Pres­i­dent lis­tens to vot­ers’ con­cerns in Iowa back­yard

A small group of neigh­bors shares mis­giv­ings about the econ­omy and more.

Los Angeles Times - - 9• 30•10 - Peter Ni­cholas re­port­ing from des moines peter.ni­cholas @latimes.com Michael A. Me­moli in the Washington bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

‘The no­tion that “he’s a Demo­crat, so your taxes must have gone up” — that’s just not true.’

— Pres­i­dent Obama

Neigh­bors in­vited to a small back­yard con­ver­sa­tion Wed­nes­day with Pres­i­dent Obama told him they were deeply wor­ried about the econ­omy and un­easy about his tax, war and health­care poli­cies.

The event car­ried echoes of Obama’s town hall ses­sion last week in which one par­tic­i­pant said she was ex­hausted from de­fend­ing him and dis­ap­pointed that more hadn’t been done to help mid­dle-class fam­i­lies.

Re­turn­ing to the state that launched him on a path to­ward win­ning the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion, Obama spoke to an au­di­ence that had clear mis­giv­ings about some of his poli­cies.

The first ques­tion came from Mary Stier, mother of a col­lege grad­u­ate who is still try­ing to find full-time work. Stier said her son, 24, had “cam­paigned fiercely” for Obama and found his “mes­sage of hope” in­spir­ing, but that he and his friends were now strug­gling and “los­ing their hope.”

Obama has been tak­ing part in such fo­rums to show em­pa­thy for Amer­i­cans strug­gling amid a tough econ­omy and to make the case for Democrats be­fore the midterm elec­tion.

Though au­di­ences have been re­spect­ful and po­lite, they’ve also used the rare en­counter with a sit­ting pres­i­dent to make known their dis­plea­sure with con­di­tions.

In some in­stances, their ques­tions have got­ten more me­dia at­ten­tion than Obama’s an­swers. But aides said the pres­i­dent rel­ished the ex­changes.

Af­ter the Iowa fo­rum, Obama spokesman Bill Bur­ton was asked whether the White House had lost con­trol of the con­ver­sa­tions.

“Is he as in con­trol as he could be if he just stood in front of a room with a mi­cro­phone and then just walked away? No,” Bur­ton said. “But he en­joys the backand-forth with the Amer­i­can peo­ple and the true con­ver­sa­tion that he’s hav­ing about all these is­sues.”

Dee Dee My­ers, a press sec­re­tary un­der Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, said Obama got points for “show­ing up and tak­ing tough ques­tions.”

“It’s not like the pub­lic isn’t ask­ing those ques­tions,” My­ers said. “And to see the pres­i­dent in an un­scripted en­vi­ron­ment, I think, shows that he trusts the Amer­i­can peo­ple. He wants to hear from them; he doesn’t want to just hear some pre­screened ver­sion.... He wants to hear what’s re­ally on their minds.”

Obama spoke to a small group in Al­bu­querque on Tues­day and ap­peared at a sim­i­lar fo­rum in Rich­mond, Va., later Wed­nes­day. The stops are part of a na­tion­wide swing that in­cluded an ap­pear­ance be­fore more than 26,000 peo­ple Tues­day in Madi­son, Wis.

Obama de­fended his poli­cies and de­nounced Repub­li­can pro­pos­als.

“When you look at the choice we face in this elec­tion com­ing up, the other side, what it’s re­ally of­fer­ing is the same poli­cies that from 2001to 2009 put off hard prob­lems and didn’t re­ally speak hon­estly to the Amer­i­can peo­ple about how we’re go­ing to get this coun­try on track over the long term,” he said.

He told Stier, for­mer pub­lisher of the Des Moines Reg­is­ter, that he was im­pressed with her son’s gen­er­a­tion. He talked about the sever­ity of the re­ces­sion and what he had done to en­sure that young peo­ple “get the best ed­u­ca­tion pos­si­ble.”

“The econ­omy is grow­ing; it’s just not grow­ing as fast as we’d like — partly be­cause there are still some head­winds,” he said.

A busi­ness­man ques­tioned Obama’s plan to let the Ge­orge W. Bush-era tax cuts ex­pire for Amer­i­cans earn­ing more than $250,000 a year. The man said tax­a­tion and in­creased govern­ment in­volve­ment in the econ­omy were “stran­gling job-cre­ation ve­hi­cles.”

Obama was un­moved. He said he had cut taxes re­peat­edly for small busi­ness. “So your taxes haven’t gone up in this ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he said. “Your taxes have gone down.... The no­tion that ‘ he’s a Demo­crat, so your taxes must have gone up’ — that’s just not true.”

An­other man ques­tioned U.S. war strat­egy, say­ing that “decade-long con­flicts have had an enor­mous cost in terms of peo­ple killed and wounded … and they’ve had a gi­gan­tic cost in terms of money and re­sources and peo­ple di­verted to the war.”

Obama noted he had ended the com­bat mis­sion in Iraq. And the troop com­mit­ment in Afghanistan was not “open-ended,” he said.

Pointed though the ques­tions were, Obama had rea­son for hope. Asked about the event after­ward, Stier said her son re­mained a sup­porter.

Of Obama’s per­for­mance Wed­nes­day, she said he “con­tin­ues to in­spire.”

IN DES MOINES:

Tim Sloan

Pres­i­dent Obama fields ques­tions in the back­yard fo­rum, aimed at show­ing em­pa­thy for those strug­gling in the tough econ­omy and at mak­ing the case for Democrats be­fore the midterm elec­tion.

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