A first-ever presidential Twitter town hall with President Barack Obama kept questions from Twitter users focused to jobs and the economy, avoiding the many questions on the wars, foreign policy and civil liberties issues that have primarily been created because of legislation and policies deemed necessary to prosecute a “war on terrorism.”
The questions touched on: mistakes made during the recession, being realistic on job creation, rising cost of higher education, issuing an executive order to raise the debt ceiling, the possible creation of a startup visa program for immigrant entrepreneurs, promoting alternative energy especially in oil states like Louisiana and Texas, protecting collective bargaining rights and stalling the onslaught from state legislatures around the country, helping homeowners who just can’t sell their homes, jobs, growing small business, tax breaks for honorably discharged veterans, changing the tax system to address the deficit, using the free market to help homeowners, privatizing education, tax cuts, space exploration, welfare programs and, very briefly, defense contracting and the war on drugs.
One can make the argument that this was to be on jobs and the economy and not civil liberties or the wars or foreign policy. But, job creation and the economy is dependent on the wars and the costly foreign policy, which the Obama Administration continues. Also, there are economic questions that can be asked, which touch on civil liberties issues in America.
Here are questions the ACLU asked (none of them were picked up by the curators of the event):
How are you fighting for #fairpay for women after the Wal-Mart v Dukes #SCOTUS decision? #askobama #walmartwmn
Should seriously ill people have safe/reliable access to their medicine w/o the fear of federal prosecution of their suppliers? #AskObama
Should seriously ill people have safe/reliable access to their DoD policy bars health coverage for abortion when servicewomen are raped. Do you support the MARCH Act to offer them full care? #AskObama
Should sick people have to choose between the most effective medicine to treat their illness and keeping their jobs? #AskObama
What is your administration going to do to stem the tide of discriminatory, anti-immigrant laws coming out of state legislatures? #AskObama
R U ready 2 place people’s health before politics by saying no to prosecuting people for complying with state med marijuana laws? #AskObama
Our govt provides insurance coverage for abortion for rape survivors to most federal employees, but not military women. Why? #AskObama
Why is your administration insisting on prosecuting those who cultivate/distribute medical marijuana for sick people? #AskObama
Even extreme antichoice bills like HR 3 included exceptions for rape. Why won’t the DoD extend equal protections to servicewomen? #AskObama
If those who cultivate/distribute marijuana in compliance w/state law can B prosecuted, where shld #MMJ patients get medicine? #AskObama
There were a number of questions on the wars and how they have impacted job creation and the economy from Twitter users. A number of users asking about US foreign policy and why we continue to try to be the world’s policeman. Additionally, there were many users asking about civil liberties as they might pertain to the economy but the curators selected none of these questions. [*I compiled a Chirpstory, which shows these questions were asked by users.]
Why did it seem like wars, foreign policy and civil liberties issues were taboo during this town hall on jobs and the economy?
A “Topic Tracker” image indicates curators were likely monitoring talk on jobs, the budget, taxes, education and housing. It seems likely the curators were tracking those four keywords and finding any questions that had those keywords in the #askObama stream. This is what they were likely doing throughout the event.
However, the moderator of the event, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, asked a few questions that dealt with general or other issues. How were those selected?
If we go by the image and assume it is generally accurate, at one point during the town hall 26% of the tweets were on jobs, 19% were on the budget, 16% were on taxes, 9% on education and 6% were on housing. Add those numbers up and you get a grand total of 76%. That leaves 24% of the tweets unaccounted for and it leaves open the possibility that there could have been more questions on these wars, foreign policy or civil liberties than housing, education or even taxes.
The avoidance of questions on decriminalization of marijuana and questions on the federal government’s role in states as they move to legalize and regulate the medical marijuana industry was very telling. Just after the Justice Department issued a Cole memo offering guidance to states on medical marijuana and federal prosecutions, there is reason to be concerned that the federal government might subvert the will of voters, who have supported state measures to decriminalize and/or legalize the drug. Additionally, members of Congress like Rep. Jared Polis have drawn attention to how medical marijuana can help a state’s economy like it has in his home state of Colorado.
Back in March 2009, the White House hosted an online town hall meeting. Then, as with the Twitter town hall, questions were grouped by topic (education, home ownership, health care reform and the budget). ABC News noted then that many of the questions had to do with marijuana and whether it was time to decriminalize the drug.
Obama, when noting that questions on marijuana were ranked fairly high with over three million wanting him to address the issue, he joked, “I don’t know what that says about the online audience.” Following his petulant quip, he said he didn’t think decriminalizing the drug would be a good way to grow the economy.
President Obama’s evolution on the issue appears to have worsened from being willing to churlishly address the issue to being unwilling to entertain the notion of legalization helping state economies at all.
The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University released a study showing the cost of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan has cost up to $4 trillion. Notice that doesn’t include any figures on the cost of war in Libya so far or figures on the cost of military operations in Yemen, Somalia or Colombia.
Any serious discussion on jobs and the economy should have honed in on the connection between job creation (or the lack thereof) and the wars and the connection between US foreign policy and the health of the economy and the growing national debt. However, those tweets seem to have been something the president didn’t want to discuss.
But, not even key women’s rights issues like fair pay for women and a woman’s right to an abortion were raised during the town hall event. (There was time, however, to let Speaker Boehner get a question in, like he can’t call a press conference himself if he wants attention.)
It’s notable that the four areas that were deemed allowable discussion topics are all issues Congress will debate. They are areas where bipartisan national consensus has not been achieved or settled. On the contrary, on many issues related to civil liberties, the wars and foreign policy, bipartisan consensus has been established. For the White House, taking questions on those matters would be a nuisance, as it would mean people get their hopes up that Obama was going to actually shift and respond to the concerns of a majority of the population.