Full text of President Barack Obama’s keynote conversation at 2016 SXSW Interactive on March 11 in Austin, Texas.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – President Barack Obama Keynote at SXSW Interactive 2016
Here to introduce today’s special keynote presentation, please welcome South by Southwest Interactive Festival Director, Hugh Forrest.
Hugh Forrest – Director, South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival
Wow! Good afternoon. My name is Hugh Forrest. I am the Director of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Not me, not me!
Welcome to one of the most special events, if not the most special event, in the 30-year history of South by Southwest. We are extremely, extremely excited to have President Obama joined us today at the Long Center. We’re even more excited that the President will today be talking about 21st century civic engagement and community service. This is a topic that we have covered extensively at South by Southwest and a topic we are passionate about. It’s something that Casey Gerald of MBAs Across America covered in today’s opening keynote and it’s something that we will celebrate on Sunday evening March 13 at the Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards at the JW Marriott.
The participation of both the President and the First Lady at South by Southwest Music signifies a timing shift in the evolution of our event where ideas and topics converge in hopes of uniting all industries and cultures, as each new generation comes to South by Southwest, they look for ways that they can be of service. We feel it’s important to reflect and support the message and believe the keynotes of the President and the First Lady will inspire attendees to that purpose.
The interviewer for today’s session is Evan Smith who is founder, CEO and Editor in Chief of The Texas Tribune, which is a groundbreaking online publication based here in Austin.
Now please join me in welcoming the 44th President of the United States of America Barack Obama to South by Southwest 2016.
Evan Smith – Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, The Texas Tribune: Hi, Mr. President.
President Obama: Hey! It’s good to see you, and hello, Austin. I love Austin, Texas.
Audience: We love you.
President Obama: Thank you. It’s good to be back.
Evan Smith: Nice to have you here. Welcome. Welcome to Austin. Welcome to South by Southwest. Let’s make a little news. You stopped at Torchy’s on the way in from the airport.
President Obama: I did.
Evan Smith: You did. Would you please share with the world what you told me backstage — your order — perfectly in keeping with your political views.
President Obama: I ordered the Democrat. But then I ordered a Republican and an Independent, because I wanted to give all people a proper hearing. I wanted to be fair.
Evan Smith: Bipartisan in tacos as in life.
President Obama: That’s exactly right.
Evan Smith: That’s how it goes. Mr. President, you’re very nice to be here with us today. And you came for a purpose. You want to accomplish something. You said as much in your weekly radio address last weekend. I got the opportunity to hear it. Some people in the room have not heard it. For their benefit, and people outside the room, would you say why you’re here? Make the pitch in miniature, please.
President Obama: Well, first of all, I’m here because I like excuses to come to Austin, Texas. And that’s a good enough reason. And I want to acknowledge your Mayor, Steve Adler, who bought tacos with me.
I normally don’t do this, but I’m going to embarrass somebody – I want to also acknowledge the Chancellor of the Texas System because he’s one of my favorite people and a truly great American — Bill McRaven, who I think is over there. It’s pretty rare where a chancellor of a university system can really mess you up. So, in case any of the students are wondering, don’t mess with your chancellor. But I knew him as Admiral, and he served America as well as anybody served it.
Look, we are at a moment in history where technology, globalization, our economy is changing so fast. And this gathering, South by Southwest, brings together people who are at the cutting-edge of those changes. Those changes offer us enormous opportunities but also are very disruptive and unsettling. They empower individuals to do things that they could have never dreamed of before, but they also empower folks who are very dangerous to spread dangerous messages.
And part of my challenge since I’ve been President is trying to find ways in which our government can be a part of the positive change that’s taking place and can help convene and catalyze folks in the private sector and the non-profit sector to be part of the broader civic community in tackling some of our biggest challenges. And just three things that I talked about during my weekly address where this group, I think, is prime to make a difference.
Number one, we’re spending a lot of time figuring out how can we make government work better through technology, digital platforms, and so forth. So, for example, we’ve reduced the FAFSA form process where you apply for student aid by about two-thirds just by digitalizing it, putting it online, making it a little more common sense. We have made it now possible to apply for Social Security online in ways that couldn’t be done before. Across agencies, we’re interacting every day with our government, and question is, how do we make that work better? Because an anti-government mentality grows if people feel frustrated because they’re not getting good service.