Forget 'Boxers or Briefs?' President Obama Faces Tough Questions at MTV Town Hall

ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports:

There were no “boxers or briefs” questions at this MTV town hall.

Rather, President Obama faced challenging, informed and thought-provoking questions over the course of his hour-long town hall MTV hosted with CMT and BET in Washington today.

A self-described Republican woman wanted to know why Obama hasn’t lived up to his promises of bipartisanship.

A man wanted to know “why should we vote you back in,” questioning the effectiveness of the stimulus plan and with taxes potentially going up for some.

The president faced three questions on immigration, including from a woman who started crying as she told the president how she’s been waiting for her green card for three years and a man who says he lives next door to an illegal immigrant.

One student wanted to know why race relations have deteriorated in the last few years under his administration.

There were questions on the Tea Party, Sudan and whether he believes that being gay is a choice (he does not).

A young teacher claimed to have voted for President Obama in 2008 based on his “alleged commitment to equality” for gay rights and asked why he could not just end the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays in the military by executive order.

“I am against 'don't ask, don't tell' and ... we're going to end this policy,” Obama said, “This is not a situation in which, with a stroke of a pen, I can simply end the policy.”

The president promised that the policy will end, “and it will end on my watch.”

He said the he believes there are not enough votes in the Senate, and briefly brought up the California ruling barring the enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell” nationwide this week.

“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,” he said.

But the president added that he can’t “simply ignore laws that are out there,” and has to work to make the changes.

“It has to be done in a way that is orderly because we are involved in a war right now," he said.

When asked via Twitter whether he believes that being gay is a choice, President Obama, offering up his self-professed “lay person’s opinion,” said, “I don't think it's a choice. I think that people are born with, you know, 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.”

A junior from the University of Maryland in College Park told the president that she is a victim of “anonymous, hurtful, degrading harassment” over the Internet that police and her university have yet to stop. Obama immediately referenced the Rutgers suicide case.

“Our heart breaks when we read about what happened at Rutgers, when we read about some of these other young people who are doing nothing to deserve the kind of, you know, harassment and bullying that just completely gets out of hand,” he said.

The president noted that the challenging thing about the Internet is that information flows and generally is not censored or 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,” he said.

The president said policies can only go so far, and that people must teach their children about values -- as his family does with his daughters, Malia and Sasha.

“Michelle and I spend a lot of time talking to them about putting themselves in other people's shoes and seeing through other people' eyes," he said. "And if somebody's different from you, that's not something you criticize, that's something that you appreciate.”

A graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies asked why the racial climate seems to have deteriorated in the last few years.

“What happened,” he asked of Obama.

“Oftentimes, misunderstandings and antagonism surfaces most strongly when economic times are tough. And that's not surprising,” Obama said. “When you're out of work and you can't buy a home or you've lost your home and you're worried about paying your bills, then you become more worried about what other folks are doing. And sometimes that organizes itself around kind of a tribal attitude and issues of race become more prominent.”

Having said that, the president stressed to keep things in perspective, noting that progress comes in fits and starts.

“The amount of interaction, the amount of understanding that exists in your generation among people of different races and different creeds and different colors is unprecedented.”

More than 16,000 tweets rolled in, a MTV host reported, during the hour-long discussion.

One person responded to a question on what their greatest fear is, saying, “My greatest fear is that Obama will be reelected.”

“Oh no,” Obama responded with a smile.

-Sunlen Miller

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