President Obama made a surprise appearance online on Wednesday, participating in a live chat on Reddit.com.
"Hi, I'm Barack Obama, President of the United States," Obama wrote in a message on the site. "Ask me anything."
The post prompted immediate skepticism about its authenticity, so the commander in tweet offered some proof, posting a message on Twitter linking to the Reddit chat and providing a "verification photo" (above) featuring the president typing on his MacBook Air One.
The chat—part of Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" series—was prefaced with a message from Obama about Isaac:
Hey everybody - this is barack. Just finished a great rally in Charlottesville, and am looking forward to your questions. At the top, I do want to say that our thoughts and prayers are with folks who are dealing with Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf, and to let them know that we are going to be coordinating with state and local officials to make sure that we give families everything they need to recover.
More than 10,000 questions were submitted; President Obama responded to 10 of them—mostly those that were popular among (and promoted by) Reddit users. Like this one: "What was the most difficult decision that you had to make during this term?"
The decision to surge our forces in afghanistan. Any time you send our brave men and women into battle, you know that not everyone will come home safely, and that necessarily weighs heavily on you. The decision did help us blunt the taliban's momentum, and is allowing us to transition to afghan lead—so we will have recovered that surge at the end of this month, and will end the war at the end of 2014. But knowing of the heroes that have fallen is something you never forget.
Another: "What are you going to do to end the corrupting influence of money in politics during your second term?"
Money has always been a factor in politics, but we are seeing something new in the no-holds barred flow of seven and eight figure checks, most undisclosed, into super-PACs; they fundamentally threaten to overwhelm the political process over the long run and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. We need to start with passing the Disclose Act that is already written and been sponsored in Congress—to at least force disclosure of who is giving to who. We should also pass legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists. Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.
This being an online chat, President Obama was asked about the issue of Internet freedom—and keeping the World Wide Web free.
"We know how Republicans feel about protecting Internet Freedom," the user "SharkGirl" wrote. "Is Internet Freedom an issue you'd push to add to the Democratic Party's 2012 platform?"
"Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too," Obama responded. "We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody—from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business. And although there will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won't stray from that principle—and it will be reflected in the platform."
He was also asked about the U.S. space program:
Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration. The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level—so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.
That answer prompted a nerdy exchange about grammar.
"An asteroid, Mr. President," the user "s0crates82" wrote.
"Don't correct the President, neckbeard," the user "Whoa_Chill_Bro" replied.
There were, of course, thousands of questions Obama missed or chose to ignore ("Why did you cave to continuing the war on drugs?"; "When are you going to close Guantanamo?"). But he did take several lighthearted inquiries.
"What's the recipe for the White House's beer?" one Reddit user asked.
"It will be out soon!" Obama replied. "I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty."
The chat lasted just a half-hour, which irked at least one Reddit user: "Half an hour my ass, you can't just leave Reddit, even [if] you are quite possibly the coolest person alive. You'll be on here forever, just looking at pictures of cats."
While Obama is certainly the highest-profile public figure to participate in the series, he's not the first celebrity: Larry King, Molly Ringwald, Jimmy Kimmel and Louis C.K. are among a slew of famous past Reddit participants.
Obama's not the first politician to submit to a Reddit "AMA" either: Former GOP presidential candidates Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer and Rep. Darrell Issa each participated in the cyber sit-down.