President Barack Obama on Wednesday stepped out from behind the podium, took off his suit jacket and dispensed with the teleprompters to defend his budget, attack Republicans who label him a tax-and-spend Democrat and express outrage at the bonuses paid at insurance giant AIG.
Obama, who has made no secret of the fact he chafes in the White House "bubble" and enjoys engaging directly with Americans, headed west to California to hold a town hall meeting in Costa Mesa, a town of about 113,000 in Orange County that has been hard hit by the recession.
Obama's critics say his comments expressing outrage at the AIG bonuses and other Wall Street scandals lack passion because they are often scripted and read from a teleprompter.
But on Wednesday, Obama sounded like he was back on the election campaign trail as he rounded on Republicans for criticizing his $3.5 trillion 2010 budget, which he says is crucial to tackling the worst economic crisis in decades.
"Most of these critics presided over a doubling of the national debt. We are inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit. So they don't have the standing to make this criticism, I think, given how irresponsible they've been," he said.
Under the glare of hot lights in an uncomfortably warm hall at Costa Mesa's state fairgrounds, Obama invited his audience to ask him questions and feel free to take him to task and tell him if he was a "bum and doing a bad job".
But there was little danger of that. When he entered the hall, he received a rockstar welcome.
Obama at times spoke with passion, his voice rising above the cheers, while he was at times professorial, explaining credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities and breaking his promise to keep his answers short as he explained how and why America's economy had plunged to such depths.
Despite the fact that he has only been in office two months, one of the first questions he fielded was from a woman asking him if he would run for re-election in four years' time.
"I would rather be a good president taking on the tough issues for four years than a mediocre president for eight years," he replied.
And if he fails to deliver on his promises on health care, education and fixing the economy, then it will be the voters and not he who decides whether he runs again.
Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama at town hall meeting in California)