Philadelphia: Our Democracy Is On The Ballot

Barack Obama
17 min readNov 6, 2022
Photo by Chris Dilts

Remarks as Delivered at Rally in Support of Pennsylvania Democratic Candidates with President Biden

Hello, Philadelphia!

Are you fired up yet? Man, I was backstage. I was getting fired up! I’m ready to go!

It is good to be back in Pennsylvania. It is good to be back in, right now, the center of the sports world. The Phillies have a chance to tie the World Series tonight. Eagles look like they might be the best team in football team in the country. The Sixers — well, it’s early. It’s still early, so we won’t talk about them right now.

But I am not here to talk about sports, people. I am here to talk about something more basic. I am here to ask you to vote. For your next governor, Josh Shapiro. For your next United States Senator, John Fetterman. For all the Democrats up and down the ticket.

And listen, let’s face it. If you’re at this rally, I’m assuming you’re voting. But I don’t just need you to vote. I need you to gather up your friends and family, and make sure that they are also voting.

I know there are probably some students here, right? You know that roommate of yours who, well meaning, nice person, but they’re a little bit slack. They’re the folks who, they’ll leave stuff in your little mini fridge a little too long because they forgot about it. Sometimes, they miss class in the morning and in the afternoon. That person, they might tell you they’re voting, but they might not have voted yet.

You’ve got to help them. Make sure that they turn up because this election requires every single one of us to do our part. It’s that important. It is that important.

You heard our president talk about the stakes in this election. You heard Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman talk about the stakes in this election, a fair economy that gives working people a fair shot. That’s on the ballot. Fundamental rights are on the ballot. Truth, and facts, and logic, and reason and decency on the ballot. Democracy itself is on the ballot.

The stakes are high. Yes, the stakes are high.

But look, I want to be honest, because sometimes, political rallies, everybody’s feeling optimistic. Everybody’s getting fired up. But listen, I want folks to listen to this. I want people to be clear.

Midterms are always hard for whichever party is in the White House. And typically, midterms are tougher on Democrats.

A lot of folks don’t pay attention to politics the way they do in a presidential year. Maybe they don’t think the Congress matters as much. Maybe they don’t think their vote will matter as much. Younger people especially are less likely to vote in midterms, and that hurts Democrats because younger people trend in a more progressive direction.

And I can tell you, I can tell you from experience that midterms matter a lot. Some of you are too young but let me refresh your memories or give you a history lesson.

When I was president, I got my butt whooped in midterm elections. I was elected in the midst of a financial crisis, and we did the right things to get the economy back on track. But it was slow, and people were frustrated, just like they are right now after we’re coming out of a crisis. Sometimes, it takes a while for things to settle down, but the people are experiencing things right now, immediately, right? And so, we lost, in 2010, we lost the House.

And then, in 2014, even though, now the economy was improving. We saw the lowest voting rate recorded in modern history, maybe, in recent memory, and we lost the Senate. And because we did progress, on big important issues, from immigration to gun safety to climate change either got a lot harder or, in some cases, just ground to a halt. There you go.

Now, I’m not big on looking backwards, but sometimes, I can’t help imagine what it would have been like if enough people had turned out to vote in those elections.

And imagine if we had we had maintained control of the House, and we had maintained control of the Senate.

Imagine if we had been able to fix our broken immigration system back in 2011. Imagine if we’d been able to pass meaningful gun safety legislation back then to prevent more deaths.

Imagine if we’ve been able to reduce our emissions even further than we did. We’d be further along in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

If we had kept the Senate in 2014, we’d have a very different Supreme Court making decisions about our most basic rights.

Midterms are no joke! Sometimes, we get so focused on the presidency, but I am here to tell you that our democracy works as a team sport. A president can’t do stuff alone. That’s not how our system is set up. So what happens in the House, what happens in the Senate is very vitally critical.

And the good news is you have an outstanding president right now in the White House. You don’t have to just imagine what might happen. He’s doing stuff right now, solving problems right now with a Democratic Congress. And he can continue it if you vote.

Think about what Joe Biden has already got accomplished, despite a historic pandemic. He not only repaired the economy and kept unemployment low, which, by the way, you should not take for granted because a lot of folks thought, with a historic pandemic like that and the shutdown, that we would potentially go into a Great Depression, and we did not. And unemployment is very low right now because of the actions he took.

He’s lowered healthcare and prescription drug costs. He passed an infrastructure bill that will put more folks here in Pennsylvania and around the country to work and make our economy stronger. He’s made the biggest investment in clean energy in history.

If you help Democrats keep the House and get a few more seats in the Senate, you can guarantee he’ll make more progress on the issues you care about. You’ve seen what he’s accomplished with the barest of margins.

If you vote, he can do even more, but it depends on you. It depends on you.

Now, Republicans know this, and that’s why they’re doing everything they can to prevent you from voting. This is one of the only major parties worldwide that actively tries to discourage citizens from voting.




PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Vote! Vote! They can’t hear you boo, but they’ll hear your vote.

They passed laws to make it harder to vote. A lot of times, many of the elected officials or the people who are running to run elections right now are suggesting that maybe they would not count votes, nullify votes, overturn votes.

But the big tactic that they’re going to use, because they always do this, especially in midterms, year after year, election after election, they will try to make you afraid. They will resort to fear. They want to scare the living daylights out of everybody. And most of the time, those fears have a very slender relationship to reality.

Back in 2010, Republicans tried to make everybody afraid about deficits and death panels. Oh, deficits are going to ruin the country. It turns out the deficits didn’t explode; we actually brought them down.

And by the way, as soon as they got a Republican in office, they didn’t suddenly care about deficits, and passed big tax cuts for the wealthy.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: They weren’t paid for!

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Weren’t paid for. Thank you. Man, we’ve got some outstanding historians here. That’s good because you were only eight when all this happened. I’m impressed you knew this.

Ten years later, not a single person has faced the death panel from Obamacare. On the other hand, 35 million people now have health coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. And Joe Biden just made it that much cheaper to sign up. That was their tactic in 2010.

In 2014, same playbook, try to make you afraid of everything. You had Ebola, and ISIS, and immigrants, and they were all coming to your neighborhood.

It turned out there were no ISIS fighters pouring across the border. By the fall, the number of migrants, they were mostly unaccompanied children; it dropped considerably. And then it turned out that we knew how to prevent Ebola from reaching our shores, because you know what? We believed in science. It was very helpful in dealing with this disease.

But you know what? People got afraid. People got afraid. It was visceral. And so, they either didn’t turn out, didn’t turn out in the right places. And we lost the Senate, and you know what happened because of that.

Midterm elections matter. Republicans understand this. I understand it, I promise you. And Joe Biden understands it. And if you keep that in mind, if you ignore the fear mongering, if you ignore the cynicism, if you vote, then we will keep this country moving forward.

But you’ve got to do it! You have to do it! The only way to make this economy fair, the only way to make our democracy stronger is if we fight for it. You can’t take it for granted. And that starts with electing people who know you, who see you, who care about you, who can walk in your shoes, and see through your eyes and know what it’s like to struggle, know what it’s like to get sick, know what it’s like to have to pay off student loans, know what it’s like when things aren’t just handed to you, but you’ve got to work for them.

That’s what you did two years ago when you sent Joe Biden to the White House. He knows you! He’s been there! He’s fighting for you every day, doing everything he can to put more money in your pocket, to make streets safer, to bring more good-paying jobs here to Pennsylvania.

I can tell you, the presidency does not change who you are. You can tell by my successor; it didn’t change him. It reveals who you are. It reveals who you are under the stress and strain of the presidency, and the decency, the empathy, the belief that everybody counts, that we have seen on display from Joe Biden these past two years. That’s who he is.

And that’s why you need to vote for more leaders like him. That’s why you have to vote for Josh Shapiro! That’s why it’s a vote for John Fetterman! They’ve shown you who they are.

There are a lot of issues at stake in this election. But in every election, the most basic question you should be asking yourself right now is who will fight for you? Who cares about you?

That’s the choice that you make in this election, like every election. Who will fight for working people who are struggling to pay the bills?

Listen, inflation is a real problem right now, not just here, but around the world. It’s one of the aftereffects of the pandemic. It’s screwed up supply chains, and it’s been compounded by the war in Ukraine, which made energy prices shoot up. And it takes a bite out of everybody’s paycheck. And it’s frustrating and scary if you’re on a fixed income. I get it. So does Joe.

But the question is who’s actually going to do something about it? The Republicans who want to gut Social Security and Medicare while giving more tax cuts to the wealthiest among us, more tax cuts to big corporations? I don’t think that’s going to help you.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Or is it Democrats like Joe Biden, who are lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and helping to bring down gas prices, and hold oil companies accountable, and make healthcare more affordable?

That’s the choice in this election.

I mean, who do you really think knows more about budgets and having to pay the bills, John Fetterman or Dr. Oz? Come on.

Who will fight to keep your family safe? The Republican politicians who want to flood our streets with more guns, voted against more resources for police departments, or Democratic leaders who worked with Joe Biden to pass the first major gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years?

That’s the choice in this election. That’s what’s at stake right now.

Who will fight for your freedoms? Is it Republican politicians and judicial appointees who think they should get to decide who you love or when you start a family, or is it Democratic leaders who believe the most intimate, personal decisions that we can make belong to every individual American, not mostly male politicians in Washington?

That’s the choice in this election. That’s why you have to decide.

And who is going to actually make democracy work for you? Republicans, they’ve already promised. They’ve said it. I’m not making this up. They’ve said it. You can look it up. They’ve said their top priority, they’re going to spend the next two years investigating their political opponents.

Now, I don’t know how that’s going to help you. Some of them said, we’re going to impeach Biden. They’re not quite sure why or what for, but that’s irrelevant for them.

Think about that. How is that going to help you, your family? Young people launch a career, start a family, get a mortgage.

That’s one option.

The other option is President Biden and Democratic leaders who’ve worked together, and sometimes even gotten Republicans, against their best instincts, I guess, to work with them to create new jobs, and lower costs, and fight climate change.

That’s the choice in this election — between politicians who seem willing to do anything and say anything to get power, and those who share your values and want to make your lives better.

You just heard from Josh Shapiro. You know what Josh is focused on. He was one of the first people ever to endorse my campaign for president. For some reason, he looks the same and I look a lot older. I don’t know why. But he had my back, he had my back.

If you elect him your next governor, he will have your back every single day, growing the economy, cutting taxes for working people, not folks who don’t need it, fully funding our schools, supporting our teachers. That’s who Josh is.

Now, Josh’s opponent, oh, oy vey. Ha, he’s willing to take the most extreme positions on pretty much everything. (Laughter.) I mean, you name it. Global warming, he says it’s fake science. It doesn’t matter what the thermometers say. Should gay people be allowed to get married or adopt children? Nope, he doesn’t think so. He does think it’s okay to dress up in a Confederate uniform for a staff photo at the college where he used to teach. And hey, it wasn’t even Halloween! (Laughter.) It was like casual Friday, or something. (Laughter.)

Listen, Pennsylvania, let’s remember what century it is. (Applause.) And listen, this would be funny, it would be an SNL skit if it weren’t so serious. You cannot let somebody that detached from reality run your state.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let’s get out and vote for somebody you can trust, Josh Shapiro!

You need to vote for John Fetterman. This is a guy who has been fighting for regular folks his whole life. You can tell, just talk to him. He’s just a dude. He’s just like — he is who he says he is. He does not pretend to be somebody else. He doesn’t put on airs. He doesn’t treat people differently depending on who he’s talking to. You can tell what’s in his heart, what’s in his gut.

As your senator, John will help build an economy that works for everyone, because that’s his track record as a mayor, as somebody who worked with kids who didn’t have the advantages. He’s going to improve our criminal justice system. He’ll lower costs for Pennsylvania families.

And he’s tough, and not just because he wears shorts in the winter, which I do not do. He knows what it’s like to get knocked down. But John’s stroke didn’t change who he is. It didn’t change what he cares about, and it will not change who he fights for when he gets to the United States Senate. He will fight for you!

The only person John’s opponents fighting for is himself, and maybe Donald Trump.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What did I say about booing? Do not boo. Vote! No booing, just voting.

Look, let’s face it, it’s easy to joke about Dr. Oz. I mean, some of these remedies he’s pushed on to TV, the raspberry ketones and the lavender soap and the palm oil for dementia…But you know what? That matters, because if somebody who knows better, who knows better, is willing to sell snake oil just to make money, then he’s going to be willing to do anything and say anything to get elected, even if it’s not good for you.

And Pennsylvania, you deserve someone that’s honest with you. You deserve somebody who cares about you. You deserve somebody who will tell you what they really think, what they really believe, that won’t be looking to see what Donald Trump tells them they should be doing or thinking because it’s expedient; somebody who’s going to work for you every day and fight for you.

And by the way, somebody who’s actually from Pennsylvania! You deserve somebody like John Fetterman!

And you deserve leaders who will stand up for a woman’s right to control her own body and make her own healthcare decisions. I genuinely believe there are people of good conscience who differ from me on abortion, and they should be free to make those choices as their conscience guides them.

But we should all agree that women everywhere, whatever their economic station, whatever states they live in, should be able to control what happens with their own bodies.

Josh’s opponent says he thinks both women who get an abortion and the doctors who help them, who treat them, should be prosecuted. John’s opponent said the decision about whether to have an abortion should be made by, quote, women doctors and local political leaders. Really? I mean, are you going to petition the mayor? Are you calling the sheriff? City Council member, school board? Who exactly should tell you when to start a family?

You should make that decision. And if that’s not worth 15 minutes of your time, the amount of time it takes to vote, I don’t know what is.

But if you need another reason to go vote, consider the fact that democracy really is on the ballot.

Listen, Democrats may not be perfect. I’m the first one to admit it. I wasn’t perfect. Joe, he’ll tell you. Listen, you’re making decisions all the time. We’re all human; we’ve all got foibles. But right now, at this moment, with a few notable exceptions most Republican politicians aren’t even pretending that the rules apply to them anymore. They’re not even pretending the facts apply anymore. They just make stuff up.

Josh’s opponent was at the Capitol on January 6. He was there, I mean, and he wasn’t just an observer. John’s opponent hired people who were there to work on his campaign. He decided — well, now, yeah, I don’t know if it was the guy with the Viking hat or who, but he decided that I need that guy on my campaign. Both of them, to this day, have refused to say that Joe Biden won the last election.

Now listen, I understand that democracy might not seem like a top priority right now, especially when you’re worried about paying the bills. But when true democracy goes away, we’ve seen throughout history, we’ve seen around the world, when true democracy goes away, people get hurt. It has real consequences. This is not an abstraction.

Governments start telling you what books you can read and which ones you can’t. Dissidents start getting locked up. Reporters start getting locked up if they’re not toeing the party line. Corruption reigns because there’s no accountability. People get hurt; there are consequences.

There’s a reason why generations of Americans fought and died for our democracy. There’s a reason why suffragists, and union members and civil rights activists marched and struggled, and in some cases, gave their lives for this precious thing, this experiment in self-governance.

They understood how precious it was. They fought to broaden and expand who would be included in “We, the people.” And they understood that when democracy withers, it’s hard to restore. You can’t take it for granted. You have to work for it; you have to nurture it. You have to fight for it.

Now, the good news is you get to make a difference, as long as you turn out to vote.

You can fight for it as long as you turn out to vote.

You can bolster and strengthen our democracy as long as you get out there and do what needs to be done!

We joke in my household that Michelle, she’s got a dazzling smile. (Applause.) Yeah. I mean, listen, I understand, in terms of popularity, there’s basically Michelle, Malia, Sasha, Sunny, our dog, and me. I understand. She’s hot; she’s smart. She is! She’s charming, she’s intelligent. I get it.

But here’s a little secret about Michelle. In our household, she can be a little bit of the glass half empty person sometimes. She can get a little discouraged about what she sees happening. And I’m the hope and change guy. So, I’m usually a little more optimistic.

And so, if she’s been watching the news or reading the papers, and some crazy stuff is taking place, which is basically every 10 minutes, she can get a little down. And I’ll say, “Honey, everything’s going to be okay.” And I believe that; I believe things will be okay, but I also know that things won’t be okay on their own.

It’ll be okay if we make the effort. It’ll be okay if we work for it, not just on Election Day, but every day in between.

And look, I know some of you probably feel like Michelle does sometimes, because I feel, even me, the hope and change guy, I can get discouraged. Politics is so nasty and mean, and it just seems like people will say anything and do anything. And it can be depressing sometimes.

And a lot of what we used to take for granted, things like respect, and common decency, and telling the truth, and believing of science, and the idea that every vote should count, and that the person with the most votes wins, all that somehow has become controversial.

But I was listening backstage to what Josh talked about, the experience of him running for governor and traveling around the state. It reminded me of the experience I had, first as a state senator traveling around my district, and then as a U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois, and then as a presidential candidate.

It’s such a privilege to be able to meet people from every walk of life, folks who look different and live in different places. And it would always remind me, and what we have to remind ourselves, is that there’s this common thread. There’s this thing that binds us together as Americans, a belief that no matter who we are or where we come from, what we look like, who we love, what our last name is, how we worship, a belief that all of us matter.

The kind of slash and burn politics that we’re seeing right now, that doesn’t have to be who we are. We can be better.

And it has nothing to do, by the way, with political correctness or being too woke. It’s about fundamental values that my grandparents from Kansas taught me— values I grew up with, values you grew up with, values we try to teach our kids, values we learn in churches, and mosques, and synagogues and temples, honesty, fairness, opportunity, hard work, values that Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman stand for!

Values that Joe Biden stands for! Values that were enshrined in our founding documents a few miles from here, a clarion call for freedom and equality that Philly’s own Liberty Bell represents!

That’s what America stands for! That’s who we are!

So, if you’re anxious and frustrated right now, don’t complain. Don’t mope. Don’t tune out. Get off your couch and do what?


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Put down your phones and do what?


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Vote for Josh Shapiro! Vote for John Fetterman!

Vote for leaders who will fight for you and your families! Vote for folks who will fight for that big, inclusive, hopeful, forward-looking America that we believe in, who will work with Joe Biden to build a country that is more fair, and more just, and more equal and more free.

That’s our task. Let’s get to work!

I love you, Philly! I love you, Pennsylvania! Let’s go!