In two television interviews conducted with Barack Obama when he was a candidate for U.S. Senate, the then-Illinois state representative exhibited some of the liberal tendencies Americans have come to recognize in his presidency, along with statements that seem at odds with his later policy decisions, and criticisms of the George W. Bush administration for budget deficits and foreign oil prices far milder than those over which Obama now presides.
“Chicago Tonight,” a production of WTTW-TV11 in Chicago, conducted the interviews in 2003 and 2004. The videos were first made publicly available on YouTube on Friday and Saturday. At the time of the 2003 appearance, Obama was a recent entrant into the Democratic primary race to replace the retiring Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. By the 2004 interview, Obama had already won a landslide primary victory and was just entering the general election season.
On the first tape, Obama addressed “economic security,” a theme that later followed him to the White House. Illinoisans, he said, were “trying to figure out, ‘What am I going to do about the potential layoff? How am I going to pay for my retirement?'”
But then, as now, Obama resisted the idea that cutting taxes on businesses creates American jobs.
Host Phil Ponce asked Obama to judge the argument that “tax cuts will spur investment in companies, spur the creation of jobs, and therefore benefit people who need work.”
“I have not seen a credible economist,” Obama replied, “who said that providing — eliminating taxation on dividends, for example — is going to provide any sort of economic stimulus.”
Ponce was asking about taxes on corporate income, not on investment dividends. He pressed Obama, asking if tax cuts would “increase investment in corporations, and allow them to expand their businesses and so forth?”
Obama again deflected the question, answering a different one that was never asked.
“I have not heard that argument on the part of many economists,” he said. “Not only that, but we know that the average Illinois citizen, if they have a stock it’s in a 401(k) — that is not where the dividends are not taxed currently.”
Obama also praised Democratic former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, calling her “a trailblazer. She’s somebody who has set the tone nationally for progressive politics in a lot of ways, and we share our base.”
Moseley-Braun, a prominent feminist lawyer and a stalwart figure in American racial politics, had already been the subject of scandal in 1993 when Federal Election Commission (FEC) officials investigated $249,000 in funds missing from her campaign coffers. In 1996 she failed to report to the U.S. Department of State a trip to meet with Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, and later defended him against charges of human rights abuses. Moseley-Braun’s former fiance, a South African citizen, had been a lobbyist for the Nigerian government and was later paid a salary by her political campaign, a violation of FEC rules.
The only humorous moment came when Ponce asked whether Rod Blagojevich, then the governor of Illinois, had softened the ground for Obama by showing that a man with an unusual name could win an election.
“Rod is a trailblazer and a hero of mine,” Obama responded, smirking.
When Obama returned to the show in 2004 as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, the questions from correspondent Elizabeth Brackett took on a more international and gravitas-laden tone.
Responding to a question about oil prices, Obama called for a decidedly interventionist foreign policy and criticized then-President George W. Bush for failing to dictate terms to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
“Part of what we have to look at is how gas is priced,” Obama said, “and obviously OPEC has enormous influence on it. … Having a proactive foreign policy that takes into account our current dependence on foreign oil hopefully weans us off it, but also recognizes that if Saudi Arabia and other key OPEC members are supposed to be our allies, then the last thing they’re going to be doing is jacking up prices, precisely at a time when we’re trying to get out of what’s been termed a ‘jobless recovery.'”
“That kind of leverage is something that we should be able to exert. And I’m surprised that the president hasn’t already done so.”
While Obama articulated a policy of increasing vehicle fuel efficiency, he also emphasized “how we’re going to work with our allies overseas to ensure that … they’re not taking advantage of American consumers.”
According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the price of Brent crude oil — a measure of the price of oil produced in many foreign countries — averaged $38.23 per barrel in 2004, when the “Chicago Tonight” interview occurred. In 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, a barrel of Brent crude averaged $61.49. The average price over the first ten months of 2011 was $111.65.
On other foreign policy topics, Senate candidate Obama professed a deep respect for Israel, saying, “Our support of Israel is unequivocal, and I think it needs to be — it needs to remain in place.”
More recently, President Obama caused a furor after an unexpectedly open microphone captured him criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a conversation with French leader Nicolas Sarkozy.
Replying to Sarkozy’s complaint that Netanyahu is “a liar,” Obama was heard saying, “You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day.”
On “Chicago Tonight,” Obama also appeared to embellish his record in the Illinois Legislature, claiming credit for “setting up the Earned Income Tax Credit that gave $100 million in tax cuts to people who really need them.”
History shows, however, that Obama was not the driving force behind the creation of that Illinois tax benefit for needy families. He was just one of nearly 43 co-sponsors of the legislation, out of 59 members of the Illinois Senate. When he signed the bill in 2000, Gov. George Ryan credited state Senate Leader Emil Jones with its passage.
In the broadcast, Obama also castigated his Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, saying he “calls himself a conservative and yet embraces a Bush plan that has put us half a trillion dollars in the red annually.”
Under President Obama, the latest budget forecast for 2011 calls for a far greater federal deficit of $1.316 trillion.
David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter