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Obama concedes mistakes in Twitter town hall

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2011

President Obama admitted Wednesday that he made mistakes in his economic recovery program, including not tackling the housing crisis aggressively enough, during the first Twitter town-hall event at the White House.

"The continuing decline in the housing market is something that hasn't bottomed out as quickly as we expected," Mr. Obama said. "We had to revamp our housing program several times to try to help people stay in their homes and try to start lifting home values up. That's probably been the area that's most stubborn to us trying to solve the problem. We've made some progress. It's not enough. So we're going back to the drawing board."

The president answered 18 questions submitted by Twitter followers and screened by officials of the social networking website. About 30 people chosen by the White House attended the event in the East Room, where Mr. Obama initiated the meeting by typing out a "tweet" on a laptop at a podium with the presidential seal.

His "tweet," which had to be less than 140 characters, was: "In order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep — bo."

The event was moderated by Jack Dorsey, Twitter co-founder. Twitter followers all over the country were able to participate in real time and to follow a webcast of the event on the White House's website. The White House Twitter account has more than 2.25 million followers.

In response to a question from a Twitter follower from New Hampshire, Mr. Obama said another mistake he made was not explaining to Americans how long the economic recovery would take, because he failed to grasp the severity of the recession quickly when he took office.

"Even I did not realize the magnitude, because most economists didn't realize the magnitude of the recession until fairly far into it," Mr. Obama said. "I think people may not have been prepared for how long this was going to take, and why we were going to have to make some very difficult decisions and choices. I take responsibility for that."

The event was billed as a chance for the president to connect with ordinary Americans, but Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof also managed to get in questions. Mr. Boehner, who is involved in high-stakes deficit reduction talks with the president, asked, "After embarking on a record spending binge that's left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?"

On the large screen in the East Room, Mr. Boehner's question was garbled with typographical errors; Mr. Dorsey explained that the mistakes were not the Speaker's fault.

The president laughed and said, "John obviously needs to work on his typing skills."

"John's the speaker of the House, he's a Republican, and so this is a slightly skewed question," Mr. Obama told the audience. But he said Mr. Boehner's premise was right because, "we have not seen fast enough job growth relative to the need."

The president noted that the economy lost about 8 million jobs during the recession that began in December 2007, and the recovery has been adding jobs at a pace of, at most, 100,000 to 200,000 jobs per month. "That's way too long for a lot of folks who are still out of work," Mr. Obama said.

The event was focused on jobs and the economy, a topic chosen by the White House. But many Twitter participants offered questions that ranged far afield.

Among the Twitter questions that the president didn't get asked were:

"Who is keeping you from being clear?"

"Is it still all Bush's fault?"

"Did you wish you had more executive experience before assuming the presidency?"

"Did George Jefferson ever actually get a piece of that pie?"

The White House provided a running summary of Mr. Obama's answers in Twitter's 140-character format, with updates such as, "Obama: Tax rates lower than they have been under previous Presidents."

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