President Barack Obama stood in front of many young Americans Thursday afternoon (October 14) and addressed various issues facing this nation during “A Conversation with President Obama.” During the live event, which aired on various channels including BET, CMT and MTV, the president spoke about education, immigration, bullying, violence and more.
“We’ve got to be able to have a conversation and recognize we’re all Americans, we all want the best for this country. We may have some disagreements in terms of how to get there but all of us want to make sure that our economy is strong, that jobs are growing. All of us want to make sure that people aren’t bankrupt when they get sick [and] all of us want to make sure that young people can afford an education. I’m pretty confident that if we work together over the next several years that the political temperature will go down, the political rhetoric will go down because we’ll actually be making progress on a lot of these issues.”
“One of the things that we’re trying to do to deal with the immigration issue is to accelerate the process for legal immigration. This is something that we don’t talk about a lot. A lot of the focus is on illegal immigration. But we’re a nation of immigrants so the question is how do we make legal immigration faster, less bureaucratic, [and] cut the red tape?
“Health care passed. I’m proud of the fact that a lot of the young people here are going to benefit very directly. If you are under 26 years old and you don’t have a job, or the job that you have doesn’t offer you health care, you can now stay on your parents’ health insurance till you’re 26 years old. If you have a preexisting condition, you are going to be able to get health insurance. Insurance companies can’t deny it. We’ve eliminated things like lifetime limits, allowing insurance companies to drop you for your coverage when you get sick.”
“Obviously, our heart breaks when we read about what happened at Rutgers, when we read about some of these other people who are doing nothing to deserve the kind of harassment and bullying — just completely gets out of hand.”
“Now, in terms of the Internet, you’re right, it is a challenging thing because the Internet — part of the power of the Internet is, is that information flows out there and it’s generally not censored and it’s generally not controlled by any single authority. But at your school, for example, I think there is nothing wrong with instituting policies that say that harassment of any form, whether it comes through the Internet or whether it happens to you face to face, is unacceptable; that we’ve got zero tolerance when it comes to sexual harassment, we have zero tolerance when it comes to harassing people because of their sexual orientation, because of their race, because of their ethnicity. And I think that making sure that every institution, whether it’s our schools, our government, our places of work, take these issues seriously and know that in some cases there are laws against this kind of harassment and that prosecutions will take place when somebody violates those laws. Sending that message of seriousness is something that I think we all have to do.”
“There’s a values component to this. Peer pressure can lead people to bully, but peer pressure can also say bullying is not acceptable.”
On “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy:
“We are moving in the direction of ending this policy. It has to be done in a way that is orderly, because we are involved in a war right now. This is not a question of whether the policy will end. This policy will end, and it will end on my watch.”
“I agree with the basic principle that anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our national security, anybody should be able to serve, and they shouldn’t have to lie about who they are in order to serve.”
On sexual orientation being a choice or not:
“I am not obviously — I don’t profess to be an expert. This is a layperson’s opinion. But I don’t think it’s a choice. I think that people are born with a certain makeup, and that we’re all children of God. We don’t make determinations about who we love. And that’s why I think that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.”
“We’ve got to make sure that teachers are respected, that they are rewarded, that young people like yourself who have talent and want to work with people, that you’re able to support yourself and live out a great life being a teacher.”
“African-American boys, oftentimes fall behind in school early, start feeling discouraged, check out, drop out, end up on the streets and then get into trouble. If we can make sure that young [boys] starting at the age of three or four already know their colors and their letters and get [into a] good preschool, and by the time they get into school they’ve got a good teacher and are getting the support that they need and are able to keep up with their class work … that is gonna do more to reduce the incarceration rate at the same time, obviously, as it increases the college-enrollment rate. That’s why we’ve got to prioritize education going forward.”
For a complete transcript of the event, please visit whitehouse.gov.