I want to tell you what I saw up close in the White House while serving our president in a time of crisis, about the values he leans on and the voices he listens to. When President Obama entered the White House, the economy was in a free-fall. The auto industry: on its back. The banks: frozen up. More than three million Americans had already lost their jobs. And America’s bravest, our men and women in uniform, were fighting what would soon be the longest wars in our history. You remember the uncertainty and fear that seized the country.
On that first day, I said, “Mr. President, which crisis do you want to tackle first?” He looked at me, with that look he usually reserved for his chief of staff, “Rahm, we were sent here to tackle all of them, not choose between them.” There was no blueprint or how-to manual for fixing a global financial meltdown, an auto crisis, two wars and a great recession, all at the same time. Believe me, if it existed, I would have found it. Each crisis was so deep and so dangerous; any one of them would have defined another presidency. We faced a once-in-a-generation moment in American history.
Fortunately for all of us, we have a once-in-a-generation president. And in those uncharted waters, I saw where the president finds his North Star. Every night, President Obama reads ten letters from everyday Americans. When I met with the president at the end of each day, he made sure he had their letters to read at his residence--letters from people just hoping for someone in power to understand their struggles and challenges.
I cannot tell you how many times--whether we were discussing the economy, health care, or energy prices-- the president would walk to his desk, take out one of their letters, read it to all of us, and say, “This is who we are fighting for”--parents working hard to save for their child’s education; middle-class Americans fighting tooth-and-nail to hold onto their jobs, their homes and life savings. It is their voices that President Obama brings to the Oval Office. It is their values I saw him fight for every day. And in the first month in office, he fought for the American Recovery Act--to cut taxes for the middle class, to put people to work building America’s roads, rails and runways.
And today, our economy has gone from losing 800,000 jobs a month to adding 4.5 million private-sector jobs in the last 29 months. Banks are slowly but surely lending again, and never again will taxpayers foot the bill for Wall Street’s excesses. In case we forgot, that was the change we believed in. That was the change we fought for. That was the change President Obama delivered.
President Obama took office knowing full well that for the last century, presidents had tried to reform our health care system. Today, because of President Obama’s courage, kids can stay on their parent’s plan until they are 26. Insurers cannot kick you off your policy because you have hit your limit. They will not be able to deny you because you have a pre-existing condition. Because of the president’s leadership, every American will have access to affordable, quality health care. That was the change we believed in. That was the change we fought for. That was the change President Obama delivered.