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How’s Obama doing? The view from ‘Main Street’

Dave Simpkins, Sinclair Lewis and Albert Eisele
Courtesy of the Sauk Centre Herald
Author Albert Eisele, right, and Dave Simpkins with a bust of Sinclair Lewis.

SAUK CENTRE,  Minn. — It’s not surprising that this socially conservative Stearns County community that served as the inspiration for native son Sinclair Lewis’ 1920 novel “Main Street” gave 63 percent of its vote to Sen. John McCain in November.

Still, few of its 3,930 residents (as of 2000) of the town Lewis depicted as Gopher Prairie, in his searing portrait of small town America, share Rush Limbaugh’s hope that President Obama fails.
 
Take Barbara Borgerding, for example. An administrative assistant at the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center that chronicles the life of the Sauk Centre native who was America’s first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, she voted for McCain, as did 52 percent of the rest of Stearns County.

Although nominally a Democrat, her vote was influenced by the fact that three of her children are in the military, including a Marine son who served three tours in Iraq and a daughter in the Minnesota National Guard who is headed there next month.

Barbara Borgerding
Sauk Centre Herald
Barbara Borgerding

“McCain’s position on the military had a lot to do with how I voted,” she said last week. “But Obama has some good ideas and he’s young and has a lot of energy, although I think he needed more experience. He doesn’t have all the answers but I think he’s ready to listen and I give him a lot of credit for that. I hope what he does works. If he fails, that means we all fail.”
 
Or listen to Jim Metcalf, Sauk Centre’s former police chief who also voted for McCain.
 
“I’m a Republican and I didn’t vote for Obama, but I like his style and he’s a very good speaker,” said Metcalf, who teaches law enforcement at a technical college in nearby Alexandria. “He’s got an awful lot of promises that he’s got to keep, and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to do it, but I wish him well.”
 
Watching with interest
And then there’s Linda Simpkins, whose husband is editor and publisher of the Sauk Centre Herald. She didn’t vote for either McCain or Obama, but for the Constitutional Party candidate after supporting Ron Paul, who won Sauk Centre’s GOP caucus vote.

Linda Simpkins
Sauk Centre Herald
Linda Simpkins

Her vote was largely influenced by her opposition to Obama’s pro-choice position and her concern that McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, wasn’t ready to stand a heartbeat away from the presidency.
 
“I’ve finally come to believe that you can’t vote strictly on the issues but you have to vote for the man,” she said. “FDR did have a moral compass even though he wasn’t perfect, but he was a leader and we definitely need a leader. I think Obama is the only one out there who looks like a leader and seems able to be his own man.” She added, “I’m watching him with interest and hope and trying not to bottom out with everything he does, including all those buyouts and bailouts.”
 
Among those who did vote for Obama was Theresa Mueller, former art teacher who is studying via a computer course for a master’s degree in clinical art theory.
 
“He’s the first candidate in a long time I voted for because I liked him and not because he was the least fearful candidate,” she explained. “I like him because he’s inclusive in how he problem solves and doesn’t just say it’s either us or them. He has a sense of authority that I trusted, and I haven’t thought that about a candidate in a long time.”

Theresa Mueller
Sauk Centre Herald
Theresa Mueller

I interviewed Metcalf, Simpkins and Mueller at the Main Street Coffee Co. and antique store, whose owner, Mike Borgmann, also voted for Obama. “I like his ambition and some of the things he’s trying to do,” he said. “He seems optimistic, and the country needs optimism to get back on its feet again. I feel optimistic with this administration.”
 
I last visited Sauk Centre in 1995, to find out how Main Street USA viewed the 104th Congress, which the Republicans had just taken control of for the first time in 40 years. It was obvious that people were fed up with Washington and ready for change.
 
As I wrote in The Hill at the time, the message to Washington from the Original Main Street was clear:
 
“Clean up your act, stop the political posturing, don’t even think about raising taxes, pass some kind of healthcare reform, stop government waste, start balancing the budget, and work together to solve the nation’s problems. If you can’t do this, don’t worry about term limits because we’ll find somebody else to do the job.”

Mike Borgmann
Sauk Centre Herald
Mike Borgmann

One of the people I interviewed 14 years ago, Dave Simpkins, the Sauk Centre Herald’s editor and publisher, also voted for Obama.
 
“I think people admire and respect him and think [electing a black man is] something America should do,” he said from his office on Sinclair Lewis Avenue. “He ran a wonderful campaign and he’s very charismatic,” said Simpkins, who is recovering after being hit by a car and breaking three bones while crossing the “Original Main Street” in February.
 
‘Breath of fresh air’
I tracked down two other people I interviewed on my earlier visit, and they offered similar assessments of Obama. 
 
Linda Frumpkin, a Sauk Centre native who moved to California but returned in 1989 and bought the run-down Palmer House Hotel — the “Minniemashie House” in Sinclair’s book — is a lifelong Republican. But she voted for Obama because of “the mess of the past eight years.” Frumpkin, who recently sold the Palmer House and now has a home decorating business, said she thinks Obama is a “breath of fresh air. He talks as though he’s talking to you. Everyone says he’s a great orator, but yes, he is.”

And 93-year-old banker Pat DuBois, who grew up next door to Lewis and went fishing with him as a boy, thinks Obama “is doing great,” even though “he’s got a terrible, terrible job and inherited so much and is trying to create a whole new universe.”
 
DuBois, a former Democratic state legislator who once headed the Independent Bankers Association of America and still comes to work at his bank every day, said many people in the community are “turned off and disgusted” with Washington and Wall Street. (However, they’re not unhappy with their congressman, pro-life, Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson, who got 72 percent of the vote.).
 
“I have a coffee break every morning with four or five ladies who work for us and the number one thing on their minds this week is AIG and the big bonuses it paid its executives,” he said. “They want Obama to get those bonuses back.”
 
Albert Eisele is founding editor of The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 03/31/2009 - 08:58 am.

    It has been become increasingly apparent that there was a potentially cataclysmic split inside the Administration. While a clearly hoodwinked President Obama was persuaded by Larry Summers and his backers that the way to solve this worst financial and monetary crisis in modern history was to turn the keys to the banking system–at taxpayers expense–to a bunch of hedge fund thieves, saner voices echoed the policies outlined by LaRouche. A group of prominent and accomplished economists, most notably Texas economics professor and noted author James Galbraith (who is also the son of FDR’s economic adviser John Kenneth Galbraith) and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, insisted that not only would the latest (and worst) of the bailout schemes could not work, but that in fact, it would serve to make things much worse. They argued instead for the solution employed by FDR; the same solution that Lyndon LaRouche put on the table almost two years ago – to save the U.S. banking system by reorganizing it under bankruptcy protection. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who heads the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, during a speech in NYC, was even more emphatic on a point he has addressed before: that the current system absolutely had to be reorganized, and reorganized in a Glass-Steagall framework.

  2. Submitted by Burton'Jon Blackwell on 03/31/2009 - 09:11 am.

    We think that our president should go another step further and crack down on credit card loansharking. We want racketeer credit card issuer’s to give us back the money they took from us that they were actually not entitled to embezzle from our accounts. When caught embezzling, they should acknowledge it and adjust back the money they were caught embezzling. Cuomo of New York is doing all he can in making Chase give it back and then repair credit damages they caused arbitrarily by ignoring disputed charges. Capital One, Bank of America, Citi,and Applied Bank, all crossed over the line of legitimacy and unilaterally embezzled on a larger scale per capita than Chase. Obama!…make them give us our money back and straighten our their gun-decked credit reports.

    Inkpahduhtah

  3. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/31/2009 - 10:37 am.

    In Gopher Prairie…

    “Their problems were exactly what they had been two years ago, what they had been twenty years ago, and what they would be for twenty years to come.”

    “With a world a possible volcano, the husbandmen were plowing at the base of the mountain.”

    “A volcano does occasionally drop a river of lava on even the best of agriculturists, to their astonishment and considerable injury, but their cousins inherit the farms and a year or two later go back to the plowing…”

    “Main Street, Chapter XXXIX”…S. Lewis

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 03/31/2009 - 11:29 am.

    Only history ultimately judges presidents (Truman was one of the best examples).

    Obama is a transitional figure with oratorical skills, high energy, and fresh ideas. If they work out to be even marginally successful (as we hope they will be, esecially on the economy issues), he will likely be judged well and highly.

    Only two months into his presidency, it is premature to make that judgement now — but all the assets are there to eventually make him one of the best, and possibly the preeminent leader since FDR.

  5. Submitted by Mohammed Ali Bin Shah on 03/31/2009 - 02:25 pm.

    Albert,

    This might have been a great article, but as soon as your wrote this:

    “Still, few …….. share Rush Limbaugh’s hope that President Obama fails.”

    You show your bias and lose ALL journalistic integrity.

    Rush wants the Obama socialist policies to fail, not Obama himself.

    Here is the actual transcipt that you COULD have referenced if you actually did some work……

    RUSH: “Look, what he’s talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the US government as possible, from the banking business, to the mortgage industry, the automobile business, to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don’t want this to work. So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, “Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need 400 words, I need four: I hope he fails.”

    Context is everything, and you blew it, Albert. Shame on you for perpetuating such lies and misinformation.

  6. Submitted by Bruce Quammen on 04/04/2009 - 08:30 am.

    The negativity to Pres. Oboma after only a short time is very short sighted. The negativity reeks of a bias conceived before the election, with denial of the ignorance and failures of the last 8 years. It may well take many years to reverse the damage done under the Bush administration. Only his supporters saw things with rose colored glasses. His policies brought us to where we are today, and I predict history will judge Mr. Bush as one of the worst presidents ever. I can only hope President Barack Obama will do much better. Yes, I voted for President Obama. No, I never voted for either Bush, but I never hoped for their failure. I just disagreed with their policies. The Republican party has made their bed, now they must sleep in it. It was their policies that helped Obama get elected. Limbaughs hate of Obama is due to the fear Rush will be proved wrong if Pres. Obama and his policies is perceived successful. May God Bless America.

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