In an appeal to the tech-savvy public, the White House’s Web site opened itself to questions for President Obama’s town hall meeting, which streamed online starting at 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday.
The virtual meeting — a new take on President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats — is another sign that Obama is reaching out to online followers as he tries to rally an anxious country in support of his solutions to the economic crisis. Obama began his address by trying to draw a clear line between what he sees as the political games of Washington and the actual needs of the American people. “What matters to you and your families and what people here in Washington are focused on are not always” the same, he said, criticizing the winner-loser mindset of the politicians in the nation’s capitol. Watch the town hall online “This isn’t about me, it’s about you,” he said. “It’s about the families whose letters I read every single day, and, for the American people, what’s going on is not a game.” Flanked by a flat-screen TV and backed by a 100-person audience in the White House’s East Room, the president answered text questions and those submitted in video format. Read a CNN blog on the event Jared Bernstein, chief economist for Vice President Biden, moderated the town hall and said it was the first time the president had answered public questions in an online town hall format. After the call for questions closed at 9:30 a.m. ET Thursday, more than 90,000 people had submitted more than 104,000 questions for the president. The questions spread across several categories and more than 3.6 million site users ranked the vat of queries based on their perceived importance. Obama answered seven of the most popular questions, according to a CNN tally. That includes those from several people who asked if legalizing marijuana would improve the economy. The president grinned through his answer: “I don’t’ know what this says about the online audience,” he said, adding: “The answer is, ‘No,’ I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow out economy.” iReport.com: Is it time to legalize marijuana You can watch the town hall meeting live on CNN.com and at WhiteHouse.gov.
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“One of my priorities as president is opening up the White House to the American people, so that folks can understand what we’re up to and have a chance to participate themselves,” Obama says in an introductory video on WhiteHouse.gov. “We’re going to try something a little different,” he adds. “We are going to take advantage of the Internet to bring all of you to the White House to talk about the economy.” While Obama spoke, users of the social media site Twitter commented on the speech. A user named kfoggy1 wrote: “didn’t vote for Obama, but I really like what he is doing with technology. Good for democracy.” A user called BeaconOfLight was less impressed. That user wrote: “Another chance for Obama to get TV time. Get your glass the ‘kool aid’ will flow.” The White House asked users only to propose questions that relate to the economy, but the questions have been grouped into categories like health care, green jobs, veterans, auto industry and education. A quick survey revealed questions from Americans troubled by the state of the economy and trying to make ends meet. In education, several popular questions came from people who criticized the state of the nation’s educational system, or were having trouble paying off college debt. “The Founding Fathers believed that there is no difference between a free society and an educated society. Our educational system, however, is woefully inadequate. How do you plan to restore education as a right and core cultural value in America” asked Takeok, from Boston, Massachusetts. Am, from Chicago, Illinois, wrote a question about the “obscene amount” of debt students carry over from graduate school and college. “Do you have any plans to help alleviate some of that debt, given the current state of the job market” the user asked. In the “home ownership” category, several users wrote that they feel they’ve been making all the right financial moves and still find themselves in turmoil. “Why aren’t you helping the people who want to PREVENT foreclosure” asked MistyLee, from Providence, Rhode Island. Some health care submissions questioned why more Americans aren’t covered. Richard, from California, asked why this nation can’t have universal health care like countries in Europe, “where people are treated based on needs, rather than financial resources” Ben R., from Washington, D.C., asked about marijuana legalization — a topic that ascended near the top of a few categories on the site. Questions filed under green jobs and energy prodded the president to reconsider ethanol subsidies and asked him to explain how the stimulus plan will affect green jobs and home weatherization. Larkin, a user from Gaithersburg, Maryland, was one of several people to raise the issue of public transit. “Will we ever see high-speed passenger rail service in the U.S.” the user asked. In the finance category, Web users wanted to know more about why the government couldn’t break up large financial institutions into smaller entities. Adrian, of Collinsville, Illinois, worried about businesses that have survived the economic collapse. “What rewards are there for those people and businesses that chose to live and operate within their means” the user asked. The site began taking questions on Tuesday. The service is hosted by Google, but the White House will protect user information in accordance with its own privacy guidelines, according to WhiteHouse.gov. Users could flag questions they deemed inappropriate. The administration sees the online meeting as a chance for the public to have a “direct line” of communication with the White House.