President Obama went to California to talk about his plan to reduce the federal deficit and debt, but it was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s tie and jeans that stole the show, at least at first.
The famously casual Zuckerberg hosted Obama at the company’s Palo Alto headquarters on Wednesday, where the president reiterated many of his familiar arguments about the budget situation, and listed few details when asked about what he would be willing to cut.
But it was the format of the town hall event that made headlines, as Obama further embraced the social media industry he harnessed so effectively during the 2008 campaign. A Facebook representative, with a nod to the president’s nearly 1 million Facebook fans, welcomed Obama “home” to the company. Zuckerberg even donned a rare tie, a point noted by the president.
But while Obama came to reiterate that Facebook revolutionized the way people connect and offers an “ideal” way to have a national conversation on serious issues, when he took the stage, he faced a receptive but still skeptical technology industry.
Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, which includes most of the biggest tech companies including Google, Apple, and Microsoft, among others, lauded Obama for embracing technology not only as a fundraising and political communication tool, but also in his rhetoric on the economy. He noted, however, that tech companies and their employees will be watching for more than just talk.
“We are looking for him to accelerate the timeline from talking to results,” Garfield told National Journal. “Obama has talked the talk better than most presidents, but we’re waiting to see if that translates into action.”
Specifically, the industry will be watching for results on wireless spectrum, international trade, the American talent pool, and taxes, Garfield said.
During Wednesday’s Q&A, Obama threw the tech sector a few bones, citing health IT as a way to reduce health care costs, and calling for immigration reform to provide more trained workers.
He also called for an increased focus on science, math, and engineering education. “We want to start making science cool,” Obama said.
And as preparations were being made for the event, a group of conservative activists claimed responsibility for bringing down the White House’s Facebook town hall web page with a deluge of comments in the afternoon. ForAmerica chairman L. Brent Bozell issued a statement saying he had encouraged the group’s nearly 1 million Facebook followers to call for a repeal of health care reform.
“As the comments grew on the town hall page we marveled at the speed and volume of posts from ForAmerica supporters,” Bozell said. “Within a few minutes, the town hall page was taken down and labeled 'unavailable,' and it was down for at least 39 minutes.”
But the event itself seemed to go off without a hitch. A Facebook spokesman said questions were not reviewed by White House staff and were selected from the live stream, employee suggestions, and from questions submitted by the public before the event.