Almost halfway through his four-year term, President Obama has gone from political darling to embattled leader, wrangling with environmental catastrophes such as the BP oil spill, divisive policy issues like "don't ask, don't tell" and hot-button legislative efforts such as the fight over health care. On Thursday (October 14), the commander in chief spoke directly to the nation's young people about these issues and more during "A Conversation With President Obama," an interactive, live broadcast that aired commercial-free on MTV, mtvU, BET, Centric, Tr3s and CMT and streamed live on MTV.com, BET.com and CMT.com.
Not surprisingly, many of the audience members and viewers who chimed in online had concerns about some of the Obama administration's current initiatives and expressed their desires for the future. The world leader took on their concerns and detailed the ways in which the government plans to tackle many of those issues.
Before the one-hour broadcast, hosted by MTV News' Sway Calloway, BET's April Woodard and CMT's Katie Cook, viewers were asked to log on to Twitter to share how they were feeling about the country, the world and their lives in general, using the hashtags #mygreatesthope and #mygreatestfear. A selection of their responses would be read live on the broadcast.
Two of the concerns raised in the tweets that followed reflected the fear that America is turning into a communist nation and that Obama would be re-elected. The president, who has weathered claims that he is a communist sympathizer, deflected the digs by insisting derisive taunts are counterproductive.
"This is an example of how our political rhetoric gets spun up. The Internet and Twitter and all these things are very powerful but it also means sometimes that instead of having a dialogue, we just start calling ... each other names, and that's true on the left or the right. That's something I think we've got to avoid," he said. The president added that ultimately, many citizens share the same goals and should join forces to improve the nation.
"We've got to be able to have a conversation and recognize we're all Americans, we all want the best for this country," he continued. "We may have some disagreements in terms of how to get there but all of us want to make sure that our economy is strong, that jobs are growing. All of us want to make sure that people aren't bankrupt when they get sick [and] all of us want to make sure that young people can afford an education. I'm pretty confident that if we work together over the next several years that the political temperature will go down, the political rhetoric will go down because we'll actually be making progress on a lot of these issues."
Another issue the president touched on during the forum is immigration, a weighty topic that has sparked national debate over how to curb the stream of potential terrorists from overseas and secure the United States' southern border from an influx of violent gangs. An audience member, who moved here from Colombia as a teenager, got emotional when speaking about how her three-year wait for a green card is complicating her ability to see her 92-year-old grandmother for "a last time." In response to her story, the president explained his administration's efforts to streamline legal immigration for people with the potential to greatly contribute to this country.
"One of the things that we're trying to do to deal with the immigration issue is to accelerate the process for legal immigration. This is something that we don't talk about a lot. A lot of the focus is on illegal immigration. But we're a nation of immigrants so the question is how do we make legal immigration faster, less bureaucratic, [and] cut the red tape," he said. Obama, who is the son of a Kenyan immigrant who came to America on a scholarship, maintained that his team is working to make the experience of coming to the States a swifter process for those taking the prescribed route to becoming a citizen.
"What we're trying to do is reduce the backlog so that those people like yourself that are doing things the right way and the legal way ... don't get so tangled up in a bunch of bureaucracy that you end up being discouraged," he explained.
The president, whose historic 2008 run for office invoked the idea of hope, also heard some viewers' desires for the future, including the wish that the next generation of schoolchildren will have better teachers.
"That's one of my greatest hopes," Obama agreed, citing the need for improved conditions for educators. "We've got to make sure that teachers are respected, that they are rewarded, that young people like yourself who have talent and want to work with people, that you're able to support yourself and live out a great life being a teacher."
A tweeter who resides in southern New Jersey lamented the easy access to weapons and hoped that crime among young people could be reduced in the future.
"Obviously, school violence is still a big problem," Obama responded. "We're spending a lot of time, the Department of Justice, working with local school districts to figure out how can we keep guns out of the hands of kids. It's a top priority, especially in a lot of urban districts."
Next, a student at historically black institution Howard University posed a question about increasing the rates of black men in college and decreasing the number of incarcerated African-American males. Continuing a theme he had touched on throughout the forum — from the cost of college to investing in public school teachers — the president linked the current plight of young black men back to education.
"African-American boys oftentimes fall behind in school early, start feeling discouraged, check out, drop out, end up on the streets and then get into trouble. If we can make sure that young [boys] starting at the age of 3 or 4 already know their colors and their letters and get [into a] good preschool, and by the time they get into school they've got a good teacher and are getting the support that they need and are able to keep up with their class work ... that is gonna do more to reduce the incarceration rate at the same time, obviously, as it increases the college-enrollment rate," he explained. "That's why we've got to prioritize education going forward."
Did President Obama address any of your hopes and fears in the forum? Let us know in the comments!