Angry Citizens Confront Obama at Town Hall

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Contrary to his usual carefully orchestrated events, President Barack Obama faced some tough criticism from disenchanted citizens at yesterday’s televised town hall meeting.

Sponsored by CNBC, the highlight of the townhall came at the very beginning when an African-American chief financial officer for a veterans service organization stood up and said:

“Quite frankly, I’m exhausted. Exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the man for change I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I’ve been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people and I’m waiting, sir, I’m waiting. I don’t feel it yet.”

She went on to describe the enormous toll the recession has taken on her family.  “My husband and I joked that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs and beans era of our lives. And quite frankly, it’s starting to knock on our door and ring through that that might be where we’re headed. And quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer honestly, is this my new reality?”

After saying he understood the woman’s frustration, the president proceeded to tick off a number of policies he has put in place that were designed to help the middle class, such as expanding student loans and offering new consumer protections for credit card users.

“My goal here is not to try to convince you that everything’s where it needs to be,” Obama said. “It’s not. That’s why I ran for president. But what I am saying is, is that we’re moving in the right direction.”

But the crowd wasn’t finished with him yet. Another questioner, Ted Brassfield, a 30-year-old law school graduate who can’t find a job, said he’s no longer able to make the interest payments on his educational loans, much less able to have a mortgage or a family. He admitted to having been inspired by Obama’s campaign rhetoric, but said  “that inspiration is dying away. I really want to know: Is the American dream dead?”

“Absolutely not,” the president insisted. “There is not a country in the world that would want to change places with us. We are still the country that billions of people in the world look to and aspire to.”

Kenneth Langone, a co-founder of the Home Depot, asked via video feed about the president’s poor treatment of the business community. “I think the one thing to do is to not make people in business feel like we’re villains or criminals or doing something wrong.”

Obama insisted he wasn’t villifying the business community, but CNBC host John Harwood pressed him on it further.

“I think some of those in the business community may think that deep down you think that working for profit is morally inferior to the kind of work you used to do as a community organizer. Is that how you feel?” Harwood asked.

“No, it isn’t,” the president insisted.

The president seemed calm during these exchanges, until he was questioned about the Tea Party. At that point, he became noticeably defensive, saying that Tea Party supporters and candidates should stop criticizing him and start telling Americans what they would do better. 

“The challenge, I think, for the Tea Party movement is to identify, specifically, what would you do? It’s not enough just to say, ‘Get control of spending.’ I think it’s important for you to say, ‘You know, I’m willing to cut veterans’ benefits’ or, ‘I’m willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits’ or, ‘I’m willing to see these taxes go up,’ ” Obama said.

Throughout the hour-long meeting, Obama drew applause only a handful of times from an audience that seemed to be comprised mostly of disappointed and frustrated voters.

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