DES MOINES, Iowa — Neighborhood residents invited to a backyard conversation with President Barack Obama on Wednesday told him they were deeply worried about the economy and uneasy about his tax, war and health care policies.
The first question came from Mary Stier, mother of a 24-year-old college graduate who is still trying to find full-time work. While Stier said her son had "campaigned fiercely for you and was very inspired by your message of hope," he and his friends are now struggling and "losing their hope," she said.
Obama has been taking part in such forums for two main reasons: to show empathy for Americans struggling amid a tough economy and to make the case for Democrats in advance of the midterm elections. He spoke to residents in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday and a similar forum in Richmond, Va., later Wednesday.
Obama, not wearing a jacket or tie, his sleeves rolled up, gave a broad defense of his policies while denouncing proposals coming from Republicans.
"When you look at the choice we face in this election coming up, the other side, what it's really offering, is the same policies that from 2001 to 2009 put off hard problems and didn't really speak honestly to the American people about how we're going to get this country on track over the long term," he said.
In reply to Stier, a former publisher of the Des Moines Register newspaper, Obama talked about the severity of the recession and segued into a discussion of what he had done to ensure that young people "get the best education possible."
"The economy is growing; it's just not growing as fast as we'd like — partly because there are still some headwinds," he said.
A businessman questioned Obama's plan to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for Americans earning more than $250,000 a year. The man said taxation and increased government involvement in the economy is "strangling job creation vehicles that are available."
Obama said he has repeatedly cut taxes for small business. "So your taxes haven't gone up in this administration," he said. "Your taxes have gone down in this administration. I want to be clear about this. The notion that, 'He's a Democrat, so your taxes must have gone up,' that's just not true."
Obama also defended his view that the country can't afford the $700 billion it would cost to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Pointed though the questions were, Obama had reason to hope. Asked about the event afterward, Stier said her son remains an Obama supporter.