Over at Vox, Sean Illing writes about how we think of rural America:

The media often conflates rurality and whiteness in this country. But this is a false — and misleading — narrative.

Roughly one-fifth of rural residents in this country are people of color, and their interests and political views are as diverse as they are. When coverage of rural areas dismisses or otherwise ignores this fact, actual political consequences follow: The specific concerns of certain communities simply fall out of view.

Illing talks about this with Mara Casey Tieken, a professor at Bates College, who says this:

I think policymakers that represent white communities have disproportionately more power than policymakers representing rural communities of color....I think the problem also becomes self-perpetuating because what gets covered is rural white America, so that shapes how people think about rural America, and those are the stories that get told over and over again.

I want to offer up a guess about one reason why "rural" is so associated with whiteness. Here it is:

When the media reports on rural America, the stories are usually about Ohio or Missouri or Indiana or Pennsylvania or Nebraska. "Rural" means the Midwest and the Rust Belt. And as you can see on the map, those places really are mostly white.

As Tieken says, this becomes self-perpetuating. The Midwest and the Rust Belt are politically interesting, so rural areas there get lots of coverage. That means we largely see rural America as white, and that in turn means that news items about non-white areas usually end up getting coded as something else: In the Deep South they become "race and the lingering effects of slavery" stories, and in the Southwest they become "Hispanic immigration and the changing demographics of America" stories.

Does this happen because of implicit bias among reporters and the rest of us? Or because the Midwest and the Rust Belt really are the interesting areas when it comes to politics (big populations, loud voices, plenty of swing voters)? Maybe both.

Lunchtime Photo

This is a composite beanbag photo. It's a beanbag photo because I set the camera on my beanbag (see here for explanation), which sat on the concrete ledge of an overpass. This allowed me to aim the camera precisely where I wanted and to keep it nice and stable even with an exposure time of one second. There was no way a tripod could have fit where I needed it to.

It's a composite photo because I took a lot of shots from precisely the same spot (thanks to the beanbag). Then I chose the best freeway shot and used Photoshop to lay it on top of the best sunset shot. If you look very closely, you might be able to tell where the two shots merge, but you have to be pretty eagle-eyed.

Here's some interesting polling news. However, the interesting part isn't immediately obvious. First up is the Kaiser tracking poll, which asks if people have a favorable or unfavorable view of Obamacare:

Got it? Now here is today's PPP poll, which asks if people support or oppose Obamacare:

Kaiser and PPP agree precisely on support for Obamacare: it's at 47 percent. But they produce way different results on opposition: Kaiser has it at 46 percent and PPP has it at 31 percent. The difference is that PPP shows a large number of people who aren't sure.

Why? Is this the difference between "view unfavorably" and "oppose"? Or a difference between Kaiser and PPP? It's too big to be a mere statistical blip.

The most obvious interpretation is that there are lots of people who have unfavorable views of Obamacare but don't outright oppose it. If that's true, it seems like a pretty obvious opportunity for Democrats.

Many of you only read this blog on weekdays. That's OK. I understand that my random musings may be better than filling out yet another TPS report but not as good as doing actual fun stuff. However, sometimes this means you miss some good posts.

For example: James Comey. On Saturday, in a very long post, I made the case that Comey was the decisive factor in Hillary Clinton's loss, not Clinton herself or her campign. You should read it! And this too.

Right after I wrote that, the New York Times published a detailed story about why Comey did what he did. My take on the Times piece was simple: "At every step of the way, Comey demonstrated either his fear of crossing Republicans or his concern over protecting his own reputation from Republican attack." You should read this too!

Today, to wrap things up, I want to highlight a couple of additional points. Several people suggested that although Comey screwed up, I should have also mentioned the role the press played in this. I don't want to relitigate the entire campaign, but Nate Silver makes a pithy point about how the press handled the Comey letter:

From the time Comey's letter went public to the time he (once again) exonerated Hillary Clinton, Clinton's emails were the top news story in 12 out of 14 news cycles even though there was zero evidence that the emails were either new or incriminating or interesting in any way. Even after years of being taken for a ride on this stuff, the press just couldn't get enough. All you had to do was breathe something about new emails and they went nuts.

Second, Mike Tomasky makes a point about Comey that I only touched on because my posts were already so long. Here it is:

Fear of political fallout seems to have motivated almost everything he did. Kevin Drum made this point over the weekend. But Drum didn’t emphasize what is to me the most telling thing, which is that there is one group Comey appears not to have feared at all: Democrats.

....The Times talked to 30 people, and apparently the idea that Comey may have feared how the Democrats would react to any action of his just wasn’t brought up. Amazing. Remember what the guy did: He excoriated Clinton’s ethics; he announced a reopening of an investigation 11 days before the election with no evidence that there was any reason to think Anthony Weiner’s laptop would revealing a smoking gun (it did not, as Comey subsequently announced); and finally, he kept from the public the fact that his bureau was also investigating the other presidential candidate.

And through it all, he was worried about what Republicans would do to him, but apparently never concerned about how Democrats would react to anything he did.

I've spent a lot of time over the past few years mocking the Republican Benghazi obsession, but this is where it paid off. After four years of this stuff, of course Comey was afraid he'd be the target of endless hearings if Clinton won and it later turned out there was something in the emails. But if Trump won and there was nothing in the emails? People like me would write some critical blog posts. Democrats here and there would mutter about Comey interfering in the election. But that would be it. Republicans had a well-developed reputation as ravening pit bulls. Democrats had a well-developed reputation as occasionally irritable poodles. Everybody wrings their hands over this, but it worked out pretty well for Republicans, didn't it?

I don't really have any point to make about this, but I was curious about how Marine Le Pen's National Front has done over the past few decades in elections for president of France. Here it is:

Since taking over the National Front, Marine Le Pen's strategy has been to sell a softer, less overtly racist version of the party her father founded. This, combined with the nationalist fervor supposedly taking over Europe, has produced a result 4.5 percentage points higher than her lunatic dad received in 1997 and 3.5 points higher than Marine herself received in 2012.

Is that a lot? A little? I'm not sure. It doesn't seem like a huge swing to me, and it's a sharp drop from the vote share the party received in recent elections for regional councils and the European Parliament. I don't know enough about French politics to venture an opinion, but it doesn't seem like strong evidence in favor of a big European swing to the nationalist right.

Conservative writer Jay Nordlinger engages in some nostalgia today:

Remember when we knocked President Obama for spending so much time on the golf course? Not all of us did, but many of us did. Donald Trump, for example, was unrelenting in his criticism.

You don’t hear that anymore. Conservatives don’t knock the president for spending so much time on the golf course.

....Remember how we counted up the times Obama said “I” and “me” in a speech? That was fun. It was kind of a conservative pastime. We don’t do that anymore.

....I was looking at Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock in the White House. What a trio! Striking poses in front of Hillary’s portrait and so on. I flashed back to the Clinton ’90s.

Two showbiz women, Markie Post and Linda Thomason, were jumping on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom. A photo circulated. Man, did we hate it. You have no idea what a big deal this was (to us)!

Good times.

From Donald Trump, explaining why he said NATO was obsolete during the campaign:

I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn't in government. People don't go around asking about NATO if I'm building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf ... asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO's obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, "And the reason it's obsolete is because of the fact they don't focus on terrorism."

This is not the first time Trump has said something like this. I wonder if he even realizes that it sounds bad when he admits he was just blathering during the campaign because he didn't know what he was talking about?

Here's something very simple that I find pretty useful during my photo outings: a small beanbag. When not in use, it sits at the bottom of your camera bag and gives the camera a little extra cushion. In use, you just set your camera down on it. If the surface is rocky, it helps to stabilize the camera. If the surface is flat but not level, you can smoosh it around until the camera is pointed in the right direction.

The beanbag is nice if you don't have a tripod on hand, or if you need to put the camera down in a small place where a tripod won't work. Once it's set, you can pretty easily take nice, sharp photos even with long shutter times. I'll post an example tomorrow.

My beanbag was custom made for me, so you can't have it. But I assume they're fairly easy to find or make. A beanbag filled with little beads of silly putty or something similar might be even better, but I don't where you could find something like that.

A couple of hours ago I tweeted this:

Shattered tells us in loving detail about every mistake the Clinton campaign made, but every losing campaign gets that treatment. Her campaign also did a lot of things right. My horseback guess is that when you put it all together, she was about average as a candidate and her campaign was about average as a campaign.

But that got me curious: how do Clinton and her campaign compare to past elections? There's no way to measure this directly, but you can get an idea by comparing actual election outcomes to the predictions of a good fundamental model. So I hauled out Alan Abramowitz's model, which has a good track record, and looked at how winning candidates performed compared to the baseline of what the model predicted for them. Here it is:

According to this, Hillary Clinton did way better than any winning candidate of the past three decades, outperforming her baseline by 2.4 percent. Without the Comey effect, she would have outperformed her baseline by a truly epic amount.

Now, was this because she ran a good campaign, or because she had an unusually bad opponent? There's no way to tell, of course. Donald Trump was certainly a bad candidate, but then again, no one thinks that Dole or Gore or Kerry or McCain were terrific candidates either.

Bottom line: we don't have any way of knowing for sure, and this is an inherently subjective question. But the evidence of the Abramowitz model certainly doesn't suggest that Hillary Clinton ran an unusually poor campaign or that she was an unusually poor candidate. Maybe she was, but aside from cherry-picked anecdotes and free-floating Hillary animus, there's not really a lot to support this view.

I suppose this isn't a big surprise, but it sure is discouraging—especially after Donald Trump's disgusting "I'm not endorsing Le Pen, mind you, but she sure is great!" twaddle. The only good news is that Macron is a decent candidate and will almost certainly crush Marine "I promise we're not racists anymore" Le Pen.

Of course, that's what we thought about Hillary Clinton too, so....