Barack Obama, Imaginary Senator

I don’t suppose anyone on television network news has mentioned it recently, but many people–probably including just about all of our readers–are aware of Senator Barack Obama’s passionate opposition to any increase in America’s debt limit back when President Bush was in office. And when the debt was a mere $8.6 trillion. But my friend and podcast partner Brian Ward thought that this abstract knowledge isn’t enough. Brian thought it would be great if people could actually see and hear Obama on the Senate floor, railing against any increase in the debt as a “failure of leadership.”

That was, in truth, an excellent idea. And Brian knew where to look: whereas in the past, proceedings in the halls of Congress were lost to history, now, with C-SPAN having made its archives public on the internet, such things can be searched for, and found. At Fraters Libertas, Brian relates what happened next:

Hoping to hammer home the point to a yet oblivious America by grabbing the video/audio of this auspicious moment, I turned to that national treasure, the CSPAN video library. Indeed, they have the full 13 hours of the Senate floor session from that date [March 16, 2006] available for your viewing pleasure. But, mysteriously, there is no record of a Barack Obama appearance that day in the CSPAN transcript.

Understanding that this was probably the modern equivalent of the Nixon Tapes’ missing 18 minutes, and sensing that announcement of my Pulitzer Prize was now a mere formality, I got into Woodward and Bernstein mode and made inquiries with CSPAN.

Before I had time to even come to a decision on who should play me in the movie version of my investigative story (it was between James Franco and Chiwetel Ejifor), I got the word from the wise and political war weary CSPAN video archivist:

Mr. Ward:

I get this question at least once every time raising the debt ceiling has come up during the Obama administration. These speeches were not actually made on the Senate floor but rather entered into the congressional record. Thank you for your interest in C-SPAN.

Turns out, Barack Obama’s BS artistry was never actually spoken, but only added to the record as a calculated afterthought. Kind of fitting, I suppose.

It’s true that others do the same thing all the time. Senators Coburn and Grassley also make appearance in the Congressional record for that day, but not in the CSPAN transcript. Yet Obama is, as usual, special in this regard. His entirely theoretical floor flourish includes this intro that the others do not:

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about America’s debt problem.

It’s almost like he was actually there! Unfortunately, I get the sense that Republicans attempting to negotiate with him now are feeling the same way.

It is appropriate, I suppose, that the barely-there Senator Obama delivered his tirade against the nation’s increasing debt the easy way–he didn’t. But I wonder whether another factor might have been at work. Perhaps Obama feared that if he actually delivered his debt ceiling speech in person, he might not have been able to keep a straight face. Either that, or any other senators who happened to be in the chamber might have broken out in gales of laughter. It was safer, perhaps, to “rise” to the floor only figuratively.

Finally, in case you haven’t read it recently, let’s not forget what Barack Obama said–or, rather, didn’t say–on that memorable occasion in 2006. Here are some excerpts:

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure.

If Washington were serious about honest tax relief in this country, we would see an effort to reduce our national debt by returning to responsible fiscal policies.

Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grand children. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

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