President Obama hosted an online town hall meeting today, fielding questions submitted through the Internet from the East Room of the White House.
Today’s meeting was the maiden voyage of a new feature the Obama administration has added to WhiteHouse.gov. In an effort to make the presidency more accessible and tech savvy, the Obama teamed has rolled out the “open for questions” feature, where people can submit and vote on questions to the president.
“One of my priorities as president is opening up the White House to the American people,” Obama said in a video introducing the feature. “We’re going to take advantage of the Internet to bring all of you to the White House to talk about the economy.”
Leading up to today’s town hall meeting, 92,922 people submitted 104,074 questions, and cast more than 3.6 million votes.
The meeting can only further Obama’s street cred with the Internet set he wooed so effectively in his campaign. Obama has been widely credited with effectively leveraging the Web to galvanize a broad base of supporters and to break all fundraising records.
In today’s meeting, Obama field six questions from the Web, on subjects ranging from healthcare to education and, of course, the economy.
Obama emphasized the enormity of the economic crisis, and warned that job losses could continue.
“We’re going to have to be patient and persistent about job creation, because I don’t think that we’ve lost all the jobs that we’re going to lose in this recession,” he said. “We’re still going to be in a difficult time for much of this year.”
The town hall meeting, which marks the first time that a president has fielded questions live on the Internet, comes in the midst of Obama’s media junket as he has been working to sell his budget and broader economic recovery plan.
During the meeting he talked up the importance of investing in infrastructure such as the smart grid, which he said would save billions of dollars in energy costs while creating a new class of skilled jobs.
Turning the question-selection process over to a Digg-like voting system even managed to throw a curveball Obama’s way.
“I have to say that there was one question voted on that ranked fairly high, and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation. I don’t know what this says about the online audience,” he said.
“The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy,” he added, drawing a laugh from the live audience.