Political Highlights: President Obama Answers Questions @ Facebook Townhall


By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.


The President at a town hall meeting at Facebook HQ

White House Photo, Lawrence Jackson, 4/20/11


  • Obama and Facebook in Warm Embrace: He introduced himself as “the guy who got Mark Zuckerberg to wear a jacket and tie.” “I’m very proud of that,” President Obama quipped as he walked onto a stage at Facebook headquarters on Wednesday, and sat next to Mr. Zuckerberg. Both men then proceeded to take off their jackets. About an hour later, Mr. Obama, whose visit here forced Silicon Valley types to button down a bit, left with a far more casual item of clothing that has become de rigueur in some tech circles: a hoodie given to him by Mr. Zuckerberg. Of course, the Facebook logo was printed on it.
    In the interim, Mr. Obama conducted a town-hall-style meeting at Facebook, and on Facebook, in front of a largely friendly audience. He took questions from company employees in a cavernous room turned into auditorium and from Facebook users over the social networking service, with Mr. Zuckerberg acting as moderator.
    Mr. Obama delivered sharp attacks against Paul Ryan, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin who drafted a budget proposal heavy on spending cuts and tax cuts, and talked about the economy, health care, education and immigration reform. Throughout the largely staged event, Mr. Obama and Mr. Zuckerberg appeared almost chummy with each other…. – NYT, 4-20-11
  • Obama likes Facebook. Facebook likes Obama: President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg have updated their Facebook status: They are in a relationship.
    “Sorry, I’m kind of nervous,” the Facebook founder confessed to the crowd at the start of Wednesday’s town hall meeting his company arranged with the White House. “We have the president of the United States here!”….
    Obama’s appearance in Palo Alto lent the presidential seal to the company, a sign that, after its sensational rise, it is being embraced by Washington as a major corporate player. In return, Facebook’s imprimatur helps Obama restore his luster among young voters as he begins his reelection campaign.
    A Harvard University poll released last month found that 18- to 29-year-olds say they are more likely to vote for Obama than a Republican by 38 percent to 25 percent. That’s well short of 2008 levels, when he won the 18-29 demographic by 34 percentage points.
    The Facebook-inspired movie “The Social Network” was playing on Air Force One as Obama flew to California Wednesday. “As you all know, dating back to the president’s first campaign for the presidency there’s a great focus on social media,” White House press secretary Jay Carney reminded reporters aboard.
    One asked if the appearance at Facebook headquarters could “be construed as an effort to also promote Facebook.” “Absolutely not,” Carney said, in an answer that was itself something of a Facebook promotion. “I mean, Facebook has half a billion users. . . More people than you can possibly imagine.”
    Of those 500 million users, just under 45,000 were “attending” Obama’s town hall at the scheduled start time. Participation may have been suppressed by the requirement that you had to click the button saying you “like” the White House.
    “Did you know you have to ‘like’ the White House page to attend?” one user posted on the town hall page. “I have a big problem with liking anything from this White House never mind the fact that they would then have a record that we ‘liked’ them.”
    But at Facebook’s headquarters, there was no hesitation about liking Obama. “Since he’s one of the most popular people on Facebook with 19 million ‘likes,’ we feel like he’s coming home,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “So, welcome home, Mr. President.” Sanberg added, playfully: “Even though it’s Facebook, no poking the president.”…. – WaPo, 4-20-11
  • Obama, Before Facebook Crowd, Presses G.O.P. on Budget: President Obama on Wednesday opened a Western front in his war against House Republicans’ budget, telling an appreciative audience at Facebook headquarters here that the plan is radical, short-sighted and would reduce annual federal deficits at the expense of the nation’s poor and powerless. In a town-hall-style forum with the 26-year-old Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Obama seized on a question about the House-passed budget to mount a long, withering indictment. The questioner, an employee of the social networking company, noted that some news media accounts suggested that the sponsor of the Republican budget, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, is “bold and brave” for proposing the deep spending cuts.
    “The Republican budget that was put forward I would say is fairly radical,” Mr. Obama said. “And I wouldn’t call it particularly courageous.” He added: “I do think Mr. Ryan is sincere. I think he’s a patriot. I think he wants to solve a real problem, which is our long-term deficit. But I think that what he and the other Republicans in the House of Representatives also want to do is change our social compact in a pretty fundamental way.”
    “Nothing is easier,” Mr. Obama said, “than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor, or people who are powerless and don’t have lobbyists or don’t have clout.”… – NYT, 4-20-11
  • U.S. Finances Are ‘Unsustainable,’ Obama Says at Facebook Town Hall Event: President Barack Obama, on a cross- country trip to sell his deficit reduction plan, said yesterday that the nation’s finances are “unsustainable.” At a campaign-style town hall meeting at the headquarters of Facebook Inc., Obama described the House Republicans’ budget plan as “fairly radical” and said members of both political parties in Washington need to work together to start reducing the federal deficit in a “balanced way.” “We have an unsustainable situation,” he said. “We face a critical time where we are going to have to make some decisions — how do we bring down the debt in the short term, and how do we bring down the debt over the long term?”…. – Bloomberg, 4-20-11
  • President Obama talks tech, budget, deficit at Facebook: President Barack Obama expanded on his fiscal message Wednesday at a virtual town hall meeting at Facebook’s headquarters here. In what felt like a campaign stop, the one-hour event, which was streamed live on the White House’s Facebook page, Obama discussed the budget deficit, fiscal responsibility, investments in technology, health-care reform, the housing crisis and the power of social media.
    “If we don’t have a serious (plan) to attack the deficit, we will have an even bigger problem” of investors pulling back when the economy starts to perk up, Obama said. “We could slip back into a recession.”… – USA Today, 4-20-11
  • Obama pokes fun at Facebook’s Zuckerberg: President Obama began his “town hall” event at Facebook’s offices on Wednesday with an anecdote….. That kicked off a very cordial hour-long conversation and seemed to loosen up the sometimes chilly technology prodigy. Zuckerberg stumbled during his opening remarks. “Sorry, I’m kind of nervous,” he said after a flub in his introduction. For Obama, Wednesday was a chance to connect with both Silicon Valley influencers and young people in one poke. Throughout his answers, Obama related his typical talking points — federal deficit, education, healthcare and immigration — to those two groups…. – CNN, 4-20-11
  • Obama rips GOP budget plan at Facebook event: Hoping to rekindle excitement among younger voters, President Obama spoke at a town hall-style meeting hosted by Facebook on Wednesday and asked for help in beating back Republican budget proposals that he denigrated as “radical.”
    Obama sat on a stage next to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who served as moderator and funneled largely friendly questions to a president who makes extensive use of social media in reaching out to voters. Obama took credit for Zuckerberg’s attempt to clean up for the occasion. The 26-year-old billionaire swapped his signature hoodie for a jacket and tie. “My name is Barack Obama and I’m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie,” he said.
    Taking questions submitted through Facebook and from an audience of company employees, Obama advised listeners not to get “frustrated’’ by protracted debates in Washington. He conceded that some of his 2008 voters might be asking why progress on many issues hasn’t come sooner. But he urged them not to give up on his agenda. “I know that some of you who might have been involved in the campaign or been energized back in 2008, you’re frustrated that, gosh, it didn’t get done fast enough and it seems like everybody’s bickering all the time,” he said. “Just remember that we’ve been through tougher times before.”… – LAT, 4-20-11
  • Obama seeks friends for deficit-reduction plan at Facebook: President Obama on Wednesday ramped up his criticism of the Republican Party’s budget proposal, calling it “radical” and “not courageous” in a town hall meeting at the headquarters of Facebook. To a generally friendly audience at the social networking Web site’s sprawling corporate campus, the president outlined how his plan to reduce the deficit through spending cuts and raising taxes on the rich would be done without sacrificing what he described as key social safety nets.
    Obama shared the stage with Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who asked questions of his own before allowing a Facebook employee to pose one. Zuckerberg then read questions submitted by users of Facebook who watched the event through a live online stream. The president’s at-times combative answers contrasted with the jocular mood of the event. “Even though it’s Facebook, no poking the president,” chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg joked, referring to a Facebook feature. When Obama said wealthy taxpayers such as Zuckerberg and himself should pay their share, the youthful Facebook CEO quipped, “I’m cool with that,” to an outburst of laughter and applause from the audience of high-tech executives, Democratic politicians and Facebook employees… – LAT, 4-20-11
  • Facebook members find Obama event ‘not great’: Despite the promise that President Obama’s first Facebook town hall would open a new level of two-way communication with his constituents, social-networking technology didn’t add much to the conversation.
    Obama answered just eight questions during Wednesday’s hour-long session at Facebook’s secondary headquarters building in Palo Alto, an event that was streamed on the Facebook Live video page.
    But some of those questions came from Facebook employees who won a company lottery for the chance to sit in the live audience. That left hundreds of questions posted on the event’s Facebook wall unanswered…. – San Francisco Chronicle, 4-20-11


President Obama with a sweatshirt given to him by Mark Zuckerberg,
the founder of Facebook, at a townhall meeting in Palo Alto, Calif., on

Philip Scott Andrews/The New York Times President Obama with a sweatshirt given to him by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, at a townhall meeting in Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday.

  • Obama at Facebook. Townhall transcript REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT A FACEBOOK TOWN HALL Facebook Headquarters Palo Alto, California 1:58 P.M. PDT: THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you so much, Facebook, for hosting this, first of all. (Applause.) My name is Barack Obama, and I’m the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie. (Applause.) Thank you. (Laughter.) I’m very proud of that. (Laughter.)
    MR. ZUCKERBERG: Second time.
    THE PRESIDENT: I know. (Laughter.) I will say — and I hate to tell stories on Mark, but the first time we had dinner together and he wore this jacket and tie, I’d say halfway through dinner he’s starting to sweat a little bit. It’s really uncomfortable for him. So I helped him out of his jacket. (Laughter.) And in fact, if you’d like, Mark, we can take our jackets off. (Applause.)
    MR. ZUCKERBERG: That’s good.
    THE PRESIDENT: Woo, that’s better, isn’t it?
    MR. ZUCKERBERG: Yes, but you’re a lot better at this stuff than me. (Laughter.)
    THE PRESIDENT: So, first of all, I just want to say thank you to all of you for taking the time — not only people who are here in the audience, but also folks all over the country and some around the world who are watching this town hall.
    The main reason we wanted to do this is, first of all, because more and more people, especially young people, are getting their information through different media. And obviously what all of you have built together is helping to revolutionize how people get information, how they process information, how they’re connecting with each other.
    And historically, part of what makes for a healthy democracy, what is good politics, is when you’ve got citizens who are informed, who are engaged. And what Facebook allows us to do is make sure this isn’t just a one-way conversation; makes sure that not only am I speaking to you but you’re also speaking back and we’re in a conversation, were in a dialogue. So I love doing town hall meetings. This format and this company I think is an ideal means for us to be able to carry on this conversation.
    And as Mark mentioned, obviously we’re having a very serious debate right now about the future direction of our country. We are living through as tumultuous a time as certainly I’ve seen in my lifetime. Admittedly, my lifetime is a lot longer than most of yours so far. This is a pretty young crowd. But we’re seeing, domestically, a whole series of challenges, starting with the worst recession we’ve had since the Great Depression. We’re just now coming out of it. We’ve got all sorts of disruptions, technological disruptions that are taking place, most of which hold the promise of making our lives a lot better, but also mean that there are a lot of adjustments that people are having to make throughout the economy.
    We still have a very high unemployment rate that is starting to come down, but there are an awful lot of people who are being challenged out there, day in, day out, worrying about whether they can pay the bills, whether they can keep their home.
    Internationally, we’re seeing the sorts of changes that we haven’t seen in a generation. We’ve got certain challenges like energy and climate change that no one nation can solve but we’re going to have to solve together. And we don’t yet have all the institutions that are in place in order to do that.
    But what makes me incredibly optimistic — and that’s why being here at Facebook is so exciting for me — is that at every juncture in our history, whenever we face challenges like this, whether it’s been the shift from a agricultural age to a industrial age, or whether it was facing the challenges of the Cold War, or trying to figure out how we make this country more fair and more inclusive, at every juncture we’ve always been able to adapt. We’ve been able to change and we’ve been able to get ahead of the curve. And that’s true today as well, and you guys are at the cutting edge of what’s happening.
    And so I’m going to be interested in talking to all of you about why this debate that we’re having around debt and our deficits is so important, because it’s going to help determine whether we can invest in our future and basic research and innovation and infrastructure that will allow us to compete in the 21st century and still preserve a safety net for the most vulnerable among us.
    But I’m also going to want to share ideas with you about how we can make our democracy work better and our politics work better — because I don’t think there’s a problem out there that we can’t solve if we decide that we’re going to solve it together.
    And for that, I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak to you. And instead of just giving a lot of long speeches I want to make sure that we’ve got time for as many questions as possible.
    So, Mark, I understand you got the first one…. – Chicago Sun-Times, 4-20-11
  • Notable quotes from President Obama’s Facebook visit: “My name is Barack Obama, and I’m the first guy to get Mark Zuckerberg to wear a jacket and tie.”
    “What makes me incredible optimistic is that at every juncture in our history, we’ve always been able to adapt.”
    “The housing market is the biggest drag on the economy.”
    “If we don’t have a serious (plan) to attack the deficit, we will have an even bigger problem” of investors pulling back when the economy starts to perk up.
    “Immigration in this country has always been complicated. We are a nation of immigrants and laws. And sometimes the laws are unfair.”
    “If we bring high-skilled immigants to come here, why wouldn’t we want them to stay? They are job generators. We don’t want them starting an Intel in China or France. We want them starting them here.”
    “Our education system has to do a better job of math and science education for women, Hispanics and blacks.”
    “I want people to think of the next big Internet breakthrough as the next moon launch.”
    “We have to lift our game up for the Internet, math and science.”…. – USA Today, 4-20-11
  • The President’s Facebook Town Hall: Budgets, Values, Engagement: And historically, part of what makes for a healthy democracy, what is good politics, is when you’ve got citizens who are informed, who are engaged. And what Facebook allows us to do is make sure this isn’t just a one-way conversation; makes sure that not only am I speaking to you but you’re also speaking back and we’re in a conversation, we’re in a dialogue.
    Q Hi, Mr. President. Thank you so much for joining us today. I am originally from Detroit, Michigan, and now I’m out here working at Facebook. So my question for you kind of builds on some of the things we were just talking about. At the beginning of your term you spent a lot of time talking about job creation and the road to economic recovery, and one of the ways to do that would be substantially increasing federal investments in various areas as a way to fill the void left from consumer spending. Since then, we’ve seen the conversation shift from that of job creation and economic recovery to that of spending cuts and the deficit. So I would love to know your thoughts on how you’re going to balance these two going forward, or even potentially shift the conversation back.
    THE PRESIDENT: Well, you’re exactly right that when I first came into office our number-one job was preventing us from getting into another Great Depression. And that was what the Recovery Act was all about. So we helped states make sure that they could minimize some of the layoffs and some of the difficult budget choices that they faced. We made sure that we had infrastructure spending all around the country. And, in fact, we made the biggest investment in infrastructure since Dwight Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System.
    We made the largest investment in history in clean energy research, and it’s really paying off. For example, when I came into office, we had about 2 percent of the advanced battery manufacturing here in America. And as everybody here knows, what’s really holding us back from my goal of a million electric vehicles on the road is that battery technology is still tough. It’s clunky; it’s heavy; it’s expensive. And if we can make significant improvements in battery technology then I think the opportunities for electric vehicles, alternative vehicles that are much cheaper — our opportunities are limitless.
    So those were all investments that we made in the first two years. Now, the economy is now growing. It’s not growing quite as fast as we would like, because after a financial crisis, typically there’s a bigger drag on the economy for a longer period of time. But it is growing. And over the last year and a half we’ve seen almost 2 million jobs created in the private sector.
    Because this recession came at a time when we were already deeply in debt and it made the debt worse, if we don’t have a serious plan to tackle the debt and the deficit, that could actually end up being a bigger drag on the economy than anything else. If the markets start feeling that we’re not serious about the problem, and if you start seeing investors feel uncertain about the future, then they could pull back right at the time when the economy is taking off.
    So you’re right that it’s tricky. Folks around here are used to the hills in San Francisco, and you’ve driven — I don’t know if they still have clutch cars around here. Anybody every driven a clutch car? (Laughter.) I mean, you got to sort of tap and — well, that’s sort of what we faced in terms of the economy, right? We got to hit the accelerator, but we’ve got to also make sure that we don’t gun it; we can’t let the car slip backwards. And so what we’re trying to do then is put together a debt and deficit plan that doesn’t slash spending so drastically that we can’t still make investments in education, that we can’t still make investments in infrastructure — all of which would help the economy grow.
    In December, we passed a targeted tax cut for business investment, as well as the payroll tax that has a stimulus effect that helps to grow the economy. We can do those things and still grow the economy while having a plan in place to reduce the deficit, first by 2015, and then over the long term. So I think we can do both, but it does require the balanced approach that I was talking about.
    If all we’re doing is spending cuts and we’re not discriminating about it, if we’re using a machete instead of a scalpel and we’re cutting out things that create jobs, then the deficit could actually get worse because we could slip back into another recession.
    And obviously for folks in Detroit, where you’re from, they know that our investments can make a difference because we essentially saved the U.S. auto industry. We now have three auto companies here in America that are all turning a profit. G.M. just announced that it’s hiring back all of the workers that it was planning to lay off. And we did so, by the way, at the same time as we were able to increase fuel efficiency standards on cars for the first time in 30 years. So it can be done, but it takes a balanced approach. (Applause.)… – WH, 4-20-11

Phones Out at Facebook Town Hall

Members of the audience take pictures as President Barack Obama participates in a town hall meeting moderated by CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. April 20, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

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