‘A Lot of Nerve’
A rare audio glimpse of Obama in Springfield.


The incident of June 11, 2002 is widely known to those who have studied Barack Obama. It has been discussed by National Review Online’s own Jim Geraghty of “The Campaign Spot” as the only public occasion in Obama’s adult life in which he nearly got into a physical fight.

In the course of researching the story of Obama’s political career, I obtained what I am told is a rare audio record of what happened on the Senate floor that day, just before Obama nearly came to blows. It does not provide any earth-shattering indictment of Obama, but it does offer a new look at an historic event in his career.

The proceedings of the Illinois senate are not broadcast on C-SPAN. The senate’s records are actually kept very poorly — especially records of committee hearings, but also recorded floor votes from earlier sessions. Although audio recordings of the chamber’s proceedings are created, they are typically destroyed once the transcripts have been typed up. This clip, whose full length is about 16 minutes, is a survivor of that process.

The debate on June 11, 2002, was over several line-item vetoes that had been made to the budget by Gov. George Ryan. Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R.), the budget floor manager, argues for senators to sustain the budget cuts. Enter Sen. Rickey Hendon (D.), a flamboyant black legislator known by the nickname “Hollywood” and for his colorful wardrobe. Hendon engages Rauschenberger in a brief colloquy and then delivers a passionate and angry speech asking senators to override the governor’s cutoff of funds to a branch of the state Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in his West Side district.

“This is in my district — in my community, so we know how this is going to go down,” he says. “Why can’t we close some of these corporate loopholes for the rich and powerful, instead of closing places that are needed, like this little DCFS office in my district? … Instead of closing facilities that are needed, that can keep children — children that we all claim to love in this Senate — from being out there on the street, living with people who don’t love them and don’t care, and just generally suffering through life in Illinois?”

He also faults the chamber’s Republicans for the lack of bipartisanship that supposedly brought about this cut. “Bipartisan cooperation is more than rhetoric, my friend … You have to work with this side of the aisle … ”