By Sara Jerome - 04/20/11 10:59 PM EDT
President Obama took his reelection pitch Wednesday to Silicon Valley in an event at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
Billed as a town-hall meeting and set up as an interview with questions culled from the users of Facebook, the event became more of a rally, with Obama winning generous applause from the crowd of Facebook employees and admiration from the star-struck host, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
"Sorry, I'm kind of nervous," Zuckerberg said. "We have the president of the United States here."
The president skewered the Republicans for their budget proposal that, he said, would harm Americans who are most vulnerable. He reiterated his call to raise taxes on the nation’s top earners, a plan billionaire Zuckerberg assessed with a nonchalant endorsement.
"I'm cool with that," Zuckerberg said.
Obama strongly criticized House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposal to curb entitlement spending, which he characterized as an attack on the Americans most in need.
"I don't think it’s particularly courageous," Obama said. "Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of the people who are poor ... and don't have lobbyists and don't have clout."
The event was consciously geared toward younger voters, with Obama commending Facebook for "revolutionizing how people get information and how they connect with one another."
He made self-effacing references to his age, noting that many of the viewers streaming the event at home "were still in diapers" during the economic boom times of the Clinton era. He said young people should get involved in the election and encouraged them not to be "frustrated" by the bickering in Washington.
"Especially the young people here, the younger generation … you're going to be the ones to live with the consequences," Obama said.
He also pitched the Silicon Valley set on policies aimed at invigorating a high-tech economy.
To applause, he touted the need for high-tech visas because "we can't find enough computer scientists" and called for a boost to math and science education, particularly for girls and minorities.
Obama said he wanted people to feel the kind of enthusiasm for the next big high-tech breakthroughs as people once felt regarding the nation’s lunar missions.
For the tech community, Obama’s relationship with Zuckerberg, a celebrity in his own right, was on display as much as the campaign promises.
Obama patted himself on the back for inspiring the social networking CEO to ditch his trademark hoodie for a jacket and tie.
"I'm proud of that," Obama said.
Obama also said he noticed Zuckerberg sweating at a dinner of tech mavens earlier this year.
"You're a lot better at this stuff than me," Zuckerberg acknowledged.
To cap the event, Zuckerberg presented Obama with a Facebook souvenir: a hoodie similar to his own.
"This is a high-fashion statement right here," Obama said.