'Hanging Out' With the President

Illustration for article titled 'Hanging Out' With the President

On Monday, President Obama took interview questions through a virtual "Hangout" on the social networking site Google+.


According to Google, 1.6 million votes were cast on 133,000 questions submitted last week by YouTube users. The president tackled some of the highest-rated questions, with five selected participants on Google+ engaging with him live, and the other questions chosen from submitted YouTube videos. The live Hangout format also allowed the participants to push back on the president's answers.

Moderated by Steve Grove, head of community partnerships at Google+, the conversation touched on concerns for small-business owners, students and veterans. In some of its lighter moments, Obama was asked to perform a jig (thankfully, he declined) and greeted by YouTube celebrity and spot-on Obama impersonator AlphaCat (with the president quipping that the only thing missing from the impression was some gray hair). Here are a few policy questions that made the cut.

In a YouTube video, a 52-year-old Occupy protester in Portland, Ore., explained that she is a taxpayer who has been unemployed for five years. She asked, "Do you have a plan for me?"

Obama first answered that the most important thing he can do to help the unemployed is to grow the economy, pointing to his long-term proposals to give federal incentives to companies that keep jobs in the United States, expanding the America energy industry and changing the tax code so that everyone pays his or her fair share.

"Obviously, for someone who's been laid off and they're 50 and older, it's a lot tougher," Obama said, trying to speak to the woman's immediate needs. He held up as a hopeful example a guest at his State of the Union address who, after being laid off in his 50s, got trained in a new field through a one-year community college program and found employment. "It is possible, but we've got to create more of those ladders of opportunity."

In the Google+ Hangout, a college student questioned the president's push for Americans to pursue higher education at a time when so many are struggling for basic necessities. He asked, "What is your plan to help students pay off all their student loans?"


President Obama clarified that he promotes any education beyond high school, whether it be a four-year institution, community college or vocational training. He also mentioned a new proposal to shift federal aid away from colleges and universities that don't stop increasing tuition and toward schools that do find creative ways to keep costs down.

When the student followed up by asking what advice he has for students worried about amassing loan debt when they might not find a job after they've graduated, Obama said that they have to more responsibly think ahead about what they want to do when they get to college. "Your counselors and other adults can potentially help you to identify what are going to be some of the growth areas of the future so you can make a good investment," Obama said.


Despite the valid concerns of student debt, he said it's still a solid investment to make. "The unemployment rate for folks who only have a high school diploma is multiple times higher than for folks who've got a college degree," he said.

Through YouTube, a homeless veteran in Boston asked, "Why do we send money to places like Pakistan and other places that are known to give money to terrorism … when we've got guys out here homeless?"


The president first underscored his goal to eliminate veterans' homelessness, partially through increasing the Veterans Affairs budget. On foreign aid generally, he said that the 1 percent of the federal budget spent on foreign aid mostly goes to countries helping us with our national security.

"I do agree that a country like Pakistan is one where our relations have gotten more strained because there are a lot of extremists inside that country, and either for lack of capacity or political will, they haven't taken them all on," Obama said of the veteran's specific question. "We always try to find the right balance, making sure that if we're providing them with aid, they're also providing us with assistance in terms of making our people safer. There are times when they disappoint us in terms of their performance, but we're going to keep trying to engage as many countries as possible."


Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.