After three rounds of security checks, our group entered the senate chamber with 50 other tourists. Senator John Barrasso (R -WY) was speaking and clearly well into his presentation. A large poster mounted on a stand next to him read, “A Second Opinion” in bold color.  It took me a few minutes to orient to his topic – his opposition to Obamacare, its negative effects on the citizens of the great state of Wyoming and the need for “a second opinion.” He spoke for an additional ten minutes before turning his time back to the senate floor. It was all very disorienting. Why? Because he was talking to no one. Well, no one who was listening.

Barrasso faced the marble encased senate podium (see photo). There sat the presiding officer (officially the Vice President, but today it was Senator Hatch). In front of Hatch sat a journal clerk, a parliamentarian and an assistant secretary (thank you guide book). One was on their computer, one was on the phone, and the other was reading a newspaper. In front of these folks, sat the Democratic and Republican secretaries. These two men were also otherwise occupied. Ten senate pages sat on the podium steps looking like bored teens do when they are hanging out, whispering, eyes half-closed, indifferent.  A roaming recording operator was transcribing Barrasso’s speech. Not a single other senator was in attendance. 

Barrasso finished his speech, turned his time over to the “floor” and left. Shortly thereafter  Senator John Tester (D – MT) took the floor and began speaking about the postal reorganization and his concern for the citizens living in remote rural locations from the great state of Montana. By now, those of us in the gallery understood what was happening – speeches were being made for the “record”. We didn’t need to feel sorry for the senators who had no audience, because they weren’t expecting anyone to listen to them.   Obviously all the insiders understood this process to be a formality that exists within a complex, rule-bound system of hearings and voting and work-arounds that is our system of government.  It was a complete let down, a bore and infinitely revealing – public discourse at it’s most cynical. May you or I never prepare a speech that we expect no one to listen to.