Obama jams Reddit but keeps beer recipe secret

US President Barack Obama fielding questions on Reddit. Some of the questions Obama was asked.

US President Barack Obama talked about the most difficult decision of his term, the White House beer recipe, his work-life balance and the influence of money in politics as he took questions from the public in an online chat on the Reddit website.

But he refused to discuss medical marijuana, soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, his failure to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, or whether he would act on climate change in a second term.

His interview, in the “Ask Me Anything” section of the user-generated social news site, was so popular it made the site inaccessible for many users during the 30 minutes that Obama was live. The photo of him answering questions on his Macbook has become a web meme.

It could prove to be a clever move to draw attention away from the Republicans gathered for the nominating convention in Florida.

Reddit is a diverse hive mind of the internet. One day it is getting press about a “sub-reddit” category that contained posts of nude photos of teens – some underage – stolen from online photo-sharing sites. The next it is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a bullied bus monitor or sending 100 get well cards and care packages to a sick five-year-old.

The large Reddit community also raised $30,000 for a 23-year-old battling cancer and one of its users recently travelled around the world helping random people with odd jobs.

“Hey everybody – this is barack,” Obama wrote. “Just finished a great rally in Charlottesville, and am looking forward to your questions. At the top, I do want to say that our thoughts and prayers are with folks who are dealing with Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf.”

Obama ignored a wide range of chatter and questions such as “Do you like cats?” while responding in several important political areas.

On internet freedom and beer

“Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too,” he said. “We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody – from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business.”

But when asked for the recipe for the White House beer, Obama replied, “It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty.”

On work-life balance

One of the most interesting parts of the online conversation was when Obama was asked how he balanced his family life and hobbies with being President.

“It’s hard – truthfully the main thing other than work is just making sure that I’m spending enough time with michelle and the girls,” he wrote.

“The big advantage I have is that I live above the store – so I have no commute! So we make sure that when I’m in DC I never miss dinner with them at 6:30 pm – even if I have to go back down to the Oval for work later in the evening.

“I do work out every morning as well, and try to get a basketball or golf game in on the weekends just to get out of the bubble.”

His favourite basketball player? “Jordan – I’m a Bulls guy.”

On space and war

Obama said staying at the forefront of space exploration was a big priority for his administration. “Even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight,” he wrote.

He said the most difficult decision he had to make during his term was the decision to “surge our forces in afghanistan”, which he said did help “blunt the taliban’s momentum, and is allowing us to transition to afghan lead – so we will have recovered that surge at the end of this month, and will end the war at the end of 2014”.

On dirty politics and the Republicans

Obama took a swipe at the influence of money in politics – rounding on the super-PACs (political action committees) that have brought “no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed”. He said they “threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens”.

As a solution he said Congress must start with passing the Disclose Act, which would force disclosure of who is giving money to who. He said Congress should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists.

A recent graduate from a top law school who said he/she was unemployed with a large student loan debt asked Obama what he was doing to improve the economic outlook for young people. “We worked for you, we campaigned for you, and we turned out in record numbers to vote for you,” the Reddit user said.

Obama said he understood how tough it was for recent graduates in the US but said the Republican Party would only cater to the interests of the wealthy.

“The other party has two ideas for growth – more taxs cuts for the wealthy (paid for by raising tax burdens on the middle class and gutting investments like education) and getting rid of regulations we’ve put in place to control the excesses on wall street and help consumers,” he wrote.

“These ideas have been tried, they didnt work, and will make the economy worse. I want to keep promoting advanced manufacturing that will bring jobs back to America, promote all-American energy sources (including wind and solar), keep investing in education and make college more affordable, rebuild our infrastructure, invest in science, and reduce our deficit in a balanced way with prudent spending cuts and higher taxes on folks making more than $250,000/year.”

On Reddit

Obama commented after the conversation that it was “an example of how technology and the internet can empower the sorts of conversations that strengthen our democracy over the long run . . . if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience – NOT BAD!”

Reddit is a social online bulletin board in which users can submit news items, which site members then vote up or down to determine their placement. Its name comes from a merger of the words “read” and “edit”.

The approximately 39 million users can comment on any news item and also participate in online chats. There are sub-reddits for virtually every topic imaginable.

Users have done crowd-sourced interviews with a range of famous and interesting people including comedian Stephen Colbert, TV survivalist Bear Grylls, pick-up artist Neil Strauss and the team of engineers and scientists behind the Mars Curiosity rover mission.

The conversation with Obama highlighted the President’s wide-ranging use of social media. Last year he participated in a “Twitter Town Hall” from the East Room of the presidential mansion.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian toldThe Wall Street Journal’s AllThingsD blog that he had got to know people on the Obama campaign and at the White House as Reddit had grown into an internet powerhouse over the years.

Ohanian said he brought up the idea with Obama’s team years ago but over the last year they had become increasingly interested.

“A little while ago we randomly get a ping saying ‘POTUS is doing an AMA’. Nothing different about this, except for keeping it a secret,” he said. “Also, the President only has 30 minutes or so to answer questions, which we made sure they said up front, because it’s pretty reasonable given his dayjob (we can’t all spend our days reading reddit).”

And Obama promoted the Reddit event with a tweet from his verified Twitter account, writing: “Hey, everyone: I’ll be taking your questions online today. Ask yours here:”

Some participants appeared sceptical or joked about the appearance.

“For proof, did he send you a picture of him holding a dated index card? Or did the Secret Service land a helicopter on your house?” one user wrote.

To which another replied – in a mocking reference to some who still question Obama’s nationality: “He faxed a copy of his birth certificate.”

with AFP

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