WASHINGTON — If Democrats are counting on young and minority voters to keep them in power in next month's elections, the under-30 audience at a nationally televised youth forum Thursday showed President Barack Obama that they're feeling dissatisfied, too.
Over the course of the hour-long event hosted by Viacom networks MTV, BET and CMT, Obama took one critical question after another from among the 225 young men and women in the studio audience and thousands more sending their thoughts via Twitter.
A young Republican woman from Austin, Texas, in the audience, kicked things off, saying she had "very much respected" his pledge in his 2008 campaign for more bipartisanship but "to be frank, when all was said and done, I don't think that actually happened." A young man from Mississippi thought Obama was too soft on illegal immigration.
A young man from Washington said despite the bailouts and stimulus, unemployment's still above 9 percent and college graduates can't find work.
"Why should we still support you going forward with your monetary and economic policies, and if the economy does not improve over the next two years, why should we vote you back in?"
Viewers were asked to send in via Twitter their greatest hopes or fears. Two messages were read aloud to the president: "My greatest fear is that we are turning into a Communist country" and "My greatest fear is that Obama will be re-elected."
Obama mostly took it all in stride, although the criticism got under his skin a couple of times. He said his administration's policies didn't cause the recession and had staved off a second Great Depression. He also said that "taxes aren't higher" than they were when he took office.
One woman quizzed Obama on why he hadn't yet ended the "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning openly gay Americans from military service. Her question came on the same day the Obama administration appealed a federal judge's ruling that the military must stop enforcing the 17-year-old policy.
Obama wants gays to be able to openly serve, but defended his team's steps, saying, "Congress explicitly passed a law that took away the power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally so this is not a situation in which with a stroke of a pen I can simply end the policy." He added that, "It has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now. . . This policy will end, and it will end on my watch."
Not everyone had an ax to grind.
Some just wanted to tell Obama about their experiences, including a young woman awaiting her green card and victims of Internet bullying, domestic violence and poor schools.
Others wanted to know more about his feelings.
Does he think sexual identity is a choice? "I don't think it's a choice," Obama said. "I think people are born with a certain makeup and that we're all children of God."
On a question about racial tensions, Obama blamed the economy, saying that people out of work or afraid of losing their homes become more worried "about what other folks are doing, and sometimes that organizes itself around kind of a tribal attitude, and issues of race become more prominent."
He said the racially diverse audience, though, puts those problems in perspective. "This audience just didn't exist 20 years ago," he said.
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