Politics

Obama swats softball questions at LinkedIn snooze

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama didn’t break a sweat today as he casually whacked away a series of over-the-plate softballs during a set-piece town hall hosted by the LinkedIn professional networking service.

The event was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. The picked audience’s minor-league questions came in slow and gentle, and were swatted away with a series of generalities that allowed the president to present himself as moderate, non-ideological and eager and able to help high-tech entrepreneurs.

“Would you please raise my taxes?” asked one retired and very wealthy Google executive who has donated up to $300,000 to Democratic Party causes.

“What would be your statement of encouragement for those looking for work today?” said a laid-off African-American technology manager.

The host, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, ended the one-hour event with effusive compliments for his guest: “I just want to say thank you and I want you to know how much we appreciate the work you’re doing … On behalf of our country, thank you very much, Mr. President.”

Obama was similarly generous. “These have been terrific questions … I appreciate LinkedIn for hosting this,” he said, before moving into full campaign mode by proceeding to shake hands with many of the attendees. He walked off the set while the crowd clapped and an online band played “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Obama attended the event in Silicon valley during a three-day, three-state trip through Washington state, California and swing-state Colorado. He is slated to attend seven fundraisers during the trip and is likely to raise roughly $3 million for his campaign. (RELATED: C-SPAN: President never requested to air Obamacare negotiations [VIDEO])

Since 2009, enthusiasm for Obama has flagged throughout the high-tech sector. For example, LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Hoffman donated $7,700 to the Democratic National Committee in 2008, but has since given only $2,400 to a Democrat running for a U.S. House seat in Ohio, according to the D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics. Linkedin’s other employees have donated no money this cycle, according to the site.

Similarly, Obama’s poll numbers have lurched downward in Colorado, where he won by 9 points in 2008. In August, a Democratic polling firm, Public Policy Polling, showed him getting 45 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval in the state. That’s down 10 points from February.

His speeches to donors during this trip show an increased urgency on his part. His language has been more strident and his charges more pointed. “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change,” he told donors at a Sept. 26 fund-raiser in San Jose. “You’ve got audiences [at GOP debates] cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care, and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay,” he declared.

In contrast, Obama’s answers during the LinkedIn event were laid-back and routine.

He blamed overseas developments for the economic slowdown, promised to spend taxpayers’ money on education and high-tech research, reassured his listeners that he would not damage Medicare, boosted his new $447 billion stimulus proposal and said that “the majority of people agree with the prescriptions I just offered.”

His criticism of Republican proposals were similarly routine. “What I am not going to do… [is] voucher-ize the Medicare system … we’re going to be pushing back against that kind of proposal,” he said. In Washington, “the problem is that things have gotten so ideologically driven, and everybody is focused on the election, and putting party ahead of country,” he claimed, in yet another repetition of the controversial claim that Republicans are unpatriotic for disagreeing with his progressive, big-government policies.

“That [GOP disagreement] has got to change, and [that is] why your voices are so important,” he said. “I need everybody here to be speaking out on behalf of the things you care about … and to say to legislators you’ve elected, to say to them, act responsibly.”

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