What the Bartender Saw

Getting us back to politics-and-sociology, and as a segue to more from and about the Atlas Shrugged Guy and his California quasi-sympathizer, here is a note from a reader in the northeast. Context is the general phenomenon of people seeing, and not seeing, selective versions of reality.

One of my three jobs is for a catering company.  It allows me to see various denizens of different bubbles in their most comfortable habitats.  Among the events I worked this year were ones for Romney and one for Obama.  Ironically, both were hosted by extremely wealthy donors at private homes not far from each other in Brookline, Massachusetts.

When you deal with them, the guests are pretty much the same.  But they are all in their own bubble.  Obama got a question as to why he had tried to deal with Republicans, Romney talked in part about how "they" don't get the US is an exceptional country, to the applause of the crowd.  (That is all I heard, I left the tent where he was speaking because it was insufferably insipid.)

The elite on both sides should talk to people who are completely outside their income brackets.  When I tell my liberal professional friends that most of the people I work with hate the Mass. Health law, they are shocked.  When I explain why, that they are happy taking their chances with clinics and emergency room, I get what I call the "Liberal Lecture."  "Someday they will get really sick, everyone should contribute, they will benefit...."  Nice argument to make if you get an employer-subsidized plan, not so persuasive if you don't and rely on seasonal and/or hourly wages.  And the right, well, please think about how the people who work for you get by.  The minimum wage matters in ways you cannot imagine to people who earn it.

I could add more stories about what I have listened to among the detached and opinionated, but that is enough for now.

I recognize that this could be read as a version of "false equivalence": everyone's biased, it all evens out, etc. Which would be at odds with dawning consciousness on the right that the Romney campaign and conservatism in general were disproportionately weakened/blinded/blind-sided by the reality-distortion field created by partisan right-wing media. But I think the reader is mainly talking about the blind spots created by class difference, which are real and, in different ways, transcend party. More on political perception and mis-perception ahead.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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