President Barack Obama took the stage at Masonic Auditorium at 8:53 p.m. to a standing, screaming ovation from the 2,500 or so people who’d waited hours to see him. He acknowledged his many friends in the city, singling out from the crowd House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. John Garamendi, Rep. Jerry McNerney, state Controller John Chiang and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.
“It’s always nice to be back out west in the great state of California,” he said, greeting a crowd that had paid anywhere from $25 to $10,000 each to be there.
Obama said there are extraordinary responsibilities to his job, but certain pleasures as well; coming in on Marine One past the Golden Gate Bridge was among the latter, “one of the greatest views in the world” as he arrived in San Francisco after his town hall meeting at Facebook. He noted he has 19 million Facebook friends, “which only puts me half a million behind SpongeBob Squarepants.”
“The conversation you hear in Washington is just different from the conversation you hear around kitchen tables or around water coolers, and that’s why we decided ours will be the first re-election campaign in modern history based outside of Washington,” he said – it’ll be based back in Chicago. “I want to be hearing from the people who got us here, putting the campaign back in your hands.”
He said he’s older and grayer than the last time around. “That’s alright, you’re still fine!” a woman shouted from the back, bringing cheers from the rest of the crowd.
The President continued that his memory remains strong, especially of his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night. He remembers promising that if we work together, “we could bring about the chance that we had talked about, the change we had envisioned for our communities, for our kids, for our grandkids – the commitments we had made to each other, because that’s what the campaign was about. The campaign wasn’t about me, it was about what all of us thought our country could be.”
He took office amid the worst recession of our lifetimes, he said, in which millions were left without jobs and/or homes, with many families still grappling with the aftershocks to this day. But after the Recovery Act, he said, we have added jobs at a rate not seen in decades while making the largest investments in history in clean energy, research, education and infrastructure and also reforming healthcare.
The government also reformed student loans, and repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and appointed two women to the Supreme Court, and dealt with pirates and pandemics. “We’ve been very busy, and yet our work is not finished. It’s going to take more than a couple of years. Its going to take more than one term to accomplish what we need to do.”
“When I think about running for re-election, I don’t look backwards, I look forward,” he said. “That’s what this campaign has to be about – about your jobs, about your hopes, about your families, about your dreams. That’s what we’re fighting for… We’ve got to finish what we started.”
Having prevented another Great Depression, we have to look ahead to creating good jobs, investing in education and innovation, rebuilding infrastructure.
Although the Secret Service doesn’t let him pump gas now, “I remember what it was like filling up. You think about a family that has to drive 50 miles to work. They don’t have a choice, that’s where the job is,” he said. They can’t move closer, or afford a hybrid, “and that’s no joke. We gave everybody a tax cut but a lot of that money gets eaten up by high gas prices.”
So we have to invest in clean, alternative energy and stop giving oil companies tax breaks, he said. “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s energy,” he said, which also will be good for national security and economic stability.
“Because of you, we finally got health care passed” to make it affordable and accessible for all, he said. “But, you know, there are folks who want to roll it back before it even has a chance to be implemented effectively.”
Wall Street reform was crucial to economic stability as well, but some want to roll that back, too, he said. “We’ve got to protect the changes that have been made and make the changes that still need to come.”
The current debate is about what kind of future we want, he said; he wants a government that’s lean and effective and doesn’t waste taxpayers precious dollars. That means cuts in domestic and defense spending, and “spending in our tax code – we’ve got a whole bunch of loopholes in there that we don’t need.”
“There are going to be some things that would be nice to have, but that we’ll have to do without,” he said, but “I am not going to reduce our deficit by sacrificing the things that made America great” – investments in education, research, highways and airports, clean energy and so on. “I will not sacrifice America’s future. That I will not do.”
It will require shared sacrifice including ending tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, he said, bringing about half the house to its feet in applause. “Because some of you bought my book, I fall in this category,” he quipped.
But better that then asking seniors to give up Medicare or Social Security benefits, or turning children away from Head Start, or so forth, he said. “We can do better than that. We are better than that.”
“I want to make sure a child born in a tough neighborhood has the same chances I had,” he said, not out of a sense of charity but because it makes us all bigger, richer, better.
Some now say today’s deficits and debt, competition from other nations and world crises mean we can’t afford to be what we used to be, he said.
“That’s not a vision of America I want to pass on to Malia and Sasha – I want a vision of America that’s as big and bold as it has ever been,” he said. “A vision where we all share sacrifice, nobody bears the burden alone and we all share the opportunity.”
Whether we came on the Mayflower, through Ellis Island, on slave ships or across the Rio Grande, “we are all connected,” he said.
“This campaign is still in its early stages, but now’s the time when you can shape it, now’s the time to come out of the gate strong,” he said.
“Change is not simple. Everybody likes change in the abstract, but change in the concrete is hard. Not everybody agrees with us. Not everybody agrees in this auditorium about some issues.” But that’s the strength and joy of democracy, he said.
“Sometimes I get frustrated. There are times when I am just so burdened by the fact that there are still so many folks out there who we haven’t gotten the help that they need. And so I understand how you guys feel. But we knew this wouldn’t be easy. We knew that on a journey like this there were going to be setbacks, there were going to be detours, there were going to be times we stumbled.”
He said what keeps him going is that in times of adversity, America pulls through together and makes the changes that it needs, even when it’s hard to do so, citing the end of slavery, the fights for women’s and civil rights. “Somehow we pulled through together. So whenever you hear people say our problems are too big to solve… I just want you to think about all the progress we’ve already made, and all the unfinished business we have ahead.”
The president finished at 9:32 p.m. local time. As the motorcade pulled away at about 9:44, a few protestors outside chanted, “Free Private Manning!”
The motorcade snaked its away around the top of Nob Hill and then down Hyde Street through the Tenderloin and Eighth Street through SOMA, people spilling out of bars and restaurants along the way to take photos and wave, an especially large crowd at Market Street. The motorcade arrived back at the hotel at about 9:55 p.m.