President Obama landed in a Des Moines, Iowa backyard today and got as strong a dose as ever of the hostility and skepticism that a growing number of Americans are harboring for him.
It wasn’t supposed to be a barbecue, just a friendly meeting. But somebody got roasted today.
I have never in my 13 years covering the White House seen a president besieged in this way by average citizens, concerned and angry enough that they are totally unintimidated to be talking to a president. The White House deserves some credit for this. These people are clearly not screened, something the Bushies were famous for. But part of this also stems from a country that clearly is wondering just what it got itself into on Election Day 2008.
Here are some of the questions Obama got. It’s worth taking a look through them.
First up, what happened to “hope?”
Q I have a 24-year-old son who campaigned fiercely for you and was very inspired by your message of hope. He graduated from Simpson College about a year and a half ago with honors.
THE PRESIDENT: Congratulations.
Q And he’s still struggling to find a full-time job. And he and many of his friends are struggling. They are losing their hope, which was a message that you inspired them with. Could you speak to that — how you would speak to the young men and women in our country who are struggling to find a job, and speak to that message of hope?
Second up. How’s socialized medicine going to work for me?
THE PRESIDENT: All right, I’m going to go boy, girl, boy, girl, just to make sure everybody knows I’m fair here. (Laughter.) Right here.
Q Hi. My mother lives with my husband and I. We take care of her. She’s been with us for six years now. She is currently in a nursing home getting rehab.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q I have great concerns over your health bill. One of the ladies in admissions over there whom I was talking with the other week, started — she’s from England, and her family is still in England.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q And she was explaining to us how — telling us what we had to look forward to here. Her sister worked as a nurse in the same hospital for 20 years. She was 55. She was told she needed open-heart surgery. She was put on a 10-year waiting list. Three years later, she had a major heart attack and they were forced to give her that surgery that she needed.
I realize you’re saying the 26-year-olds will have health insurance — they don’t have to worry about that. My mother always told me the older you get, the faster time goes. And when she said that to me years back, I thought she was crazy.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I’ve noticed this, too. (Laughter.)
Q Yes. And these 26-year-olds in a heartbeat are going to be 50, 55. When you’re young, you’re supposed to be able to work hard for what you want. You build up your income. You further yourself so you can retire and have peace of mind. It’s hard to — I can’t fathom now how can you be excited in your youth when you have to save, save, save just to protect yourself health insurance-wise when you reach our age.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you a question, though. I mean, because you said you’re worried about my health reform bill, and the nurse said, here’s what you have to look forward to. Is your mom on Medicare?
THE PRESIDENT: So there’s nothing in our health reform bill that is going to impact whether your mom can get heart surgery if she needed it. We didn’t change the core Medicare program. So unless there’s something specific that you’re worried about —
Q Medicare doesn’t start until you’re 65.
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, I understand.
Q I’m talking about 50, 55 years old.
THE PRESIDENT: All right, so if you’re not on Medicare —
Q Yes, right.
THE PRESIDENT: And do you have health insurance?
Q Yes. Right now, yes.
THE PRESIDENT: So there’s nothing in the bill that says you have to change the health insurance that you’ve got right now. I just want to identify what your worry is, because I want to say you shouldn’t be worried about it. But what is it that you think might happen to your health insurance as a consequence of health care reform?
Q Okay, what I’m concerned about is say if my — just say if my husband got laid off. Say we had no health care.
THE PRESIDENT: You had no health insurance, okay? Now, right now before reform, if you had no health insurance, you’d just be out of luck, okay?
Q And then we’d get the government-run health insurance, right? Is that what you’re saying?
Next, why are illegal immigrants getting health care?
Q All right. We’re all — we all agree health — there needs to be health reform, okay? We just moved out here a year ago from Las Vegas, okay? There are illegal immigrants that are getting free health care right now, okay? The doctor that we had, clinics and stuff, closed up because they couldn’t even afford to stay open because of all the illegal immigrants that were getting health care.
And here’s another: what about this raising taxes on the “rich?”
Q As the government gets more and more involved in business and gets more involved in taxes to pay for an awful lot of programs, what you’re finding is you’re strangling those job-creation vehicles that are available — you’re sort of strangling the engine that does create the jobs. We have jobs that we offer, I mean, regularly. There’s always an opportunity for somebody that wants to work hard. I don’t care what the background is. I don’t care what the health level, what the education is, or where they came from.
But the fundamentals are profit. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars — well, if you’re two people and a family, that’s not a lot. It seems like a lot, but not when you have the family, the kids, the cars, the college, and all the other things that go — plus you have to grow the engine. You have to grow it to continue to provide more jobs and to create the dream . . .
One of the things that concerns me is that repeal the Bush “tax cuts.” The repeal, I don’t care if it’s 5 percent — that’s 5 percent that would create a job. Five percent on millions of dollars of profit creates many jobs. Nobody is putting it in their pocket on a corporate level. They can sit with their piles of cash. But on a small business level, which is the essence of this country and it is the foreign ambassador for countries around the world to meet us, when I go to China and I spend all my time, I have a one-on-one relationship.
I sent an email out to all the people we do business with and I go, do you have any questions for our President? If I’m blessed and I have the opportunity to spend the four hours under the trees, I’d like to present your arguments. First one was, from China, why are you pressuring them for the renminbi? Why are you pressuring —
THE PRESIDENT: All right, we’re going way afield now. I mean, the — so let me focus on your question —
Q — the job creation —
And – a shocker I’m sure for the former community organizer – what are you doing for poor people?
Q I’m a proud Iowa social worker who works with crime victims. And my question is about the poverty rate. We currently have a rate of 14 percent poverty. That’s one out of seven people are in poverty. And I believe that that’s the highest rate since the 1960s. And there’s a lot of reasons why people go into poverty who weren’t in poverty before, things like medical emergencies and losing jobs, being a crime victim and, especially for women, a divorce.
My question is, what are we going to do — I guess, more specifically, what are you going to do — (laughter) — to help one out of six or seven people get out of poverty?
When is unemployment finally coming down?
Q My question for you comes from a member of my congregation who is 55 years of age, has a wife, two children who are freshmen in high school. A year ago he lost his job in manufacturing. He’s been unemployed now for a year plus. What will your economic policies do for him within the next year, and hopefully to be able to secure a job and have that American Dream again, which has now been lost?
If we continue seeing Obama appear in backyards to take questions from random citizens, I will be very surprised.