President Obama Addresses Young Voters on MTV Special

From the Blue Room of the White House, Obama discussed climate change, skyrocketing college tuitions, same-sex marriage, gun violence and more.

With 45 million 18-to-29-year-olds eligible to vote in this election, President Barack Obama targeted the largest potential voting bloc in the country during a Friday appearance on MTV.

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As part of the network’s Power of 12 election campaign, MTV News correspondents Andrew Jenks and Sway Calloway hit Washington, D.C., to bring the questions of young people directly to the president. Among the topics discussed were unemployment, opportunities for young entrepreneurs, skyrocketing college tuition, same-sex marriage, gender equality and a topic previously left untouched at the three presidential debates: Global climate change, which the president deems a “critical issue.”

“We’re not moving as fast as we need to,” Obama said regarding environmental threats. “I’m surprised it didn’t come up in the debates,” he added, noting that he and Mitt Romney have opposing viewpoints on the matter. (The candidates had previously faced criticism for neglecting to address the topic earlier.)

While conceding that the world must first achieve “technological breakthroughs” to ensure major changes, Obama pointed to his efforts during his term in office to double fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks and double clean energy production with wind, solar and biofuels. The president said he hoped to “ramp up our efficiency with buildings,” promising that, “if we do those things, we can meet the targets that I negotiated with other countries in Copenhagen.”

Despite pressing from many marriage equality supporters, Obama stood firm on his ground that same-sex marriage laws should be determined on the state level.

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“I’ve been very clear about my belief that same-sex couples have to be treated, before the eyes of the law, the same way as heterosexual couples,” he said, adding that marriage laws have historically been defined on a state level. “For us to try to legislate federally into this area is probably the wrong way to go… My expectation is that the Defense of Marriage Act will be overturned.”

“But what’s really gonna change this is that young people, their attitudes are going to reflect the future instead of the past,” he said.

One Chicago native asked the president what he plans to do to prevent violence in neighborhoods such as her own.

“What we have to do is work with local law enforcement to find the broader sources of gun violence,” he responded. “Gun violence is part of the issue, but part of the issue is also kids who feel so little hope and think the prospects for the future are so small, that their attitude is, ‘I’m going to end up in jail or dead,’ and they take risks.” He then suggested that local government ensure quality childhood education and mental health care are available to all young people and families.

“There’s no doubt that looking at how we keep guns out of the hands of kids who are shooting each other is a critical component, and we will work to find solutions to that particular problem,” he said, “but we’re also gonna have to broaden the conversation.”

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One topic which appeared to catch Obama off guard was music, which is ironic considering musicians have played a critical role in each of the candidate’s campaigns this year.  

Name checking Bruce Springsteen and Bob Marley, Obama said that artists today have not have not been issuing as many political statements as many of their predecessors. “The most vibrant musical art form right now has been hip-hop,” he said. “Some folks have dabbled in political statements, but a lot of it has been more cultural than political.”

Calloway promised the president that he would provide recommendations for updating his iPod.

And since the Q&A session was on MTV, the discussion didn’t stick to strictly business. Obama was asked what he worries about most with his growing daughters: driving, dating or Facebook.

“I’d worry about Facebook right now,” Obama told Calloway, explaining that his daughters were not allowed to social network due to security risks. “Dates, that’s fine. She’s got secret service protection,” he joked before assuring that as long as his daughters were involved with “boys who respect them and value them and understand their worth,” they could have dad’s blessing.

Jenks, appearing live from the Georgetown University campus, told viewers that MTV had also issued a request to Romney and that they hoped to air a similar special prior to election day. Calloway and President Obama appeared live, without commercial break, from the Blue Room of the White House.