President Barack Obama said Monday in Mountain View that the optimism and forward-looking attitudes in Silicon Valley are what can help steer the American economy away from recession and get people back to work.
Obama took questions on health care, Social Security, job-training programs, taxes and business regulations during an hour-long, town-hall-style meeting hosted by LinkedIn, the
career-oriented social networking site.
He spoke to the high-tech crowd at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View following a two fundraisers Sunday night that raised millions of dollars for his re-election campaign. One of the highlights of the one hour townhall happened when a man stood up and asked the president to raise his taxes.
The following is a pool report from the Washington Post's David Nakamura:
President Barack Obama’s motorcade arrived at the Computer History Museum at 10:50 a.m. Monday, and it was greeted by dozens of people lining the streets. One held a sign reading: “No Money for President Ozone.”
The LinkedIn event was held in the Hahn Auditorium, where audience members were seated in rows of folding chairs about 5 deep on three sides of the room, with a row of television cameras on the fourth side. Obama was introduced by Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner, and the pair, both dressed in dark suits and wearing ties, sat on stools, facing the cameras. Deep blue curtains featuring the Linkedin logo were hung around the room.
Weiner told the audience there are 153 million Americans in the work force and 3.3 billion worldwide. He said everyone is thinking about the 9.1 unemployment rate but another number is 3.2 million, which he said was the number of available jobs in the country.
“We have to do everything we need to begin to put this country back to work,” Weiner said.
Obama took questions from audience members, some of whom had been pre-selected by Weiner and others who the president called on from his stool. Weiner also read questions that had been sent in from Linkedin members online.
The questions focused on the economy and jobs, with several audience members saying they had lost their jobs or their relatives had. One woman said her mother, recently unemployed, was trying to figure out how to get back to work and about the future of Social Security and Medicare.
Midway through the hour-long session, Obama called on a man wearing glasses, who was seated in one of the back rows. The man stood up and explained that he was unemployed “by choice” after having worked at a start-up company down the road in Silicon Valley. He had been successful enough that he was able to retire and live comfortably, even though he looked to be in his 40s.
“My question is: Would you please raise my taxes?” the man asked. “I’d like very much to have a country that continues to invest in things like Pell grants, infrastructure and job training programs that made it possible for me to get to where I am.”
The audience applauded.
Obama: “What was that startup?”
Man: “It’s a search engine.” (Audience laughs.)
Obama: “Worked out pretty well, huh?”
Obama went on to tell him: “So often the tax debate is framed as class warfare. As I said at the outset, American success is premised on individuals who have a great idea, going out there and pursuing their dreams and making a whole lot of money in the process. That’s great. It’s part of what makes America so successful. As you just pointed out we’re successful because somebody invested in our education, somebody built our schools, somebody created incredible universities. I went to school on scholarship. Michelle [Obama], her dad was a stationary engineer in a water reclamation district. He never owned his own home, but he paid his bills, he had Multiple sclerosis but never missed a day of work, never went to college but sent Michelle to college.
We benefit from someobdy somewhere making investments in us. I do not care who you are. That’s true of all of us.”
Obama continued that his proposal to raise taxes on those making more than $1 million a year is not “talking about punatative rates that will stop you from working at a startup and being successful. Were talking about going back to the rates of the 90s when, as I recall, Silicon Valley was doing pretty good. During that period, the rich got richer. The middle class expanded. Everybody was doing well. We’re not punishing those doing well. That’s the last thing I want to do. The question is how can we afford to continue making the investments that can propel America forward?”
He added that: “At some point, money makes a difference. If we do not have enough science teachers in classrooms we have a problem. Somebody’s got to pay for it. Now we have lowest tax rates since the 1950s. Some Repubulican proposals would take it back to where we were in the 1920s. We can’t have a modern industrial economy like that.”
To the man who had asked the question, Obama said finally: “I appreciate the fact that you recognize we are in this thing together. We’re not on our own. Those of us who have been successful have to remember that.”
The man then responded that he knows “a lot of people” in his own situation “and everyone told me that they would support raising our taxes, so please…” The crowd applauded.
At the end of the event, Obama said: “People are just looking for common sense… The problem is not outside of Washington but the problem is everything has become so ideological and everyone is just focused on the next election and putting party before country that we’re not able to solve our problems.”
This story was written by Washington Post Staff Writer David Nakamura who filed the story as part of a press pool report on behalf of the reporters traveling with the president.