Debt is also on her mind. Her student loan for the first year was $8000, and she expects to owe a lot more by the time she finishes her program after she transfers to the University of Nebraska. She said that some told her that the Democratic Party was talking about forgiving all student loans to get the economy going again. (“If it doesn’t happen, I’ll be pretty upset.”) She wonders why college must be so expensive “to get somewhere with our lives,” and says Obama would speak to her if he could do something about the expense involved in going to college.
Has he connected with you, I ask? “I’d probably say no. I think this will be his last year,” she said. Then whom is he talking to? “Probably people with the money,” Jarecke replied.
John F. Kennedy came up a lot in my conversations. Even people who were not alive when he was assassinated— like Cody Schneider, who will turn thirty-five on Halloween—said JFK was a president who connected with the people. “Some presidents just reach out and appeal to the people,” he said. “I’ve watched tapes of JFK speaking and it seemed like he had a sincerity. He was passionate.” Schneider is a tattooist. Tartoos decorate his arms and neck. “I am uneducated and unreached,” he said. “I have not been reached or talked to by a president in a long time.” He told me that Bill Clinton sort of connected with him. Kennedy and Clinton were passionate presidents, he said. “They were for the people and their very needs.” As for Obama, he said. “You can feel sorry for the guy.”
Schneider had come in to the Nebraska Church Goods Co. on O Street, where I was talking to the fifty-four-year-old owner, Tim Franssen, who said the business, which sells bibles, statues, and church vestments, had been in his family since 1947. The business has been declining every year, a victim of Internet sales. “If it weren’t for my regular church wholesale accounts, I’d never make it at retail here,” Franssen told me. So how is Obama speaking to you about your business concerns, I wanted to know. The struggling businessman didn’t talk about jobs or what government could do to rev up his business. Instead he wanted to chat about the president’s stance on making the wealthy pay more taxes.
“I can understand what he is saying,” Franssen said, “But I don’t agree with him picking on the rich people,” he told me. “They got where they got because they worked for it and they deserve it. To me he’s picking on the elite.” He had tough words for disabled people who he thought were getting government handouts. “They take advantage of the government,” he said describing how some disabled people ride their scooters through the front door of his shop and then stand up to look for items to buy. He, too, liked Kennedy, and quoted the famous words from his inaugural address.
Homer Puderbaugh, age eighty-two, walked into a Phillips 66 gas station. A former professor of architecture, he had been retired from the University of Nebraska for seventeen years. Yes, he said, Obama connected with him, “only in a bad way.”
“I think he speaks only to people he can convince to vote for him. He’s a liar and a loser. He’s a goddam loser and should never have been in there. People wanted change and they sure as hell got it,” he said. I asked what Obama was lying about. “They can’t find any records from school; he’s refused to release a birth certificate. He was going to help the underclass, but he didn’t give any way he would do that. They were just words.”
Though Puderbaugh is a Republican, he has voted for Democrats from time to time, but he did not vote for Obama. He voted for Kennedy and for Bob Kerrey, who served the state as governor and later a U.S. senator. Obama, he said, “is no Jack Kennedy.” Puderbaugh added that he is disillusioned with politics.
So is thirty-five year-old Jason Ables, who manages a bar and restaurant specializing in small plates. He sat down with me for a lengthy chat. “I don’t think anyone in politics speaks to me. Obama is supposed to have a vision,” he said. What is it? “To be honest, I couldn’t tell you.”