Obama courts young voters at Facebook HQ

2011-04-21 10:00
US President Barack Obama speaks as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks on during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

US President Barack Obama speaks as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looks on during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

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Palo Alto - US President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged young voters who backed his historic 2008 election to "double down" in 2012 as he paid a campaign-style visit to Facebook headquarters.

"Don't get frustrated and cynical about our democracy" even though "Lord knows it's frustrating," he pleaded at the tail end of a question-and-answer session at the social networking titan's home base.

Obama listed a series of his achievements, including his landmark health law and getting two women on the US Supreme Court, but warned young voters who helped win him the White House two years ago that he needed them to face challenges like the country's debt and deficit struggles.

"I can't do it by myself. The only way it happens is if all of you still get involved, still get engaged," said Obama, whose once sky-high approval ratings have slipped to below the critical 50% threshold in many polls.

"I know that some of you who might have been involved in the campaign or been energised back in 2008, you know, you're frustrated that, gosh, it didn't get done fast enough, and it seems like everybody's bickering all the time."

But "rather than be discouraged, I hope everybody is willing to double down and work even harder", the president said after taking questions from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, his employees, and an online audience.

Zuckerberg dons tie

Obama's visit, part of a barnstorming tour that includes major fundraising stops, aimed to recapture twin engines of his 2008 White House run, when his campaign tapped into social media as never before and rallied young voters.

The president, who faces fired-up Republicans and a likely hard battle to a new four-year term, opened a frequently professorial back-and-forth by joking that he at least got Facebook's youthful founder to dress up.

"My name is Barack Obama, and I'm the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie," the president quipped.

"Thank you," Obama said with a chuckle as Facebook employees rewarded him with a chorus of laughter. "I'm very proud of that."

Zuckerberg, aged 26, had swapped his trademark hooded sweatshirt for a jacket, shirt and tie - though his top button wasn't closed - for the president's unprecedented appearance.

The president notably aimed to promote his vision for reining in galloping US deficit and debt, including raising taxes on the richest Americans - including himself and Zuckerberg.

"I'm cool with that," the Facebook founder said.

"I know you're okay with that," replied Obama.

Youth is antidote

But Zuckerberg turned the tables on his host at the end of the session presenting him with a "Facebook hoodie" - hooded sweatshirt - that Obama pronounced "beautiful" and "a high fashion statement".

The president also branded as "radical" his Republican foes' calls for steep cuts in healthcare programmes for the elderly and the poor in a bid to pare down a deficit projected to reach $1.6 trillion this year but vowed to work with his opponents to address the issue.

"I don't want to leave it to the next president," he said.

With polls showing two out of three Americans saying they think the country is on the wrong track, Obama described young voters "regardless of your political affiliation" as the antidote to the nation's ills.

"If you don't give us a shove, if you don't give the system a push, it's just not going to change. And you're going to be the ones who end up suffering the consequences," he said.

"But if you are behind it, if you put the same energy and imagination that you put into Facebook into the political process, I guarantee you there's nothing we can't solve," he said.

Obama also mostly ducked a question about what decisions from his first two years he would now take differently.

"I'm sure I'll make more mistakes in the next year and a half," he said.

Read more on:    facebook  |  barack obama  |  mark zuckerberg  |  us  |  social networks
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