At CNBC town hall, Obama is asked: 'Is the American dream dead?'
Updated 1:35 p.m.
U.S. President Barack Obama is seen on a television set as reporters listen to his remarks during a town hall meeting at the Newseum in Washington.
(Photo Credit: Jim Young/Reuters)
By Ariana Eunjung Cha and Nia-Malika Henderson
President Obama, speaking Monday at a town hall on CNBC, had a specific audience in mind -- Wall Street, big business and investors.
For weeks, Obama has been engaging in what some might call a bit of class warfare as he's pushed for rolling back the Bush tax cuts for upper-income earners and leaving the middle-class breaks in place. This hasn't set too well with big business. Nor have the sweeping financial regulations that Obama signed into law, which stripped some power from Wall Street and increased Washington's oversight.
Monday's town hall meeting started off on a sour note when the first questioner from the audience, a woman who said she voted for him, said she is "deeply disappointed with where I am now."
"My husband and I thought we were beyond the hot dog and beans of our lives. ... Is this my new reality?" she asked.
"I understand your frustration," Obama said. He defended his administration's efforts to help the middle class, listing achievements such as better protection for mortgage loans and health insurance for those with preexisting conditions.
But the hits continued.
A representative from the business community, Kenneth Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot, asked via a video feed for an explanation of what he sees as the administration's anti-business stance.
Then a 30-year-old law school graduate said he's no longer able to make the interest payments on his educational loans, much less able to have a mortgage or a family. He said he had been inspired by Obama's campaign. But now, "that inspiration is dying away," he said. "I really want to know: Is the American dream dead?
"Absolutely not. ... There is not a country in the world that would want to change places with us," Obama responded. "We are still the country that billions of people in the world look to and aspire to."
Through the negative questioning, Obama appeared at ease, repeating variations of things he's said for months in speeches about the economy.
The one question that seemed to throw him off was about the "tea party." A Georgetown University MBA student asked him to comment about the conservative movement's calls for the administration to get the budget under control.
After saying that the United States has a "noble tradition" of being "helpfully skeptical of government," Obama went on the attack. He said members of the tea party are "misidentifying sort of who the culprits are here." He said the government has been dealing with two tax cuts that weren't paid for and two wars that weren't paid for -- alluding to actions by the Bush administration.
He challenged the tea party to come up with specific tax cuts or ways to control spending, rather than just talking about the need to reduce the $4 trillion deficit and hoping that "magically somehow things are going to work."
"We're not going to be able to solve the problem just by yelling at each other," he said.
He then, a bit jarringly, turned the conversation back to Wall Street. "We haven't raised corporate tax rates since I've been in office," he said.
Obama drew enthusiastic applause only a handful of times during the town hall, which seemed to be filled mostly with people who had stories of disappointment and frustration. One such positive moment was near the end of his talk, when he got a question about another nation some Americans blame for U.S. troubles: China.
The president said the administration has been bringing more actions regarding the communist country, which is blamed for holding its currency artificially low, thus making its goods cheaper to export and hurting U.S. jobs.
"We are going to enforce our trade law much more effectively than we have in the past. ...We want to make sure trade is good for American businesses and American workers, and in the past few years it hasn't been," he said.
While it's often hard to judge whether the president has actually broken through in such forums, this time it'll be easy. Just check the markets at the end of the day.
Ariana Eunjung Cha
| September 20, 2010; 12:44 PM ET
Categories: Regulation, U.S. Economy
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