Jack Ohman

Somewhere along the line, Clinton forgot Galesburg

There’s a huge concrete slab that used to be called Appliance City in Galesburg, Ill., not so far from where Abraham Lincoln grew up on the Sangamon River. It’s where a Maytag factory used to be.

That Maytag factory is now in Reynosa, Mexico.

Grass grows between the fractured concrete. Rubble mixed with rebar is everywhere; the fixtures are gone. Not so much as a bolt or piece of conduit remains. Everything is gone, along with all the jobs provided when a manufacturing complex once bustled there.

Maytag made refrigerators in Galesburg. At its peak, the plant employed 5,000 people, making it the largest employer in a town of 33,000. By the time Maytag finally shuttered the factory in 2004, the remaining 1,600 workers were laid off with about a year’s notice.

They’re not working for Maytag in Mexico. Mostly, they stayed. Some got jobs with the railroad, or at Caterpillar over in Peoria, where they were also laying people off as recently as a few weeks ago.

The largest employers in Galesburg now are the hospital and the BNSF railroad.

If you want a house, you can get a great one for probably $80,000. Throw in Knox College, Wal-Mart, some retail and restaurants, and that’s about the employment picture in a nutshell.

The Democratic Party used to champion people who worked at Maytag. Now, they pay these people lip service.

President Barack Obama returned to Galesburg more than once, citing it as an example of what we need to fix. He carried the Blue Wall states of Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin in both his presidential elections.

You hear about lots of other issues in the echo chamber that has become the Democratic Party. Democrats are for good things: civil rights for all, climate change, and so on.

But they just lost the presidency because they basically didn’t bother to champion the people who are now staring at the large, cold slab of concrete in Galesburg.

There will be lots of analysis about why Hillary Clinton lost her run for the presidency. She is a good woman with good intentions, and has served her country well.

But she never quite got around to visiting a lot of places like Galesburg. Or Racine, Wis., or Detroit either, until it was too late. When a Democrat goes to Wayne County, Mich., in November, something is terribly, terribly wrong.

These are devastated cities in the Blue Wall states. That wall crumbled on Tuesday, when Donald Trump picked up the pieces.

John Kennedy kicked off his 1960 campaign in Cadillac Square in Detroit.

“You have not been content enough to sit around and leave well enough alone,” he said then on Labor Day, at once lauding the labor movement that had built Detroit and goading it not to sink into complacency.

The Clinton campaign did leave well enough alone. Don’t worry. We’ve got the Blue Wall. All good. Chill.

The campaign sent Chelsea Clinton to Racine and Green Bay in September and October.

But Hillary Clinton should have been standing on that cold slab of concrete in Galesburg, and in places like it in Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio, screaming bloody murder, demanding to know why it is a cold slab and not a bustling factory.

There will be some who ascribe Clinton’s defeat to misogyny. Donald Trump is misogynist. Some will blame the outcome on lack of enthusiasm among black voters, or white male fear and insecurity.

But I do think this: If Clinton had talked a little more about places like Galesburg, the Blue Wall would have prevented the big, beautiful wall that the next president of the United States promises to build.

That’s on the border with Mexico, which is where the Maytag plant relocated.

Jack Ohman: 916-321-1911, @JACKOHMAN

An earlier version of this article failed to attribute the numbers included in this column to Chad Broughton, a senior lecturer in public policy at the University of Chicago, who published them in The Atlantic on Sept. 16, 2014.

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