Pres. Barack Obama’s Facebook visit was as much about making a connection with young voters as it was about connecting with Silicon Valley.
Aside from demonstrating that the president is basically tech-savvy, the visit showcased Obama’s ability to casually chat about matters of grave importance. It began with the president’s suggestion to Zuckerberg that America’s wealthiest citizens might have to pay more taxes. “I’m cool with that,” Zuckerberg replied, laughing.
When discussing House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan for the economy, Obama delivered a softly-worded withering attack: “The Republican budget that was put forward I would say is fairly radical,” he said quietly. “I wouldn’t call it particularly courageous. 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.”
(BTW: Ryan himself held a Town Hall meeting in his home district in southern Wisconsin earlier this week, where he was booed when he tried to explain his refusal to tax the ultrawealthy.)
Naturally, Obama praised Facebook and the new world being created by social media: “Historically, part of what makes for a healthy democracy, what is a good politics, is when you have citizens who are informed, who are engaged,” he said. “And what Facebook allows us to do is make sure this isn’t just a one-way conversation.”
The president was obviously aware of the demographic profile of those who were watching the event live (and who will have it forwarded to them in emails and Facebook messages) and tailored his message accordingly: “If you don’t give us a shove, if you don’t give the system a push, it’s just not going to change,” Obama told America’s young social networkers. “And you’re going to be the ones who end up suffering the consequences,.”
According to Bloomberg’s Marcus Wohlsen, “President Barack Obama likely has a few more “friends” after a town hall at Facebook headquarters that drew questions from site users and the youthful employees of the social media giant.”
Of course, the pundits are ripping the president for, among other things, being (A) out of touch with true technological innovation (Forbes blogger Haydn Shaughnessy), (B) too friendly with Mark Zuckerberg (WashPost columnist Dana Milbank) and (C) failing to talk about legalizing marijuana (!?) (Huffington Post).
Fun fact: The president and others traveling on Air Force One watched “The Social Network” on their way to Palo Alto.
Video of the presidential Facebook visit is still available on Facebook.
And: The Chicago Sun-Times has posted a full transcript of Obama’s visit to Palo Alto, for readers who want to experience it old-media style.