't understand."
Now, she said, supporters need to help the president win re-election so he can continue to press for changes that will help all Americans and take the nation in the right direction. Barack Obama, she said, "can't do it alone."
The campaign "never has been about one extraordinary man, although I will admit my husband is awesome," Obama said, touching off laughter.
Meets with veterans at Lambert
The first lady arrived Monday afternoon at Lambert Field where she mingled briefly with members of the Mission Continues. The St. Louis-based group describes itself as a "a national nonprofit organization that enlists returning service members to utilize their skills and leadership to continue serving at home."
Omar Garcia, a former Marine, and his family met the first lady soon after she stepped off the plane.
“I think our kids took control of the situation pretty much, and they got all the attention,” he said. “She was thankful for what we had done. And it was pretty touching to me that she was thankful.”
Obama spent about 10 minutes with members of the group before being whisked away to the fund-raiser at the Peabody Opera House.
Earlier Monday, Michelle Obama had been in Kansas City for a fundraising reception at the American Jazz Museum.
According to the pool report, she spoke to 300 people for just under 30 minutes from a raised platform in the facility’s foyer between the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in front of a large American flag.
She opened her remarks there by saying her thoughts and prayers are with the victims of recent storms in the Midwest. She then went on to praise her husband’s work during the first term on a number of issues, including the automobile bailout, education and health care.
“Your president has worked very hard to dig us out of this mess,” she said. “We have a long way to go. We have work to do.”
At one point, a security alarm sounded, and the first lady made a quip.
"This is the truth talking,” she said to laughter and applause over the alarm's "whoop-whoop-whoop."
“You’ve got alarms going off," she joked. " You know I’m speaking the truth.”