There was a fireplace, but no roaring fire, as President Barack Obama sat down Monday for his version of the venerable fireside chat via 21st century technology: a YouTube interview.
The White House says it's part of an effort to make government more interactive with the public. It's also another way for Obama to communicate directly with voters, using an emerging technology much as Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to use radio.
The interview allowed Obama to reinforce themes from his State of the Union address last week. Such post-speech presidential outreach is traditional, and Obama has been to Tampa, Fla., and Baltimore to discuss parts of the address in greater detail. He heads to Nashua, N.H., on Tuesday for another such event.
On Monday, Obama spent about 40 minutes in the White House Library answering about a dozen of the more than 11,000 questions submitted by YouTube users during and after last Wednesday's nationally televised speech. Users voted for the top questions, submitted either on video or in writing, and YouTube news and political director Steve Grove put some of them to the president.
The questions covered familiar territory for Obama, ranging from health care and tax breaks for small businesses to help for people losing their homes to foreclosure. He also was asked about policy toward Sudan and closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Grove said the White House had not selected the questions, nor had Obama seen them before being asked to respond. The interview was streamed live both on YouTube and the White House Web site.
"I hope we get a chance to do this on a more regular basis because it gives me great access to all the people out there with wonderful ideas," Obama said as the interview ended.
There was no give-and-take Monday between Obama and his questioners. There also was no immediate way to know how many people tuned in to either Web site, in the middle of a work day, to listen to the president.
Wayne Fields, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies presidential rhetoric, said the YouTube interview fit with Obama's post-State of the Union strategy, including a well-received, nationally televised question-and-answer session at a meeting of Republican lawmakers Friday in Baltimore.
Fields said Obama is trying to "reconnect with the part of the electorate he was very effective in activating during the primaries and general election, a younger audience, many of whom have become frustrated with the pace of change."
He said the YouTube interview could be seen in the same light as the fireside chats Roosevelt delivered to the public over radio during the Great Depression.
Obama is intimately familiar with 21st century technology. He's the first president with a BlackBerry. He also surfs the Internet.
During the presidential campaign, Obama used the Internet to connect with voters, mobilize supporters and raise a record-shattering sum of money. He has continued to take advantage of that online approach as president.
He expanded the weekly Saturday radio address by adding a video component and making it available on Google Inc.-owned YouTube. He held an online town hall at the White House last March, shortly after beginning his term.
A couple of weeks ago, he sent his first "tweet" on Twitter, although it wasn't his message. A Red Cross employee allowed him to push the button to send her message announcing a visit by Obama and the first lady.
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