Stephen Lam/Getty Images
President Obama and Linkedin Corp CEO Jeff Weiner at a town hall meeting at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, Ca.
President Obama and Linkedin Corp CEO Jeff Weiner at a town hall meeting at the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, Ca. Stephen Lam/Getty Images
President Obama's Monday visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Ca. for a town-hall style meeting hosted by Linkedin, the social networking site, gave him yet another opportunity to push his jobs plan and repeat his by now familiar talking points about his economic agenda .
But it's typically the everyday Americans who interact with the president who make the sessions interesting, either because of what they say or how the president responds to them.
Also, because the presidential campaign has started, you could see the president rehearsing explanations and lines to be used later in the campaign, for instance, when he debates whoever is the eventual Republican nominee.
An example of a question that gave the president allowed the president to show empathy for the unemployed.
Robert Holley, who found himself out of work after 22 years as an IT manager said to Obama:
... What would be your statement of encouragement for those who are looking for work today?
Obama, obviously aware of how so many of those who find themselves unemployed, especially for a lengthy period of time, begin to blame themselves for their difficulties.
Obama tried to encourage Holley by reminding him that his unemployment wasn't his fault. And Obama reminded Holley of the advantages he would have in the job market because of his substantial work experience.
Such upbeat news coming from a president can't be bad. But then Obama described the global macroeconomic picture and it was hard to see how any of that could be encourage someone like Holley.
Right now your challenge is not you, it's the economy as a whole.
And by the way, this is not just an American challenge. This is happening worldwide. So I hope everybody understands. Our biggest problem right now, part of the reason that this year, where, at the beginning of the year, economists had estimated and financial analysts had estimated that the economy was going to be growing at about 3.5 percent — and that has not happened — in part has to do with what happened in the Middle East and the Arab Spring which disrupted energy prices and caused consumers to have to pull back because gas was getting so high; what's happening in Europe, which, you know, they have not fully healed from the crisis back in 2007 and never fully dealt with all the challenges that their banking system faced.
It's now being compounded with what's happening in Greece. So they're going through a financial crisis that is scaring the world. And they're trying to take responsible actions, but those actions haven't been quite as quick as they need to be.
So the point is, is that economies all around the world are not growing as fast as they need to. And since the world's really interconnected, that affects us, as well.
The encouraging thing for you is that when the economy gets back on track in the ways that it should, you are going to be prepared to be successful.
So the forces at play are not just beyond Holley's control but Obama's as well and even beyond the restorative powers of the U.S. economy alone. Hard to be encouraged by that.
Another question came from an audience member who asked a question on behalf of her mother who lives in that all-important battleground state of Ohio.
WOMAN: Hi. I have a question, actually, for my mother, who's going
to be 65 next March. And she lives in Ohio, which has a very high
unemployment rate. She has a GED, and she's always worked in food service. She's currently unemployed, just got approved for Section 8 housing, gets Social Security and food stamps. And she wants to know, when can she get a job, and what's going to happen to Social Security and Medicare?
Obama didn't really have much beyond consolation he could offer the woman's mother as far as employment though the question did give him a chance to plug his American Jobs Act.
He explained that Social Security's problems didn't need to addressed as urgently as Medicare. And the mention of Medicare allowed him to criticize House Republicans in what sounded like a foreshadowing of an argument that will be much heard in the coming year:
Medicare is a bigger issue, because not only is the population
getting older and more people are using it, but health care costs have been going up way too fast. And that's why part of my health care reform bill two years ago was: Let's start changing how our health care system works, to make it more efficient. For example, if your mom goes in for a test, she shouldn't have to then, if she goes to another specialist, take the same test all over again and have
Medicare pay for two tests. That first test should be emailed to the
doctor who's the specialist, but right now that's not happening. So
what we've said is: Let's incentivize providers to do a more
efficient job, and over time we can start reducing those costs.
I've made some suggestions about how we can reform Medicare, but
what I'm not going to do is what, frankly, the House Republicans
proposed, which was to voucherize the Medicare system — which would mean your mom might pay an extra $6,000 every year for her Medicare.
WOMAN: Which she doesn't have.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm assuming she doesn't have it.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: So we are going to be pushing back against that kind of proposal.
Similarly, when Marla Hughes of Gainesville, Fla., owner of a cleaning service, wrote in to say that regulations and high taxes were the bane of her small business and to ask Obama what he was going to do to lessen the burden of both taxes and regulations, the president said he had already lowered taxes for small-businesses, 16 times, he said.
When it came to regulations, the president said, his administration was focused on large businesses like utilities, Obama said, not small businesses.
Then he used the question as another place to draw a distinction between himself and the Republicans on regulations.
In terms of regulations, most of the regulations that — that we
have been focused on are ones that affect large businesses, like
utilities, for example, in terms of how they deal with safety issues,
environmental issues. We have been putting forward some tough
regulations with respect to the financial sector because we can't have a repeat of what happened in 2007. And the fact of the matter is that if what happened on Wall Street ends up having a spill-over effect to all of Main Street, it is our responsibility to make sure that we have a dynamic economy, we have a dynamic financial sector but, you know, we don't have a mortgage broking — brokerage operation that ends up providing people loans that can never be repaid and end up having ramifications throughout the system.
So, you know, you're going to hear from, I think, Republicans
over the next year and a half that somehow if we just eliminated
pollution controls or if we just eliminated basic consumer
protections, that somehow that in and of itself would be a spur to
growth. I disagree with that.