In his first live-streaming Q&A with the American people Wednesday, President Barack Obama asserted that new technologies could help solve some of the nation's most pressing problems -- a theme that the young crowd at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto said resonated with them.
The hour-long question-and-answer session, moderated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and broadcast via Facebook.com, touched upon areas in which Obama has focused his energies -- improving education, reforming health care and developing alternative energy sources. All require a focus on new technologies, he said.
Technology can reduce health care costs by millions of dollars, numbers that Obama said he hoped would be apparent in the next five years. Technology can streamline cumbersome paperwork and help coordinate patient care, he said.
Providing incentives for a community hospital to get a system online that would allow for information sharing and elimination of duplicate tests needs to be a top priority, he said. The VA health system already has achieved huge cost savings through its online system, he said.
Facebook employees who attended the town hall emphasized the event itself was a product of new technology.
"It's a very historical point in American culture because in this Internet age, we can have this discussion with the president in this open forum on Facebook -- live," Joey Primiani said after the town hall meeting.
"Anybody can ask him questions on the spot; anybody can ask any question and get an immediate answer," he said.
In the wide-ranging talk, Obama fielded questions about the national debt, the economic recovery, education, health care reform, immigration and renewable energy. Repeatedly, he struck the note of achieving progress through "a balanced approach."
He didn't hesitate to criticize the Republican budget plan put forth by U.S. Rep Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, which eschews tax increases and would cut 70 percent of the clean-energy budget, 25 percent from education and 30 percent from transportation, he said.
"I guess you could call that bold. I would call that shortsighted. … Nothing is easier than solving the problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless, or don't have lobbyists or don't have clout," he said.
Obama said the country has made progress in its recovery from the recession, but there is more to do. In response to a question about the challenges to first-time homebuyers, he said the housing market is still the biggest drag on economic recovery.
Progress has been made in encouraging mortgage lenders to renegotiate on homes threatened with foreclosure, but regulators are still trying to strike the right balance, he said.
"We've got to understand the days when it was easy to buy a house with no money down are over," Obama said.
Managing the country's economic recovery and efforts to reduce debt are like driving the hills of San Francisco in a manual car, he said.
"We can't let the car slip backward. … If we don't have a serious plan to tackle the debt and deficit, it could be a bigger drag on the economy. Investors could pull back just as the economy is taking off," he said.
"We are living through as tumultuous a time as I certainly have seen in my lifetime," Obama said. "When I came into office, the No. 1 job was preventing us from getting into another Great Depression."
In one of his few comments during the event, Zuckerberg praised Obama's Race to the Top education-reform program as one of the most important things the administration has done.
Obama said he wants education reform to be part of his legacy. Reforms that advance mathematics and science and encourage women and minorities to get into technology fields are investments in the country's economic future; they are where ideas and innovations will come from, he said.
Asked about the Dream Act, which would allow children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and receive an education, Obama outlined his vision for immigration-policy reform.
"We are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws," the president said.
Immigration policies should be fairer and more efficient to encourage people who want to start innovative businesses to do so and to keep unskilled workers who toil in the shadows from being afraid of deportation.
"We want more Andy Groves. We don't want them starting Intel in China or France," he said.
But, he added, the country's borders should be secure and those here illegally shouldn't automatically get citizenship.
Periodically during the town hall, Obama returned to his "Yes We Can" campaign message, telling the audience that he cannot improve the country on his own.
"We've just got more work to do. Don't get frustrated and cynical about our democracy. Just remember we've been through tougher times before. We've always come out on top," he said.
But "I can't do it by myself," he added. The only way to accomplish the vision is by people taking part and remaining active in the political process, he said.
Several attendees said that message stood out most in Obama's town hall discussion.
"He made a good point that it's not all up to him. It's a collective effort of the nation, and we all have to do our part too," Nicole Sallie, an attorney, said.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss said the town hall meeting concisely hit on all of the issues that will be part of Obama's re-election campaign.
"What I admired most is that he didn't shy away from questions about what was difficult for him," she said.
Obama acknowledged there are times he finds fault with himself on day-to-day issues, when he didn't say the right thing or he isn't able to accomplish goals as quickly as anticipated.
"It's only been 2 ½ years, so I'm sure I'll make a lot more mistakes," he said.
Earlier that afternoon, the president arrived by helicopter, Marine One, which landed at Stanford University's Sand Hill fields at about 1:30 p.m., according to the Stanford Daily.
His motorcade then proceeded south along Junipero Serra Boulevard, turned east onto Page Mill Road, then turned onto Hanover Street. A crowd that gathered along Hanover and S. California Avenue cheered as the motorcade passed by and circled into the Facebook parking lot.
Protestors hoping to encounter the Obama along Page Mill Road at Hansen Way were out of luck. A few tried running into the Facebook parking lot after seeing the motorcade turn a block away but were stopped by police officers.
Inside Facebook, the event glittered with California political dignitaries: House Minority Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa, to name a few.
At the start of the town hall, Obama -- who is the most popular figure on Facebook and has 19 million "likes" -- took off his suit jacket in folksy gesture. He invited the usually T-shirted Zuckerberg, who was also wearing a suit, to do the same.
At the end of the event, Zuckerberg evened the score for having to put on the dress shirt, jacket and tie. He gave Obama a parting gift: a Facebook hoodie.