If Google were measuring the success of its video-conferencing tool Hangouts merely on the strength of how many times the President used it, the company could put up its feet by now.
Google has just announced that President Obama will be engaging in his second Google Hangout two days after he delivers his State of the Union address to tomorrow night’s joint session of Congress.
It used to be that the President spoke to the people, and not so much with the people, unless he happened to be attending a town hall event. Now, however, he seems to be forging a new tradition that partially realizes the promise of a more open democracy. Last year, Obama partook in a Hangout a few days after the State of the Union and answered questions in real time from everyday citizens, face to face. He was grilled on everything from the steep cost of college education to the Administration’s use of drones for assassinations.
Last year, taking part in a Hangout seemed like almost a frivolous novelty at first – look, citizens, a new interactive platform! – but this repeat effort suggests social-media Presidents are here to stay. Obama has previously taken part in similar discussions on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and he has also sat for two YouTube interviews in which an interviewer asked questions submitted by the audience.
It also serves a political objective. After the State of the Union tomorrow night, many people will turn to the televised response from Marco Rubio, a Senator touted as a potential Republican nominee for President in the 2016 election. In a sign of the times and the Republicans’ need to appeal to Latino voters, Rubio, a Cuban-American, will deliver his speech in both English and Spanish. With the power of the prime time platform, the POTUS always has the advantage of reaching a wider audience on the night of the State of the Union, but his opponents have traditionally got the last word with the official response. Rubio, a star young Republican, will be hoping to make a strong impact with his statement.
Even though it will come two days later, after the responses to the response have hit the media, the Hangout will give Obama a chance to get the “last word” himself, airing his perspectives to a grassroots audience and picking up extra media coverage for his efforts. Effectively countering Rubio and Republican criticisms on a forum that especially appeals to younger voters could prove important to Obama and the Democrats.
For a comprehensive analysis of Obama’s last Hangout outing, see O’Reilly Media’s Alex Howard’s report. The post-SOTU Hangout starts on Thursday at 4.50pm ET and is viewable on the White House’s YouTube channel.