President listens to voters’ concerns in Iowa backyard
A small group of neighbors shares misgivings about the economy and more.
‘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.