President Obama became the first White House occupant in history to host an “Ask Me Anything” thread on the website Reddit on Wednesday, taking questions from users on topics ranging from his favorite basketball players (“Jordan — I’m a Bulls guy”) to his stance on internet regulations.
The president verified he was online using the usual Reddit custom for celebrity visitors: tweeting a link to the page. His campaign staff also posted a photo of him taking questions.
The extreme traffic from the Obama thread made the entire website virtually unusable for large chunks of his historic internet interview. TPM managed to score a screengrab of his answers courtesy of photojournalist Gary He.
A number of the most popular questions on the tech-centric site concerned the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill designed to crack down on unauthorized distribution of intellectual property that critics warn could give government sweeping authority to shut down individual websites. Obama came out against the bill early this year, but opponents are concerned it could return in a new form.
“Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too,” Obama said. “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 their 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.”
Obama also took a question on space policy under his administration, another popular topic on Reddit. The president hailed the “inspiration” of Neil Armstrong, who passed away this week, and pointed to this month’s Mars probe landing as “a reminder of what remains to be discovered.” The next step: “a potential mission to [an] asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight,” Obama said.
He sidestepped the most common question posed during the back-and-forth, however — his administration’s drug policy. Many questions referenced Obama’s professed love for “The Wire,” an HBO show that took a very critical angle on drug laws, and asked why the president supported the continued prohibition of marijuana. A number of questions also raised concerns about reports that the administration was cracking down on medicinal marijuana in states where its sale is legal.
Answering a question on money in politics, Obama called on Congress to not only pass the DISCLOSE Act, which would shine a light on anonymous big money donors, but to consider a constitutional amendment to neutralize the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. He acknowledged the odds of ratifying an amendment were nearly impossible.
“Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight [on] the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply press for change,” he wrote.
Obama said the most difficult decision he made as president was to increase troop levels 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,” he said. “The decision did help us blunt the [T]aliban’s momentum, and is allowing us to transition to [A]fghan 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.”
Obama signed off with a plea to Reddit users, who skew young, to get to the polls.
“REMEMBER TO VOTE IN NOVEMBER,” he typed. “[I[f you need to know how to register, go to Gottaregister.com.”
He ended: “By the way, if you want to know what I think about this whole reddit experience — NOT BAD!”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.