March 27, 2009 in Nation/World

Obama engages netizens in first cyberside chat

Steven R. Hurst Associated Press
Associated Press photo

President Barack Obama listens to a video question submitted from the Internet as he holds an “Open For Questions” town hall style meeting in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

Glimmer of optimism in poll

 WASHINGTON – Some Americans are beginning to see light at the end of a long tunnel.

 For the past two weeks, the percentage of respondents in the Gallup Poll who say the economy is getting better has been steadily ticking up. Monday through Wednesday, 29 percent took the optimistic view – the highest number since July 2007.

 That doesn’t mean everyone’s outlook is rosy – 66 percent continue to say the economy is getting worse – but it does signal a significant improvement in public attitudes after nearly two years of downbeat forecasts. The percentage seeing better times ahead has nearly doubled since March 9, when 15 percent said the economy was improving and 78 percent said it was getting worse.

USA Today

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama seized the bully pulpit Thursday and reprised the best of his acclaimed campaign skills in an unprecedented Internet town hall from the White House – a direct sales pitch for Americans to get behind his $3.6 trillion budget and be patient as he tries to right the tottering economy.

After an opening statement and declaring, “This isn’t about me, it’s about you,” Obama took up a microphone and strolled the ornate East Room, playing to an audience of 100 invited guests and what the White House said were an estimated 67,000 people watching him in cyberspace.

The event capped a concerted Obama recent public relations foray in support of his young administration’s assault on the country’s twin crises in the economy and financial system, including two in-person town hall meetings in California and an appearance on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.” On Tuesday Obama held a nationally televised news conference, also in the East Room, calling on an unusual mix of reporters in an apparent attempt to shake up the focus of questioning.

Obama explained he had called the first-of-its-kind online town hall meeting as an “an important step” toward creating a broader avenue for information about his administration. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said there would be more such events.

Timing, of course, was key. Obama was beamed out through cyberspace a day after the House Budget Committee adopted a spending and revenue plan that broadly matched his massive $3.6 trillion outline even while seeking to reel back on deficit projections.

In a forum that gave him an essentially passive audience, Obama said the budget would put the country on a path to “a recovery that will be measured by whether it lasts, whether it endures; by whether we build our economy on a solid foundation instead of an overheated housing market or maxed-out credit cards or the sleight of hand on Wall Street; whether we build an economy in which prosperity is broadly shared.”

Not surprisingly, the Internet questioning dovetailed with the president’s key projects: universal health care, improved education, energy independence and the range of promises made during last year’s campaign.

At times flashing his broad smile and at others determined and serious, Obama drew on his own experiences with the American health care system to empathize with one questioner who supported his goal of universal coverage.

He threw bouquets of praise to nurses who helped the family when his daughter Sasha was stricken with meningitis and returned with vigor to a recounting of the experience of watching his fatally ill mother argue with an insurance company to pay what it owed her for ovarian cancer treatment.

The president did not make news, but ran smoothly through answers to questions posed to him on the White House Web site and chosen according to rankings by respondents. A moderator read Obama some of the questions and other questions were displayed on monitors in the room.

And with more than 100,000 questions submitted for the forum, it gave the administration a significant number of e-mail addresses for future outreach and the next campaign.

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