You asked, and he answered. On Friday (October 26), President Barack Obama fielded tough questions from young voters during "Ask Obama Live: An MTV Interview with the President" — everything from lowering the skyrocketing costs of student loans and jumpstarting the economy to guaranteeing equality for same-sex couples and protecting women's reproductive rights — and even managed to work in a shout-out to the Roots.
Sitting down with MTV News' Sway Calloway in the White House, Obama didn't have long to prepare. Within the first minute, he was getting grilled about lowering the cost of higher education — a hot topic among the young voters we've been speaking to on the road with our Power of 12 campaign — and was asked if he had a "game-changing idea" to help out students loaded with debt.
"One thing I want folks to know, right at the onset, is that an investment in a college education still pays off. The unemployment rate for college graduates is half for somebody who didn't go to college," Obama said. "But ... the costs have gone up so much faster for a college education that young people are coming out with an average of 23 to 25 thousand dollars' worth of debt. So here's what we've done: We have already put in place an expansion of Pell grants [and] keeping interest rates on student loans where they were; they were scheduled to double.
"What we've also said is, we now have to go directly to the source, the colleges and universities, and say, 'You've got to work on cutting tuitions,' " the president continued. "And we're going to reward those schools who do a good job, providing good value for their students while keeping tuition low, and we'll stop directing federal aid to those colleges and universities that that are loading up their students with debt."
Obama also spoke about rewarding graduates who want to start their own businesses by eliminating the capital gains tax and making it easier for young entrepreneurs to raise money through the Internet. And he touted the successes of the Small Business Administration, pointing out that Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank once got a hand from the SBA and now runs a company with revenues near $1 billion a year.
He was also asked if the federal government would step in to ensure equal rights for same-sex couples, saying that, while personally he believes that they should be treated the same as heterosexual couples, he thinks the issue would be better left to the states and the courts to decide.
"Historically, marriages have been defined at the state level. And there's a conversation going on. ... There's some states that are still having the debate. And I think for us to try to legislate federally into this is probably the wrong way to go," Obama said. "The courts are going to be examining these issues. I've stood up and said I'm opposed to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. ... There are a couple of cases that are working their way through the courts, and my expectation is that DOMA will be overturned. But, ultimately, I believe that if we have that conversation at the state level, the evolution that's taking place in this country will get us to a place where we are going to be recognizing everybody fairly."
Obama also took time to highlight the differences between his views on women's reproductive rights and those of his opponent, Mitt Romney — "I believe women should be able to make their own health care decisions; Governor Romney disagrees. He wants to defund Planned Parenthood ... he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade; I think that's a profound mistake," he said — and address hot-button issues like gun control and reforming our nation's energy policy.
Of course, the discussion wasn't always about public policy. Obama joked that, if re-elected to a second term, he wouldn't worry about his daughter Malia dating, since "she's got Secret Service," and even admitted that he sadly hasn't had much time to update his iPod ("I've been working a little hard right now," he deadpanned), but he does still listen to the Roots, and he wants to see more musical acts follow in their political ways.
"I think that the most vibrant musical art form right now, over the last 10 to 15 years, has been hip-hop, and there have been some folks that have kind of dabbled in political statements, but a lot of it has been more cultural than political," he told Sway. "You've got folks like Springsteen that are still putting out very strong political statements, but I'd like to see a more explicit discussion of the issues that are out there right now, because music's such a powerful mechanism.
"You think about a lot of the music of the '70s, there was a sense of engagement in what was happening with the anti-war movement and what was happening with respect to the civil rights movement," Obama continued. "So I would hope we're going to see more of that, because young people, they communicate in a lot of different ways, and ... you can set the world on fire in a positive way just through a message."
He then jokingly remembered buying albums or 8-tracks in the 1970s, adding, "That's old school."
MTV also invited Obama's opponent, Mitt Romney, to participate in a similar live special, and hopes to conduct an interview with him in advance of Election Day on November 6.
Check back for up-to-the-minute coverage of the debates and stick with PowerOf12.org throughout the 2012 presidential election season.