President Obama connected with Americans today via a Google+ Fireside Hangout, a riff on Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats, as a follow up to his State of the Union speech that he gave this past Tuesday.
Mr. Obama fielded questions submitted by Americans nationwide, which covered everything from drones and education to Valentine's Day and baby names.
The chat, Mr. Obama's second - his first was in January 2012 - began with a question from Kira Davis, a mother of two, who asked the president how a ban on assault rifles would help fight the FBI's statistic that the majority of gun related deaths are by handguns. Mr. Obama explained and emphasized the importance of an entire gun control package including a universal background check system that would lead to a decrease in handgun violence.
Mitt Romney received a shout-out mid-hangout when Mr. Obama responded to a panelist questioning the impact of his plan to adjust minimum wage on American businesses. Romney, who was never accused of being anti-business, Mr. Obama asserted, made the same proposal during the presidential campaign. Obama added that a portion of the workforce works full time but is still not living above the poverty line. For some, adjusting minimum wage could be the "difference between groceries and the food bank," and yes, you would still be able to afford your Starbucks, jabbed Mr. Obama.
John Green asked a question presidents don't usually get asked: why have we not stopped minting pennies?
"It is very hard to get rid of things that don't work so that we can invest in things that do," Mr. Obama replied.
A penny, Mr. Obama added, is a metaphor for the larger issues at hand: inefficiencies in the American government. Inefficiency seemed to be the word du jour and a recurring answer to panelists' pointed questions regarding policy change. Mr. Obama repeatedly mentioned Congress's failure to fix what's broken.
Green also touched upon government dysfunction with a question on climate change. He applauded Mr. Obama's "robust defense" of climate change shown on Tuesday but wondered how the government actually planned on reducing carbon emissions through policy and not just discourse. Mr. Obama yet again mentioned that Congress was not necessarily rational, and that it was his job to use the bully pulpit to raise awareness.
"If the public doesn't care about it, it's harder to get things done," he said.
This chat was not strictly business though; soon enough, things lightened up as it neared prime Valentine's Day date time. A panelist seeking counsel on what to name his unborn child pulled his pregnant wife into the session. "Do you already have a bump? Stand up, let's see it a little bit," Mr. Obama asked.
Finally, he was asked if he could issue an executive order, on behalf of the wives of America, demanding husbands to spoil their wives on Valentine's Day.
"If mama's happy, everybody's happy...You will pay a higher price later than doing the right thing during Valentine's Day," he quipped.