Citizens ask Obama hard questions

The New York TimesSeptember 21, 2010 

It was billed as "Investing In America," a live televised conversation on the state of the economy between President Barack Obama and U.S. workers, students, business people and retirees.

It sounded like a therapy session for disillusioned Obama supporters.

Obama was confronted by people who sounded frustrated and anxious - even as some said they supported his agenda.

The one-hour program took place at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and was televised on CNBC.

People from Main Street wanted to know whether the American dream still lived for them. People on Wall Street complained that he was treating them like a piñata, "whacking us with a stick," in the words of Anthony Scaramucci, a law school classmate of Obama who runs a hedge fund.

"I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for," said the first questioner, a woman who identified herself as a chief financial officer, a mother and a military veteran. " ... I'm waiting sir, I'm waiting. I still don't feel it yet."

A law school graduate, 30, complained that he could barely pay the interest on his student loans.

"I was really inspired by you and your campaign and the message you brought, and that inspiration is dying away," he said, adding, " ... [I]s the American dream dead for me?"

The extraordinarily personal tone of the session reflects the erosion of support for Obama among the constituencies that sent him to the White House.

Obama told his business critics that he was not anti-business and his middle-class questioners that "there are a whole host of things ... to make your life better." He cited his health care bill, financial regulatory reform, and a bill that increased the availability of student loans.

The president also challenged the tea party movement, whose candidates have swept aside mainstream Republicans in recent primaries. He said it was not enough to campaign for smaller government; he prodded them to spell out what programs they would cut.

"The challenge for the tea party movement is to identify specifically: What would you do?" the president said.

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