Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg — famous for his casual approach to dressing as a billionaire — cleaned up and donned a jacket and tie for his Wednesday question and answer with President Barack Obama.
Zuckerberg, hundreds of Facebook employees and roughly 36,000 online attendees participated in a live town hall with the president at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto. Amid surging valuations for Bay Area tech companies such as Facebook, Obama said those businesses represent the “cutting edge” of America’s change toward an information economy.
“What all of you built together is revolutionizing how people get information, how they process it and connect with one another,” the president told the ebullient crowd.
Zuckerberg appeared nervous at 2 p.m., wearing sneakers, jeans, a white collared shirt, tie and jacket, which generated a visible reaction from the company’s staff, many of whom were clad in hooded sweatshirts. The first sitting president to visit Facebook headquarters, Obama was flanked by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Silicon Valley leaders such as the CEOs of Yelp and Meebo.
The president introduced himself as “the guy who got Mark Zuckerberg to wear a jacket and tie. I’m very proud of that. It’s really uncomfortable for him.”
Both men quickly took off their coats in the warm warehouse and dug into an hourlong discussion about the deficit, energy, immigration and the environment.
The town hall preceded a public event at the Nob Hill Masonic Center, and a high-priced fundraising dinner at the residence of Salesforce.com owner Marc Benioff. on Thursday morning, the president is scheduled to appear at a breakfast fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel, then depart for Los Angeles and Nevada.
Obama’s California trip was to raise money for his 2012 re-election campaign, shoring up his base and re-energizing young voters, said California pollster Ben Tulchin of Tulchin Research. With a $30,000-plus-per-ticket private event Wednesday night, it’s clear “California is always an ATM machine for the political world. Always has been, always will be,” Tulchin said.
Tulchin said Obama’s pro-coal, pro-nuclear and pro-offshore oil drilling positions have blown up in his face over the past few years.
“Bay Area environmentalists need to see evidence that he’s for real. They’re saying, ‘Show me your green colors,’” Tulchin said.
Obama urged his base back into action Wednesday.
“Some of you who might’ve been involved in the campaign were energized back in 2008, but are frustrated that things didn’t get done fast enough and it seems like everyone’s bickering all the time,” Obama said. “We can come together and solve these problems, but I can’t do it by myself.”
The town hall concluded with a gift from Zuckerberg to the president: a dark-blue, hooded sweatshirt featuring the Facebook logo.
“This is a high-fashion statement right here,” Obama said.