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A presidential first: Obama hosts virtual Web town hall from White House -- video here

March 26, 2009 |  9:46 am

(UPDATE: A full transcript of President Obama's online town hall session is now available here.)

One of the funniest moments came when Vice President Joe Biden's popular economist, Jared Bernstein, introduced the president with a flourish, as if playing sidekick to a talk show host. "Ladies and gentleman, join me in welcoming President Barack Obama!" (Cheers, applause).

And the tech-savvy Obama seemed a natural at the forum, ditching the podium for a hand-held mike that allowed him to roam the room in which 100 teachers and community leaders were seated, listening to the president answer some of the 100,000 questions that Internet visitors lobbed into The in-house audience got to ask follow-up questions later.

But the first-ever presidential Web-hall was more than a showcase for Obama's talents as a communicator. With Americans watching via cable television or live streaming on the White House website (or both, on MSNBC), Potus 44 used the occasion to sell his programs, going over the heads of the Washington critics to galvanize public support for healthcare and education reform and for a $3.55-trillion budget that creates jobs by improving the nation's infrastructure and encouraging businesses and homeowners to go green.

"No dream," he said, "is beyond our reach."

And perhaps Obama's most deft moment was in handling the tsunami of questions that reached the White House website about legalizing marijuana as a means of growing the economy. As The Ticket reported this morning, NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) hijacked the process, mobilizing supporters to swamp the site with questions.

Obama took the question off the table quickly, noting that there were many questions about whether legalizing marijuana would improve economy and job creation. "I don't know what that says about the online audience," he quipped. "The answer is no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy."

Next question.

-- Johanna Neuman

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