Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jobs & The Economy: A Town Hall with President Obama

Here is our first topic for this semester! Sometimes we will be linking to articles, essays, statistics, or some combination thereof, and sometimes--like for this discussion--you'll be watching some video. On September 20, President Obama participated in what's called a 'town hall' event with voters in Washington, D.C. At these events, the President will take questions not only from the host/moderator, but also from audience members; 'average voters' who have questions about how government policies might affect their daily lives. In this case, the focus of the town hall was on the economy and unemployment.

First of all, let me say that I do NOT expect you to be able to fully comprehend all of the fancy economic terminology and references the President uses, nor do I expect you to be able to keep straight all of the numbers, percentages, dollar amounts, or statistics that he mentions (I'm not sure I'd be able to do it myself!). Even if some of the specific facts may go a bit over our heads, however, many of the larger ideas addressed in these questions and answers relate directly to some of what we have been discussing this week, namely the ideological debate about the proper role of government and in particular the question of how active our government should be when it comes to the economy.

The entire video is about an hour long. If you are able to watch the whole thing I would love it, but I'm asking only that you watch at least 30 minutes of the coverage. It can be the first 30 minutes, the last 30 minutes, 30 minutes starting somewhere in the middle, 15 minutes from the beginning and then another 15 minutes from the end; it's totally up to you! A few highlights I might suggest, however:
  • Between about 15:00-20:00, there is some great discussion about government involvement/intervention in the economy, how 'free' should the 'free market' truly be, etc.
  • Around the 24:00 mark, the President brings up the issue of the 'Bush Tax Cuts' that we discussed in class earlier this week
  • Between about 40:00-45:00, the host brings up what by now should be a familiar topic--the Commerce Clause--and asks about how it's been used to justify expansion of the powers of the federal government
  • During this same segment, the President also addresses the issue of the Tea Party Movement and some of the intense opposition to him and to his policies (if you're not sure what this is, don't worry--we will certainly be discussing it as the November elections get closer!)

Again, you can watch whichever 30 minutes of the program you want, but as you're watching, I'd like you to consider the following questions:

  • Which of the questions (either from the host or an audience member) do you think was the best (the most powerful, the most insightful)?
  • Which of the President's arguments did you find the strongest, the most logical, or that with which you would be most likely to agree? Why?
  • Which of the President's arguments did you find the weakest, the most illogical, or with which you disagreed the most? Why?
  • In general, do you agree with President Obama's positions or explanations with regard to government involvement in the economy? Does it seem to you that he has the correct ideas for how to improve our economy? Why or why not?

As I said, I realize some of what is discussed will be confusing or use terms with which you're not totally familiar. Don't worry about getting bogged down in specifics or statistics, however, and just watch or listen for those larger ideas about what the role of government should be when it comes to the economy, especially when (like now) our economy is going through some tough times.

Based on the questions I've posed above, you all need to post comments to this blog at least TWICE by next FRIDAY, OCTOBER 1st. The first time you post a comment, it should be to respond to my questions after watching the video. If possible your second post should be a response to something another student has said in his/her post. You can agree, disagree, critique, further explain your positions, or take the opportunity to comment on a piece of the video other than what you discussed in your first posting. Regardless, PLEASE make sure that all of these comments are fair and respectful--we can vigorously debate and disagree, but personal attacks and insults are not acceptable!

Let me know if you have any questions, otherwise I look forward to reading your comments! GOOD LUCK,