Mountain View, Calif. — Far from Washington, President Barack Obama found, for an hour at least Monday, an audience welcoming of his plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
Midway through his town hall-style forum at a Mountain View computer history museum, he called on one of them.
"I don't have a job, but that's because I've been lucky enough to live in Silicon Valley for a while and work for a small start-up down the street here that did quite well, so I'm unemployed by choice" said Doug Edwards, a former Google brand manager who was sitting in a back row.
"Would you please raise my taxes?" he asked to loud applause.
Obama, who had called on Edwards - "the guy in the glasses ... right in the back there" - went on to explain his tax plan, suggesting wealthy Americans have the financial "room to spare" that many Americans do not.
"Those of us who have been fortunate, we do," Obama said.
With the economy at a standstill and unemployment above 9 percent, Obama is sliding in the polls and considered vulnerable as the 2012 election nears. His appearance Monday at a forum hosted by the networking site LinkedIn was tucked into a West Coast fundraising swing marked by populist rhetoric designed to appeal to his Democratic base.
Obama is pushing his $447 billion jobs bill and $1.5 trillion in proposed tax increases, including the "Buffett Rule" and a renewed bid to let Bush-era tax cuts expire for couples earning more than $250,000 a year.
"I've said this before, I'll say it again: Warren Buffett's secretary shouldn't be paying a lower tax rate than Warren Buffett," Obama told the crowd at the Computer History Museum.
The president, seated with LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner on stools at the center of a small auditorium, accused Republicans of pushing proposals that would reduce tax rates, as a percentage of the nation's gross domestic product, to 1920s levels.
"You can't have a modern industrial economy like that," he said.
Obama said his tax proposal would restore rates to 1990s levels, "when, as I recall, Silicon Valley was doing pretty good, and well-to-do people were going pretty well."
Obama has been pressing his jobs bill since announcing it in a speech to Congress this month. But with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, the president's proposal - and his increasingly combative tone - are widely viewed as an opening move in his re-election campaign.
"He is trying to rally the base of the Democratic Party," said Bruce Cain, a University of California, Berkeley, political science professor and director of the University of California Washington Center.
"Down the road, he's going to need a good turnout from his core groups."
Though no Republican is expected to campaign seriously against Obama in heavily Democratic California, his job approval rating has plummeted even here. Many Democrats have become disenchanted with his handling of the economy and conciliatory posture.
Edwards said he asked Obama to raise his taxes "to encourage him in what I see as his desire to stand strong in favor of a fair tax code."
But he isn't confident Congress will allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire. "My confidence in anything happening in Washington these days is pretty low," Edwards said after the forum.
While Republican presidential hopefuls continue debating the merits of Social Security, forcing front-runner Rick Perry to defend his description of it as a "Ponzi scheme," Obama on Monday lauded the popular entitlement program.
"Social Security and Medicare, together, have lifted entire generations of seniors out of poverty," Obama said. "Our most important social safety net, and they have to be preserved."
With questions about unemployment dominating Monday's forum, Obama also found himself consoling some audience members.
"Just looking at you, I can tell you're going to do great," he told an unemployed woman from Chicago.
To an unemployed man from North Carolina, he said, "Right now your challenge is not you, it's the economy as a whole."
Obama is expected to raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign, and his West Coast trip included seven fundraisers in two days, including in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego. He is scheduled to give a speech in Denver Tuesday.
California is a major donor state, but Obama suggested Monday that his fondness for the Silicon Valley is not only for its deep pockets.
"No part of the country better represents, I think, the essence of America than here," he said, "because what you see is entrepreneurship and dynamism, a forward-orientation, an optimism, a belief that if you got a good idea and you're willing to put in the sweat and blood and tears to make it happen, that not only can you succeed for yourself but you can grow the economy for everybody.
"And it's that driving spirit that has made America an economic superpower."
© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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