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.’’
Obama arrived in California on Wednesday for a two-day western swing that will combine town hall meetings with private appearances at high-dollar Democratic fundraising events.
On Wednesday he was to attend a pair of fundraising events at which guests will pay up to the legal limit of $38,500. Proceeds will be split between the Obama campaign operation and the Democratic National Committee.
Obama told the Facebook audience that certain political goals are too tough to accomplish on his own. He said he needed broad public support to improve the educational system and pass an immigration overhaul that would provide a path to legal status for those living here illegally.
And he used sharp rhetoric in laying out the stakes. While he wants to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over the next dozen years, he said that he would do so in a compassionate way that preserves the basic healthcare social safety net for elderly and poor citizens. In contrast, he said congressional Republicans are so intent on preserving tax cuts for wealthy Americans, they would compel seniors to pay more money to buy health insurance.
“The Republican budget that was put forward, I would say, is fairly radical,’’ he said.
In a reference to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), he said: “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.’’
Obama’s appearance at Facebook headquarters was a kind of hat-tip to a social media site that is woven into the White House communications strategy.
Obama’s advisors use Facebook — along with Twitter and photo-sharing web sites — as a tool for connecting with voters who might not be watching TV news or reading newspapers. After leaving the White House press secretary position, Robert Gibbs entered into discussions with Facebook about a possible job. But those talks appear to have fizzled.
Facebook’s reach carries a price. In advance of the town hall meeting, White House advisors posted details on Obama’s Facebook page. More than 2,800 people wrote in comments. While there was ample appreciation for Obama, detractors also found their way to the online forum.
“I want to know why the president mistakenly thinks that the methods for establishing the statist-communist revolutions of Russia, China and South America will work here in America,’’ one person wrote.