Politico Founder Lectures Us About 'Normal America'
The Normal Theater, Normal, IllinoisCredit: Chicago Tribune
May 2, 2016

Well isn't that special. Jim VandeHei, former executive editor of Politico, has an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal called "Bring On a Third Party Candidate." VandeHei just can't stand how the Washington establishment has ignored "normal" America.

Vandehei points out that as a Politico executive, he knows a lot about beltway thinking, but he's also an expert on "normal" America...because he has frequently visited - and I am not making this up - Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Lincoln, Maine.

Wikipedia reports Lincoln, Maine is 97.1% White People. But that's okay, Oshkosh is only 90.5% White People. Perhaps now is a good time to mention that this article is behind a paywall at the totally normal Wall Street Journal.


Turns out the statistics superfans over at FiveThirtyEight noticed that too. They took a look at this thing called "America" and ran it through their computer models, and found out that actually Tampa, Florida and New Haven, Connecticut and much more "normal," being similar to the country as a whole, "based on age, educational attainment, and race and ethnicity." (It should be noted that the statistics are for a city or town jurisdiction; just because New Haven fits a "normal" model doesn't mean that it's not highly segregated within the city limits. Statistics do have limitations.)

But I really have to give the author at FiveThirtyEight, Jed Kolko, credit here. He acknowledges that "normal America" is not something someone says when they are talking about statistics. Instead, that term is loaded with emotion and subjectivity based on one's individual experiences. (emphasis added)

We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. Those notions might be based on our own nostalgia or our hopes for the future. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists....

But the places that look today most like 1950 America are not large metros but rather smaller metros and rural areas. Looking across all of America, including the rural areas, the regions that today look most demographically similar to 1950 America are the portion of eastern Ohio around the towns of Cambridge and Coshocton and the Cumberland Valley district in southeastern Kentucky.

But that's when VanderHei's desire to appeal to "normal America" really falls apart. Because if the Beltway establishment, politics and media, was to suddenly strive to understand and serve the needs and concerns of that Ohio / Kentucky "normal"? They would be embracing the needs of Ohio communities that see more deaths from drug overdoses than car accidents. And the needs of Kentucky communities where household income is eighty percent below the national average. Eighty.

VanderHei's "normal America" example, Oshkosh Wisconsin, has double the average household income of some towns in Eastern Kentucky. Like a lot of the Beltway press, VanderHei wants a "normal" America that for a great many citizens, doesn't exist.

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