Obama makes it plain at Facebook townhall

OBAMA MAKES IT PLAIN AT FACEBOOK TOWNHALL…. President Obama, for whatever reason, hasn’t done a lot of town-hall events in recent months, and that was probably a mistake. He’s done two this week, and it’s offered us a reminder that when the president steps away from a podium and has conversations with people, Obama’s actually pretty good at this stuff.

In fact, free from a formal script, the president also seems more inclined to speak his mind in a less-guarded way.

President Obama on Wednesday opened a Western front in his war against House Republicans’ budget, telling an appreciative audience at Facebook headquarters here that the plan is radical, short-sighted and would reduce annual federal deficits at the expense of the nation’s poor and powerless.

In a town-hall-style forum with the 26-year-old Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Obama seized on a question about the House-passed budget to mount a long, withering indictment. The questioner, an employee of the social networking company, noted that some news media accounts suggested that the sponsor of the Republican budget, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, is “bold and brave” for proposing the deep spending cuts.

“The Republican budget that was put forward I would say is fairly radical,” Mr. Obama said. “And I wouldn’t call it particularly courageous.” He added: “I do think Mr. Ryan is sincere. I think he’s a patriot. I think he wants to solve a real problem, which is our long-term deficit. But I think that what he and the other Republicans in the House of Representatives also want to do is change our social compact in a pretty fundamental way.”

“Nothing is easier,” Mr. Obama said, “than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor, or people who are powerless and don’t have lobbyists or don’t have clout.”

In case you’re curious — I know I was — the president had not previously used the word “radical” when describing the Republican House budget plan. He’d been deeply critical, both in last week’s speech and at the town-hall event in Virginia, but Obama was even more candid yesterday.

I mention this, not only because I like and agree with the accurate rhetoric, but also because it suggests the president has been unfazed by Republican and media criticism. For much of the last week, the message has been that Obama has been “too mean” in response to the GOP agenda, and should be more conciliatory to avoid hurting Republicans’ feelings.

If yesterday was any indication, the president isn’t especially concerned with conservative sensibilities. Indeed, referring specifically to the Ryan agenda, Obama added, “[W]hat his budget proposal does is not only hold income tax flat, he actually wants to further reduce taxes for the wealthy, further reduce taxes for corporations, not pay for those, and in order to make his numbers work, cut 70 percent out of our clean energy budget, cut 25 percent out of our education budget, cut transportation budgets by a third. I guess you could call that bold. I would call it shortsighted. ”

If you missed yesterday’s event, the transcript is well worth reading. Pay particular attention to Obama’s talk about how the debt issue became a problem, his vision on immigration and energy, his reemphasis on protecting Medicare from far-right privatization efforts, and his calls for Clinton-era tax rates for the wealthy.

I don’t know how much of the public sees events like these, and what kind of reach the message has, but the more the president participates in these discussions, the better.