Friday, April 22, 2011

Obama & Zuckerberg, A Money & Influence Based Bromance

Commentary on an Overly Staged & Out-of-Touch Facebook Town Hall
Photo Credit - Flickr Creative
I admit it, I’m a geek-girl that’s always loved technology. I’m way past my college days, but I did come of professional age in the intoxicating dot.com era of the 1990s. My career has been in marketing and business development in the information technology industry and in new media.

I’m thrilled with rapidly growing Internet innovation and passionate about effective professional social and new media strategy.

I was genuinely excited when I heard President Obama was doing his first town hall meeting on Facebook. I thought using FB to give anyone the opportunity to ask a question directly was the upside to social media.

I posted a notice about the Obama FB town hall on my LinkedIn network update, my LinkedIn News and Commentary group, my personal FB page, my professional FB page, and tweeted it on Twitter.

I registered on the FB White House page and submitted my question. Considering the town hall meeting theme was “shared responsibility and shared prosperity”, I asked, “Will you consider a flat income tax with no exceptions and no deductions, so everyone has skin in the game and eliminate crony capitalism and using class warfare simply to get votes?”

I want Washington as usual to really “change”, and I am in “hope” that the voices of the people will be heard over the voices of special interests. I want the country to be united, because we all care about our country, and it’s wrong to demonize people just for votes.

I want the tax code to reflect true “shared prosperity” which is not the case when the politically connected make billions and pay no taxes. I don’t want those with no skin in the tax game rallying for others to be taxed more which only supports a right to entitlement mentality in America.

I believe this is the only true “shared responsibility” way to go. What’s the point of raising taxes on the rich, so they pay “their fair share”, if there are enough standard loopholes and special interest incentives to allow they pay little to zero taxes anyway? I don’t want us divided by class warfare in which only politicians ever really win.

Even just sitting at my computer to attend the FB town hall meeting, I could feel the excitement, similar to that of a final four college basketball pre-game, in the air at the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. There was a small in-house audience, and an online audience of tens of thousands. Streamed video of the town hall was on the White House FB page.

Mark Zuckerberg, admitting he was a bit nervous, moderated the event. The bromance between Obama and Zuckerberg was evident from the beginning. Zuckerberg seemed almost giddy at having the President of the United States in the house, and Obama rewarded him with inside joke familiarity and affection.

Eight questions were answered by President Obama in approximately 72 minutes. Two of those questions were asked by Facebook employees. Obama seemed rambling at times. Trying to fit in all his talking points afforded awkward side notes to the actual question at times.

I was a bit surprised that he seemed like the college professor whom lectures students and yet tries a bit too hard to remain in the “I’m as cool as you” group simultaneously.

I liked Obama’s focus on making education more competitive and his concentration on “science being cool again.” He offered “Education is the great equalizer.” Perhaps I’m cynical from the recession, but I was thinking, If there is no job opportunity after the degree is achieved, what are the real benefits of this equalizer?

Obama spoke of wanting to keep scientists, innovators, and entrepreneurs in America. He noted many foreign students come to the US for their education. I was thinking, If we continue to outsource jobs and capital to other countries by moving manufacturing and businesses out of the US, how do we keep the best young minds, or even older ones, in America?

I agreed with President Obama’s thoughts on education, but what is his plan for economic realities to do this? A specific plan must include education and job creation to achieve these goals. Was he suggesting the US should pay for all higher education?

Can the US afford this type of new entitlement? If the American economy finally completely collapses under the weight of immense debt, will a higher education even matter? How many recent college graduates, or experienced degreed professionals, can not find jobs now or are working retail and service jobs outside of their field of study now?

Speaking of reality economics, Obama reflected the class warfare rhetoric of taxing the rich of the 2008 campaign is alive and well in his 2012. I wondered, Is Zuckerberg hoping Facebook will fair as well in 2011 as a member of the inner influence sphere as GE did in 2010? Ok, yes, perhaps I’m going into overly cynical territory.

With General Electric paying no income taxes and outsourcing thousands of jobs to other countries, who exactly is Obama referring to as the “rich” that should be taxed more? I’m sure GE’s Jeff Immelt, like Zuckerberg did, would stand in front of a town hall group and reply “He’s ok with that.” as most wealthy liberals do when it comes to being asked for more tax money with higher tax rates.

Then they hire better tax attorneys and more aggressive political lobbyists.

Maybe the idea of a youth-focused Facebook town hall meeting was better than the actuality. I was disappointed. There was little specific plan detail or economic reality as usual.

Lots of very important topics, affecting both college students and most Americans, were not addressed at all. The questions asked in this town hall were overly staged. The moderator and the audience were over staged. It is not really all that shocking I guess. I was hoping for more.

I knew the town hall was a cool “campaign stop” type event, but I did expect the obvious questions on the minds of all Americans to be more front and center, even if just a little bit. Topics like Libya, our two wars involvement, continued high unemployment and underemployment, soaring gas prices, rearing inflation, and the coming debt ceiling crisis do have a huge impact on America’s 20-30 year olds.

This campaign stop mainly concentrated on Obama explaining, once again until we all get it, the benefits of his health care reform and of the Dream Act as a precursor for fulfilling comprehensive immigration reform promises in 2008.

Obama characterized the budget plan put forth by Congressman Paul Ryan as “radical” and not particularly courageous. Using the term “radical” came off as what it was, a talking point scare tactic buzz word. I thought, What fiscal plan would be courageous?

When the federal government is running a trillion dollar plus deficit every year, what is courageous about cutting $4T or $6T over 10 or 12 years? Has anyone considered the net overall deficit increase in 10 to 12 years with either plan? Does either plan balance an annual budget which seems to me is the first place to stop the bleeding?

The soaring price of gas was mentioned only once in passing to justify replacing the entire federal fleet with electric or hybrid vehicles. Is this a realistic, fiscally responsible goal with major spending cuts needed to reduce a huge federal budget deficit annually and overall?

Will those cars be built by General Motors in plants they are moving to Mexico? Will American educated engineers move out of the US to those plants?

Obama did note Treasury loses $4B per year on subsidies to the oil companies, and oil companies are doing very well. He said these should be eliminated and investments should be made in “new energy sources that save our planet.”

If $4B in oil company subsidies is only transferred to green company subsidies, isn’t the Treasury still losing $4B per year with no net savings or deficit reduction? What other special interest subsidies should be eliminated?

President Obama began the FB town hall with a question asking him to speak to what specifically can be cut. He talked about a surplus at the end of President Clinton’s term. He ignored entitlement reform was a part of Clinton’s budget cutting. He answered we need to spend on things that matter and spend less on what doesn’t matter. What are your specifics on that Mr. President?

Obama touted his Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP) as tough it had been a huge success. He noted we don’t want to return to the days when people didn’t put any money down, and those days were probably over.

He acknowledged the housing crisis was not going away, and “regulators were trying to get the balance right”. He acknowledged some people shouldn’t own homes.

I found that odd considering one of the elements of the housing crisis set up was the political push to lower credit standards for home purchases particularly by Democrats. Has Congress learned from this mistake in reality for future “social justice” involvement into the private sector?

Obama used the word “balance” over and over again in talking about government getting things right. What are the specifics on that Mr. President? What exactly is the balance?

As could be expected, Obama ended the FB town hall with a directive to young people to get involved and engaged and help him continue his progress for the country. He said they had to give the system a push or a shove to change it. He concluded especially the young would have to live with the consequences.

In my mind’s eye, I felt President Obama chasing the magical days of a college basketball center in a winning season, now with a little grey in his hair and half the energy, by rallying the team for one more big game effort.

I felt Mark Zuckerberg reveling in being part of the elite group that has a private campus club envelope being slipped under their dorm room door. This time, he knows he has already beat them all, and the invitation is really all about supporting mutual agendas of money and influence. Even so, it is always fun to be in a new romance and see where it leads.

Related Articles:
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PR Expert Knows Why Facebook is Worth $50B 1/17/2011
How President Barack Obama’s Use of Social Media in Campaigning Really Changed Politics 4/22/2010

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