A president in the neighbor's backyard

The White House was looking for a middle-class family to host the president.

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President Obama delivering the State of the Union address. He and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have become political targets for Republicans.

The White House was looking for a middle-class family to host the president.

When I called my friends Erik and Cynnie Foss to inform them they might be chosen for a Presidential visit, we were all sure it was a real long shot. The White House wanted to find a middle class Seattle family to host the president and have a discussion about the economy and the impact it is having on women and families.

The Foss house seemed perfect so I asked Erik if it would be OK. There was a long silence on the line and finally acquiescence — driven by his wife Cynnie. We hung up the phone knowing that it would likely never happen.

Two days later, Erik called me and said there were a bunch of people in suits in his living room and a helicopter overhead, and my wife, Julianna, and I should probably take Thursday off.

Watching Cynnie and Erik walk out of their house with the president of the United States was an incredible sight. And yet, President Obama seemed so at ease and comfortable with the surroundings, it almost felt like he was just dropping by.

The conversation that followed showed him to be extremely well versed in economics, healthcare, education reform, the media, and politics. Full disclosure: I voted for Obama and walked precincts for him and will do it again. I happened to hear about the White House's interest in a middle-class family at a party, where it was mentioned by a local political consultant.

When I had a chance to ask a question of the president on Thursday, I wanted to know his thoughts on the current state of our public debate during the election and moving forward. I wanted to ask him how he intended to address the distortions and sometimes outright lies about him personally and his policies such as the Recovery Act, healthcare reform, student loans, and the Bush tax cuts. I was concerned that the media is abdicating its watchdog role for the truth and instead becoming obsessed with the horserace, polling, and money.

I was impressed with his response. He described very clearly the situation that he and his team faced when they took office. They had to act quickly on a number of policy fronts and didn’t pay much attention to the public relations or spin piece of the pie. They really wanted to get the policy right. He also talked about the specific reforms in the average person’s health care that will begin to be known, which will lead to long term support of the policy. For instance, health insurance companies can’t drop you because of pre-existing conditions, or because paperwork wasn’t filled out right. Small businesses will be able to buy insurance for their employees through exchanges that will reduce cost.

On the student aid front, getting the banks out of the equation saves the government money so more kids can go to college and interest rates will be reduced at the same time. Who could be against that? Particularly since these have always been taxpayer-insured loans anyway.

He talked about the components of the Recovery Act, saving teachers jobs by helping cash strapped states, investing in infrastructure (like the South Park Bridge), providing tax cuts to small businesses, and investing in energy efficiency. Plenty of Republican senators and representatives talk locally about the need for these projects but attack the plan on the national stage. It’s as if they have forgotten how big a ditch we have just climbed out of.

In my view, he was far too easy on the media. As citizens we should demand more from our media. Sitting in the Foss backyard, we discussed the issues that touch us all, whether or not we can afford college for our kids, will my family have health care if I lose my job, or what happens if I can’t make my mortgage payment. These are the issues that need to be discussed and debated.

And even though I haven’t heard any specific ideas from the current crop of Republican challengers this year, I’m sure they have something to offer too. But let’s see it.

Rossi’s economic plan is basically about cutting spending and taxes. Fair enough. But what do he or other Republicans want to cut? If you don’t give specifics or at least raise some questions, you really don’t have a plan. And the media should stop calling it a plan and ask for some specific answers.

Whether you agree with him or not, Obama has a plan and has a policy wonk’s grasp of the details. He's taking the long view, willing to brave some rough weather in order to get to a place where the American economy moves into high gear again.

There were no scripted questions, no questions about party loyalty or ideology. Just a conversation about issues that we middle-class families worry about every day. We want smart people who are serious about helping make a stronger America. We really don’t care if someone is a witch or not. And we deserve and should start demanding that our media give us the facts and data that we need to make informed decisions about candidates and issues.

I hope that the 25 of us who were lucky enough to have this conversation with our president this cold October morning will carry this message forward and ask more of ourselves and our public dialogue.

The Foss home is back to normal now. But sitting in the backyard sipping a beer in the summertime will always seem a little more special.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Jordan Royer

Jordan Royer

Jordan Royer is the vice president for external affairs in the Seattle office of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.