Barnstorming the Midwest: Carbondale

Two of the biggest symbols in my dissertation are Paul Wellstone’s green bus and Russ Feingold’s painted garage. But they tapped into a deeper tradition of symbols and rhetoric in Midwestern liberalism, and I needed to go to southern Illinois to trace that backwards.

It’s been a while since I checked in — I had to put blogging on hold while I wrote and revised my first chapter of the dissertation. It was a lot rougher an experience than I’d expected, but things are already flowing on Ch. 2, so it was at least a good learning experience! Turns out blogging about fun findings, travel, and beer is a lot easier than making the collections from 35+ different archives flow in a thematic and narrative form. Who would’ve thought…

Carbondale, though, was one of my most-anticipated trips for 2018. I had been fortunate enough to earn a Paul Simon Papers Research Stipend from Southern Illinois University’s Morris Library Research Center and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute; their generous support allowed me to take a week-and-a-half research trip to do research in the papers of Illinois Sen. Paul Simon. Beyond that, though, I’d never been farther south than Champaign in Illinois. And, as I relayed in the invited talk I gave at the end of my stay (my favorite title for a presentation yet, I think: “A Bow Tie, A Green Bus, A Painted Garage: Symbols of Midwestern Progressivism”), I think there’s a really nice thing to going to places to learn their history. After all, I’d been told as a freshman at Northwestern (having only been to Chicago twice in my life before then), “south of I-80 is ‘downstate’, south of I-70 is the Confederacy.”

And yet there I was in Carbondale, driving past the Jackson County Democrats storefront in the strip mall on the edge of town, being proudly corrected by locals that southern Illinois was not Trump Country [it’s always hard to explain he’s not the reason I’m there once they find out that I study Midwestern politics], hearing the slight southern twang of the Upland South.

This is mostly unrelated (though it’s a cleaner’s in downtown Carbondale), but if you can explain the difference to me, I’d be greatly appreciative.

That was, for me, part of the challenge of visiting Carbondale to do research on Midwestern politics: I didn’t necessarily feel like I was in the Midwest.

It was for me, then, of how to get at Paul Simon, the Illinois senator with the trademark bow tie who ran as the intellectual in the Democratic presidential primaries of 1988 (eventually won by Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis). Simon, who was from the nearby village of Makanda (“muh-CAN-duh”, not, as I was helpfully corrected on Day 1 before embarrassing myself further, “muh-CON-duh”–damn you, Black Panther), took over a local newspaper in the late 1940s, becoming the youngest editor in the nation and using his editorial post to attack the corruption of southern Illinois politics, particularly gambling and prostitution rings. From there, Simon ran for the Illinois House of Representatives, then State Senate, then lieutenant governor, winning at each stop along the way and serving alongside a Republican governor while serving as an advocate for tax reform, civil rights, and good government initiatives.

After a loss in the primary for the Democratic gubernatorial nod, Simon ran for Congress and won during the Watergate landslide of 1974, continued in the House after being redistricted in 1980, and distinguished himself as an intellectual who authored a number of treatises on public affairs (including 1982’s The Once and Future Democrats, a very helpful work for my dissertation).[0]

In 1987, after meetings with staffers and campaign strategists including former Indiana Rep. Floyd Fithian and future Obama adviser David Axelrod, Simon decided to run for president in the 1988 election, widely seen as a wide-open affair on both sides. That’s where I really get curious about Simon, both as emblematic of the Midwest and as a candidate running on an explicit appeal to the Midwest.

The Research

My visit to the beautiful Morris Library’s Special Collections Research Center was, per the stipend’s terms, to do work in the Paul Simon Papers (I assume that’s not surprising). Simon’s papers are extensive, to say the least, and their organization is a testament to the amazing work of archivist Walter Ray, who was incredibly gracious and forthcoming with his time while I was there.


Paul Simon Papers, Series 2: Campaigns, 1972-2000 (100%)


Defining a message was a struggle of the campaign. From the moment Simon decided to run, he received a lot of pushback from his advisers on exactly what set him apart from the five or six other serious candidates. As Axelrod warned Fithian right after Simon declared his intention to run, “Hart’s opening speech included many of the points—and many of the magic names—Paul is invoking. Gephardt is selling something far more appealing on trade and farm issues… I believe that for Paul to be successful, we must one again build a campaign around his personal qualities, which really are what distinguish him from the others.”[1] His advisers often called this a “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” kind of look — the only struggle was disabusing the media and casual followers of the idea that Simon’s candidacy was just typical liberalism and not deeply-rooted in a vision for the United States. When he had time to bring that message to voters, though, he thrived: At one event in Iowa where prospective voters viewed videotaped messages from each candidate, Simon was running a lukewarm second to Dukakis; after they viewed his tape, Simon’s support went from 9 to 20% while Dukakis’ dropped from 19% to 18%, Jesse Jackson’s 5% to 4%, and Joe Biden’s 7% to 1%.[2]

So what kind of Democrat was he? Simon was particularly interesting to me because he identified uniquely as a “Midwestern” candidate: He was from “Rural Route 1, Makanda, Illinois, Population 402,” and his small-town upbringing meant that with his bow tie and horn-rimmed glasses, he was “making a gut-level, heart-level connection with voters who are cynical and skeptical about blow-dried, TV-anchor-style politicians.”[3] They were skeptical, as well, of the “New Democrats” of the 1980s — the Gary Hart, Atari Democrat-esque candidates who espoused a kind of fiscal conservatism that was not Simon’s “pay-as-you-go” liberalism, but more market-oriented and less personally-engaged. Instead, Simon tapped into the style of a congressional organization to which he belonged, the Congressional Populist Caucus. One of its leaders, Rep. Lane Evans of western Illinois, advised Simon ahead of the Iowa caucuses that “you have the chance to be the only candidate to explicitly run a populist campaign, evoking the principles and visions of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Humphrey. You don’t need to run a neo-conservative campaign…”[4]

For Simon, this meant standing out against a crowded field. In more urban progressive areas, Simon had to face off with Dukakis, who had the bona fides of urban liberalism; in more rural circles, Simon had to contend with a candidate in Missouri Rep. Richard “Dick” Gephardt who had put his name, with Iowa senator Tom Harkin, on the Harkin-Gephardt Family Farm Act of 1987 (that’s a primer, linked). Gephardt drew heat for “whether the commercial version of Dick Gephardt…is consistent with the congressman Dick Gephardt and his record. The real Dick Gephardt voted for the 1985 farm bill and the 1980 grain embargo,” but he was nonetheless popular with Democrats across the Midwest and Great Plains.[5]

Simon needed to stand out but lacked the resources to do it. Money bedeviled the Simon campaign. Name recognition was not easy to come by, either. Eventually this coalesced around the bow tie. George Will hailed Simon’s “sturdy independence — call it ‘bow-tie politics’…all Democrats call themselves ‘social liberals and fiscal conservatives,’ but Paul Simon sort of is.”[6] Simon’s campaign parlayed this into the broader idea that Simon represented a throwback to what made the Democratic Party great. With the advice of pollster Vic Fingerhut, the campaign believed Simon “should say he is announcing and make that as brief as possible, and he is running because… ‘I am a Roosevelt/Truman/Kennedy Democrat’ and then talk about his audience (ordinary Americans). He asked FF is Paul was willing to run as a Roosevelt/Truman/Kennedy Democrat and use that phrasing and symbolism a lot.”[7]

The bowtie became a symbol of those politics. Simon went on Saturday Night Live with the singer of the same name for some publicity. His staffers–who in the Iowa caucuses included one Russ Feingold–were dubbed the “Bow Tie Brigade”. Simon’s refusal to compromise his political values was mirrored by his unwillingness to compromise his style. It was popular. Mother Jones concluded that “Simon’s liberalism is not 1960s-campus, not big-city ethnic, rather it is folksy, Protestant, small-town. In an America that so recently fell for another small-town Protestant originally from the Midwest, that may prove valuable.”[7.5] There was just one problem.

This idea of “the Midwest” lacked a clear identity of what “the Midwest” was. Simon’s campaign, having survived the first round of drop-outs from the campaign, which included Dick Gephardt withdrawing in late March 1988, believed that after a disadvantageous Super Tuesday slate “the game will move to Paul Simon’s home turf: the Midwest. With the ‘second phase,’ Paul is embarking on a ‘Midwest’ strategy. It is a credible, winnable strategy because it begins in Paul’s home state [Illinois], and because no other candidate is from the Midwest. No other candidate understands the issues and has fought for the Midwest as Paul has.”[8] The campaign, though, had been pushing for Simon and his issues director to identify exactly what those issues were–some wanted his jobs proposals to be the hallmark of his campaign–and Simon struggled to gain traction at least in part because of this.

While I could tell from these memos that the campaign hoped to pivot to winning in Wisconsin, ignoring the Michigan primary because they couldn’t blunt UAW support for Dukakis or African-American support for Jesse Jackson, the message in Wisconsin was surface-level. The campaign already regretted not showing better in Minnesota (33% Dukakis, 22% Simon, 18% Jackson…which, there’s a story there about who ran Jackson’s campaign in the Land of 10,000 Lakes…), and in Wisconsin Simon’s best-known supporters were…former Reps. Al Baldus and Fr. Robert John Cornell, both of whom had lost in the Republican landslides of 1978 and 1980. Here the structural inefficiencies Simon had been running from came back to bite him: With the support of House Speaker Tom Loftus and former Gov. Tony Earl, Dukakis had a six months’ head start with a Milwaukee office, tried to get the Wisconsin primary changed to an earlier date, raised over $100,000 in the state, was reportedly spreading rumors that Simon was anti-choice, and “told Loftus point blank that he wanted to be able to Wisconsin and say that he beat Paul Simon in his own backyard.”[9] Simon ran on his father, the late Rev. Martin Simon, having grown up near Green Bay, using his lineage in the La Follette tradition to offer Wisconsin Democrats “a true progressive alternative” in the election.[10] Simon took just 5% of the Wisconsin vote (to 47% for Dukakis and 30% for Jackson, with Al Gore grabbing 17%) and withdrew two days later.

How Simon relates to “bigger names” in my dissertation? Look, for all this, Paul Simon still ran a distant fourth or fifth in the campaign. Yet he and Dick Gephardt will play a decent-sized role compared to Michael Dukakis (whose papers at Northeastern were disappointingly-light on content) and Jesse Jackson (who does not have one clear repository), in part because they ran on distinct conceptions of the Midwest. And the figures of the Midwest–the elected officials whose Senate, House, and gubernatorial campaigns I profile in my dissertation–play a significant role.

And while many identified with Simon, I think they realized the reality of the Illinois senator’s campaign. For example, the Simon campaign hoped to attract Tom Harkin to their side, and while the Iowa senator declined to endorse, his aide Bob Waters privately admitted that “he thought that there was adequate room for a Paul Simon-type message in Iowa.”[11] Tom Daschle of South Dakota felt “more at home philosophically” with Simon, but later endorsed his friend and farm advocate Dick Gephardt.[12] Most of North Dakota was occupied with Byron Dorgan’s potential primary challenge to sitting Sen. Quentin Burdick–though Jim Fuglie, Gov. Bud Sinner’s tourism director, ran Simon’s campaign in the state–and I’ve detailed how Simon was not able to get what I’d consider a prominent endorsement in Wisconsin.

Simon’s liberalism may have been emblematic of the Midwest, but it says something about Midwestern liberalism that it wasn’t broad enough to win in a national election.

The City

The Lodging

I stayed at an Airbnb about a mile north of campus, in residential Carbondale. My hosts, McCall and Kristiana, were incredibly gracious and welcoming, and their cats were adorable.

Places I Visited

Trying to save money (marriage has taught or forced me to be more frugal on these trips…not because Laura yells at me, but because I feel a lot more guilty!), I went out to eat and sight-saw much less. (I’m also already at 2400 words and visited two amazing breweries I want to talk about, so…)

  • For pizza: Quatro’s Original Deep Pan Pizza was easily the most-recommended spot, and I grabbed a delicious thin-crust pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, and garlic (no wife with me means I can get the garlic and mushrooms and not need to worry about pineapple on pizza, an objectively terrible thing) from them. I didn’t take a picture, for some reason. It was delicious, service was quick, and the leftovers I’d planned on having for lunch the next day were gone before the night was up.
  • For coffee: I went a few places. Blend Tea and Crepe House (just north of campus) had good tea and a great outdoor seating area, and Common Grounds Coffee House (east of campus, toward the student housing) had the kind of eclectic college town vibe you’d expect. But, for my money, the service and the quirkiness of Jen’s Joe, on University Drive in the heart of old downtown, is the go-to. It’s a small storefront, with a counter, some stool seating, and a couple friendly dogs wandering around. Selection’s limited (no espresso drinks; don’t be an idiot like I was and fail to look at the chalkboard), but the service is genuine and really great. I appreciated the blend they used for their cold brew (and the pick-me-up of the proprietor not watering it down as much was a huuuuge help!), and it’s just a genuinely cool spot.
  • For food: Fat Patties. Burgers. Yum.

Outside those places and some driving around (including just walking through the Neighborhood Coop, a grocery store on the west end of town and getting an amazing reuben at their deli), I spent a lot of time reading and prepping for a presentation at the Northern Great Plains History Conference while I was in Carbondale.

The only other place I’ll really mention? My trip to Makanda to see exactly where Paul Simon was from. While I regrettably didn’t do the leg work of finding precisely where he had lived on Route 1, I did head south on US-51 to get a picture with the iconic Simon-themed water tower that graces the geographic center of town where Makanda Road meets the highway. You can see my picture as the banner — the selfie, thankfully, is lost to the ages.

Heading east on Makanda Road, though, had me wondering if I’d taken a wrong turn.

The Makanda Trading Company, viewed from the west bank of Drury Creek.

I knew the town was only a few hundred people (Wikipedia says 561, up from 419 in 2000, a jump which I’ll assume was due to annexation or development), but when my phone went from a bar to roaming to “no service” in the span of about 300 yards as the road snaked down a ravine, I got a little nervous. Then a mile or two passed, and I started to worry that Makanda was some kind of elaborate prank being played on me.

When I reached the bottom of the hill, though, I saw what remained of the city’s downtown: A brick post office just west of Drury Creek, and a trading company on the east bank, separated from the water by a railroad and a street. That was about it — I’m sure, had I drove around more, I could have taken in each building. But the town itself was scattered up and down the hills. Beautiful to drive around, though, and a scene that, as I stopped and took it in, helped me understand the vision Paul Simon had for the United States and the passion he had for campaigning in the small-town Midwest.

The Beer

Owing to its proximity to Carbondale and, apparently, the city’s restricted number of liquor licenses keeping out breweries at least to date, the first place I checked out was over in Murphysboro. It was Molly’s Pint, a cozy brewery with a pub-style feel which hosts a number of community events like literature readings (“Buzzed Lit”) and live music.

The front of Molly’s Pint Brewery, in Murphysboro, IL.

I was lucky enough to meet both owners, the two days I visited, as they were tending bar (they do most everything there themselves and, awesomely, closed for a day to go camping because “we’re normal people that go camping and hang out with our family”) and willing to share their thoughts on the brewing scene and political culture of southern Illinois — both Nick and his wife, the eponymous Molly, were awesome, and I wish them the best.

After trying their blonde ale, which was a perfectly cromulent blonde, I moved on to something I was more excited to try: the Belgian Saison. I’ve come around to saisons more and more with my travels, and the spiciness of their saison in particular really rubbed me the right way. It had a little yeasty funk to it, too, that was good.

Now. A word about how they choose to serve/enjoy it. I ordered the saison, and as she was pouring it, Molly called over her shoulder, “You want it with the pickle, right?”

First things first: Pickles are terrible. I’m pretty sure I’m on record here in the past as having this opinion, but I’d like to reiterate that. After holding back that opinion because I don’t need to be thrown out of breweries in cities I’ve never been to, I asked why…and apparently it’s a Flemish tradition to put a pickle in your saison? Searching “pickle in saison” apparently yields hits for it, though…meaning either it’s actually A Thing or a ton of people just have terrible taste.

Don’t let that deter you, though! This is a really good saison, and a really good brewery.

The lemonade and pub ale before I mixed them!

I also sampled the Jalapeno ale (yum), along with a really flavorful Vienna lager. The other beer of theirs, though, that I wanted to highlight? An English pub ale (I think? or was it the Scotch ale? Molly, if you correct me, I’ll gladly update this!) that they served with a taster of lemonade to be mixed with the beer to create a shandy. I was, like with the pickle, skeptical: “What the hell is wrong with their beer that I need to add things to it?” “Why lemonade?” “What’s the next thing they’ll make me mix into a beer?” But this one was really good.

The last thing that I took away from Molly’s Pint was the thriving craft beer scene in southern Illinois. Molly’s Pint is a part of the Southern Illinois Beer Trail, a regional initiative pairing with some tourism efforts to highlight local craft beer and distilling. I was skeptical about the need for such a militant approach to promoting the region…until Molly showed me a newspaper put out by an Illinois beer magazine that completely left the region off the map. Not only was an inset map zooming in on Chicago placed smack-dab over the region, but none of the breweries were listed in the directory attached. They were just left off. It was incredible, and I was outraged for them! But they are doing amazing brewing in Murphysboro. Stop in, and chat anything — brewing, local politics, the arts scene, travel, and more — with the owners.

On the other end of the spectrum, Route 51 Brewing Company stood out to me for the amazing space they’ve constructed out of an old carpet warehouse just north of Carbondale, outside Elkville. I’ll have less to say here, though the space was amazing. I had a flight, here, of mostly fruit-style beers. The blackberry saison was actually served a little too cool; once it warmed up, the fruit flavor and the spiciness played off each other really nicely. The beer stands out from my tasting/observation notes, though, was the Smokin’ Hot Blonde Jalapeno ale, which had a nice smokiness that hinted at the good barbecue they do there. It was too early, though — their kitchen wasn’t open yet.

What’s Next?

Since I was in Carbondale, I presented a paper on the Congressional Populist Caucus at the Northern Great Plains History Conference in Mankato, MN, but haven’t done as much traveling for research, owing mostly to the fact that I’ve gotten the first chapter of the dissertation drafted and submitted.

There are likely more trips to Iowa coming, though, particularly Cedar Falls and Iowa City.

Past Trips: Where I’ve Been

Iowa City
St. Paul, St. Cloud
Iron Range, Lake Vermilion Edition
Grand Forks
River Falls
Iron Range, Biwabik Edition
Des Moines
Stevens Point

[0] As a Lutheran, he also wrote a book in the 1970s on how Protestant-Catholic marriages, such as his of 40 years to his wife Jeanne, can succeed. If you ever wanted to get a belated, humorous, and historically-themed wedding gift for me and Laura…
[1] David Axelrod to Floyd Fithian, “Thoughts on Message from Outside the Beltway,” April 20, 1987, p. 1. Box 227, Folder “Loose Material ~ Campaign Strategies”, Senator Paul Simon Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Morris Library, Carbondale. Hereafter referred to as Simon Papers.
[2] Jim Rosapepe to Paul Simon, “Message,” July 6, 1987, p. 1. Box 227, Folder “Interoffice memoranda,” Simon Papers.
[3] Terry Michael to Simon Campaign Officials, “Liberalism/Electability,” November 10, 1987, p. 1. Box 227, Folder “Interoffice memoranda,” Simon Papers.
[4] Lane Evans to Paul Simon, “Campaign 1988,” March 25, 1987, p. 3. Box 227, Folder “Memos to PS – Financial Statements,” Simon Papers.
[5] Terry Michael to Simon Staff and Supporters, “Pre-Iowa Talking Points,” January 28, 1988, pp. 1-2. Box 227, Folder “Interoffice memoranda”, Simon Papers.
[6] George F. Will, “Bow-Tie Politics,” Newsweek, May 11, 1987, p. 88.
[7] “Meeting with Vic Fingerhut and Arnold Bennett,” March 23, 1987, p. 2. Box 227, Folder “Memos to PS – Financial Statements”, Simon Papers.
[7.5] Adam Hochschild, “Paul Simon: A Profile,” Mother Jones, January 1988, pp. 34-38, 46.
[8] David Carle and Paul Furiga [Issues Director], “Talking Points on the Second Phase Campaign,” Paul Simon for President, February 25, 1988, pp. 2-3. Box 280, Folder “Simon Campaign Press Releases”, Simon Papers.
[9] Kathy Saltmarsh, “Wisconsin,” December 16, 1987, p. 2. Box 227, Folder “State Endorsements”, Simon Papers.
[10] Press release, “Simon to begin intense 11-day campaign in Wisconsin, with TV & radio advertising, 20 staff,” March 21, 1988, p. 1. Box 280, Folder “Simon Campaign Press Releases”, Simon Papers.
[11] Floyd Fithian to Paul Simon, “Lunch with Bob Waters,” March 27, 1987, p. 1. Box 227, Folder “Memos to PS – Financial Statements”, Simon Papers.
[12] “PS Phone Calls,” March 23, 1987, p. 4. Box 227, Folder “Memos to PS – Financial Statements”, Simon Papers.

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