The following is a transcript of President Obama's politically-charged remarks Tuesday afternoon at an Associated Press luncheon framing the general election campaign, as released by the White House.
Obama: "Thank you very much. (Applause.) Please have a seat. Well, good afternoon, and thank you to Dean Singleton and the board of the Associated Press for inviting me here today. It is a pleasure to speak to all of you -- and to have a microphone that I can see. (Laughter.) Feel free to transmit any of this to Vladimir if you see him. (Laughter.)
"Clearly, we're already in the beginning months of another long, lively election year. There will be gaffes and minor controversies, be hot mics and Etch-a-Sketch moments. You will cover every word that we say, and we will complain vociferously about the unflattering words that you write -- unless, of course, you're writing about the other guy -- in which case, good job. (Laughter.)
"But there are also big, fundamental issues at stake right now -- issues that deserve serious debate among every candidate, and serious coverage among every reporter. Whoever he may be, the next President will inherit an economy that is recovering, but not yet recovered, from the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. Too many Americans will still be looking for a job that pays enough to cover their bills or their mortgage. Too many citizens will still lack the sort of financial security that started slipping away years before this recession hit. A debt that has grown over the last decade, primarily as a result of two wars, two massive tax cuts, and an unprecedented financial crisis, will have to be paid down.
"In the face of all these challenges, we're going to have to answer a central question as a nation: What, if anything, can we do to restore a sense of security for people who are willing to work hard and act responsibly in this country? Can we succeed as a country where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well, while a growing number struggle to get by? Or are we better off when everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules?
"This is not just another run-of-the-mill political debate. I've said it's the defining issue of our time, and I believe it. It's why I ran in 2008. It's what my presidency has been about. It's why I'm running again. I believe this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and I can't remember a time when the choice between competing visions of our future has been so unambiguously clear.
"Keep in mind, I have never been somebody who believes that government can or should try to solve every problem. Some of you know my first job in Chicago was working with a group of Catholic churches that often did more good for the people in their communities than any government program could. In those same communities I saw that no education policy, however well crafted, can take the place of a parent's love and attention.
"As President, I've eliminated dozens of programs that weren't working, and announced over 500 regulatory reforms that will save businesses and taxpayers billions, and put annual domestic spending on a path to become the smallest share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower held this office -- since before I was born. I know that the true engine of job creation in this country is the private sector, not Washington, which is why I've cut taxes for small business owners 17 times over the last three years.
"So I believe deeply that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. My mother and the grandparents who raised me instilled the values of self-reliance and personal responsibility that remain the cornerstone of the American idea. But I also share the belief of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln -- a belief that, through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.
"That belief is the reason this country has been able to build a strong military to keep us safe, and public schools to educate our children. That belief is why we've been able to lay down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. That belief is why we've been able to support the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, and unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries.