Fact Check: Obama DIDN'T Campaign on the Public Option

Facts are stubborn things. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to his or her own facts. There has been a firestorm over whether or not then-Senator Barack Obama "campaigned on" the public option. So let me first lay out what I understand "campaigning on" to mean:

It means that the things that a candidate for office goes to the voters and talks about often. The things they repeat and repeat. The things they talk about in rallies, the things they assert in their debates with their opponents, etc. Having something in one's campaign platform does not make one "campaign on" those things, even though it puts them on the record in favor of those things. Filling out a questionnaire is not campaigning on something. Campaigning on something is the ideas they repeat to voters, the ideas on which they want to define themselves for voters.

By that definition, it is crystal clear that candidate Barack Obama did not campaign on the public option. I'm a supporter of the public option. I want it. But to say that Obama campaigned on it is simply not true.
To be sure, President Obama campaigned for the public option during the summer, after he became president. But he did not campaign on it as a candidate.

How am I so sure? Because, conveniently, I happen to have the transcripts of every Obama campaign speech all the way up to the speech of the President-Elect on election night. And I also happen to have the transcripts of all three Obama-McCain debates.

Obama speech index, searchable. This index includes some major speeches after he became president, too, but not really the campaign style speeches he gave on health care this past summer. This index has 225 speeches of Barack Obama, going back to 2002, and keeping track of pretty much all campaign speeches.


I searched through every one of his speeches, and every one of the debate transcripts. Here are the results.
Debates: Nothing about the public option or anything about a government run insurance option is mentioned in any of the three debates.

For the search term "public option," the above mentioned speech database finds 10 hits, and not one of them actually addresses anything close to a public option. These speeches merely used the words 'public' and 'option', though not relating to each other. In one of those speeches, for example, candidate Obama said,
If you cannot afford this insurance, you will receive a subsidy to pay for it. If you have children, they will be covered. If you change jobs, your insurance will go with you. If you need to see a doctor, you will not have to wait in long lines for one. If you want more choices, you will also have the option of purchasing a number of affordable private plans that have similar benefits and standards for quality and efficiency.
He explicitly mentioned private plans as options, but not the public option.
For the search term "federal health care insurance option" (which would include anything such as "insurance option run by the federal government, etc.), I got 6 results. Again, nothing even resembling having the terms next to each other. And definitely no mention of the public option.
It's not like candidate Obama did not talk in detail about his health care policy, however. He said over, and over and over again:
If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change under my plan is that we will lower premiums.
He also repeated the following:
When it comes to health care, we don't have to choose between a government-run health care system and the unaffordable one we have now. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change under my plan is that we will lower premiums. If you don't have health insurance you'll be able to get the same kind of health insurance that Members of Congress get for themselves. And as someone who watched his own mother spend the final months of her life arguing with insurance companies because they claimed her cancer was a pre-existing condition and didn't want to pay for treatment, I will stop insurance companies from discriminating against those who are sick and need care most. That's the change we need. That's why I'm running for President of the United States.
But in his speeches and in the debates, I could not find a single reference to a "public option" or something similar.

Not even in his health care policy speech during the campaign.

Folks, Presidential candidate Barack Obama did NOT campaign on the public option. He was for it, but he did not campaign on it. I'm sorry, but those are the facts.

Please realize that this diary isn't about supporting the president, or even supporting the senate bill (although I do). It is solely about examining whether candidate Obama campaigned on this issue of the public option. He did not. Not by any stretch. If you have speeches other than the database I showed, please bring them forth and show your work if you want to claim otherwise.

Just the facts, ladies and gentlemen.

Update: This is unreal. A couple of kill-the-bill-ers at Daily Kos have found found literally a couple of places where Obama mentioned this - no, I mean two places as it related to a campaign speech or debate. Two. Out of hundreds of speeches and something in the order of a total of 15 debates. Two. Count'em. One. Two. That evidently makes someone "campaign on" it, or worse yet, promise it? Let's get real. The larger point in this diary remains completely and absolutely valid: Obama did not campaign on this, even though he was on the record supporting it.


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