Barack Obama participated in a keynote address at the South by Southwest Festival on Friday, but not before eating some lunch.
Obama visited famed eatery Torchy’s Tacos in Austin, Texas prior to the event, and ordered a trio of tacos — all named for political parties.
“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,” Obama told Texas Tribune editor-in-chief Evan Smith to laughs from the crowd.
According to the Torchy’s Tacos menu, the Democrat includes shredded beef barbacoa topped with fresh avocado, queso fresco, cilantro, onions, and a wedge of lime, served with tomatillo salsa on a fresh corn tortilla; the Republican is filled with grilled jalapeño sausage, shredded cheese, and pico de gallo, served with poblano sauce on a flour tortilla; the Independent features fried portobello mushroom strips with refried beans, roasted corn, escabeche carrots, queso fresco, cilantro, and avocado with ancho aioli on a flour tortilla.
Beyond his lunch order, the president discussed the intersection between government and technology, and how the seemingly disparate institutions — as Smith noted, the government is risk-averse and slow to change, while the technology sector is always evolving and taking chances — could work together. He specifically cited the failure of his Affordable Care Act website, noting how the site “didn’t work.”
“This was a little embarrassing for me because I was the cool, early-adapter president,” Obama said. “My entire campaign had been premised on having really cool technology and social media.”
As Obama noted, he brought in a “SWAT team” of technology experts to fix the site, and hopes to have them contribute to a modernization of the government across the board.
“Part of my job is to institutionalize that over the next several years,” Obama said. “I want to make sure the next president and federal government from here on out is in constant improvement mode. It can be done. It requires some effort, but everything requires some effort.”
The hour-long conversation, which started late, included Obama’s remarks on the country’s voting systems, the battle of privacy in a post-Edward Snowden world, and even a joke about the popular “Thanks, Obama” meme. While discussing issues on Wall Street in the wake of 2008’s economic crisis, Obama remarked how the Recovery Act, “continues to be criticized by the other party despite the fact that unemployment is below 5 percent, and we avoided a Great Depression.” He quickly added, “Thanks, Obama,” in a mock tone, drawing huge applause from the crowd.
Obama was first announced as a SXSW keynote speaker last week. (His wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, will deliver her own keynote address to start the music portion of the festival on Wednesday.) The president’s appearance was criticized by some, as it came at the expense of attending Nancy Reagan’s funeral in California on Friday. The first lady represented the Obamas at the ceremony.
Before his SXSW keynote address, Obama teased plans to make the case “that tech and innovation can make government work better for everyone.”
“We’ve cut the time it takes students to apply for financial aid by two-thirds thanks to a simplified FAFSA form. Immigrants can now apply online to renew their green cards faster, and prep for the citizenship civics test online,” he wrote on Twitter. “Nearly 1 in 3 American families struggle to afford diapers. We’re working with the private sector to help fix this. Seniors can now apply for Social Security benefits online. Looking forward to discussing more ways we can modernize government so it’s as smart and dynamic as America itself. See you soon, Austin.”