Was the CNBC town hall a wake-up call for the White House?

These leaders have been a driving force behind the nation's economic policies since the financial crisis of 2008.
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 6:21 PM

Anyone wondering what ails President Obama found the answers during CNBC's economic town hall meeting on Monday.

From start to finish, the hour-long telecast underscored the public's frustrations and the White House's challenge. The questions illuminated the deep dissatisfaction the president's allies and opponents feel about his performance. The president's answers raised anew the issue of how effectively he communicates on the economy.

Will the town hall provide a wake-up call to the White House? Administration officials may believe that their policies are correct, but even voters disposed to be with the president have their doubts. The president may believe that he has set the foundation for long-lasting growth and prosperity. But he hasn't found a way to provide the short-term reassurances people are looking for as the economy struggles.

The opening questioner set the tone for the event. She described herself as a middle-class mother of two and the chief financial officer for a veterans organization. What she said cut to the heart of the president's problems.

"I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for and deeply disappointed with where we are right now," she said. "I have been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I'm one of those people, and I'm waiting, sir. I'm waiting. I don't feel it yet."

A 30-year-old recent law school graduate said he had made use of student loans to go back to school in order to pursue a career in public service. Now he can't even pay the interest payment on those loans now.

"Like a lot of people in my generation, I was really inspired by you and by your campaign and message that you brought, and that inspiration is dying away," he said. "It feels like the American dream is not attainable to a lot of us."

From the other end of the economic spectrum came critical questions about Obama's attitude toward business. A billionaire businessman said, "I think the one thing to do is to not make people in business feel like we're villains or criminals or doing something wrong."

A hedge fund manager who went to law school with Obama told him: "I represent the Wall Street community. We have felt like a pinata. Maybe you don't feel like you're whacking us with a stick, but we certainly feel like we've been whacked with a stick."

The owner of a small business who was sympathetic to the president said he believed the administration was making good policy decisions. "Yet for some reason the public just doesn't get it," he said. "I need you to help us understand how you can regain the political center, because you're losing the war of sound bites, you're losing the media cycles."

To the first questioner, Obama offered a long answer about things his administration has done to make college loans more affordable, to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions, to prevent credit card companies from ripping off customers.

"My goal here is not to try to convince you that everything is where it needs to be," he said. "It's not. That's why I ran for president. But what I am saying is, is that we're moving in the right direction."

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