Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Obama Touts 'Start-Up Culture' to Millennials at SM Town Hall


October 6, 2014

Santa Monica Police and Sheriffs and Secret Service agents, gave a robust presence and snarled traffic all day on Thursday as President Obama came to town. See related article on page 3.

President Obama came to a shared workspace for tech entrepreneurs Thursday to tout the importance of "start-up culture" and the millennial generation, arguing that they were best poised to advance American innovation - but needed the government's help.

The president conducted a brief tour of a tech incubator, Cross Campus, where he chatted with the founders of three ventures working there. One provides a constant stream of photos from professional photojournalists; a second allows consumers to compare the relative energy efficiency of different appliances; and a third is aimed at spurring urban development by connecting people around community activities.

Dressed casually in a blue button-down shirt and blue tie, the president appeared energized by the friendly audience of more than 100 young men and women, who asked him questions on issues ranging from how to encourage women to pursue science to making the U.S. health system more efficient.

"A lot of you are part of the millennial generation who are going to change how we do things," he said.

"In some ways, entrepreneurship is in the DNA of this generation."

During the hour-long session, Obama made the case for government and his administration's record, arguing that even with the latest technical advances, government is "going to help determine whether you have the platform to succeed."

"As clunky and as frustrating as government and politics can sometimes be, the fact is, it's still vital," he said.

The event--part of a push by the White House to simultaneously showcase the nation's recent economic gains and convince young voters they need to turn out next month in the midterm elections-offered Obama a chance to delve deep into the details of federal policy.

When a health-care entrepreneur spoke of how his firm was working to cut waste in the system, Obama replied, "This is an area where there's going to be a revolution. It's coming."

"We have excellent health care in this country," he added, "But incredibly inefficient health care in this country."

The Affordable Care Act has helped slow the increase in health-care costs to the lowest rate in decades, Obama said. "It's like a $1,600 tax cut. Nobody notices it, but it's happening."

Several times during the town hall Obama openly joked with its hipster attendees, telling one man in an sleek blazer and thick, black-rimmed glasses, "This guy looks like what you want a start-up guy to look like. He's too cool."

Later, when a questioner offered the president a job once he leaves office, Obama retorted, "Being able to dabble in the issues of the day, while still being in sweatpants and a baseball cap, sounds pretty attractive. But I'd have to check out your perks. Do you have, like, a sushi bar?"

While the tone of the town hall was mostly upbeat, Obama also took the opportunity to take a few shots at Republicans. After rattling off several positive economy statistics, including the fact that last month the United States created 236,000 new jobs, he faulted the GOP-controlled House for not helping adjust federal policies to ensure "our economic growth is widely shared."

SM Residents wave at President Obama as his car drives through SM on Thursday, October 8, photo by Christina McAndrew

Asked what he was doing to change immigration laws to ensure highly skilled workers could come to the country, Obama gave a long explanation of his work on the issue and how he plans to take executive action after the election in the face of Republican inaction.

"It's anybody's guess how Republicans are thinking about this," the president said. "If they're thinking long-term politically, it is suicide for them not to do this."

But much of the discussion was more philosophical, and touched on cultural issues. Obama said he shared a female entrepreneur's concern that not enough women were pursuing science, suggesting that schools might have to adjust their teaching methods to provide "a more social environment" for such classes. The president said he worried so many potential engineers were going into finance it was throwing the economy "out of balance," and that as much as he wants to promote public transit overnight, there are clear limits to that strategy.

"America is a car nation," Obama said. "And that's not going to change overnight."


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