The medieval concept of offsetting your sins through public penance is back in play: The more loudly you talk about helping the proverbial people, the more you are allowed to live quite apart from them without guilt. Do not expect a garbage collector, in the fashion of the anti–Mitt Romney ad, to make a video complaining that the Obamas never ventured outside their coastal compound to compliment him on his work or just to chitchat. Al Gore’s lamentations for the polar bear allows him to try to finagle a $9 million tax savings. The money for Media Matters apparently offsets the fact that the speculations of a conniving George Soros once almost bankrupted the British small depositor and earned him an insider-trading conviction in France. Each speech blasting the uncaring Bush tax cuts translates into a hundred thousand less in taxes to be paid on your yacht.
To be cool is now not just to be rich, but to appear caring. Hollywood still seeks hundreds of millions in tax breaks unavailable to small businesses without shame because it is so manifestly compassionate. Occupy Wall Street does not camp out in Beverly Hills or Malibu, although the likes of Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio make more per year than do most Wall Street fat cats. The public wonders why Hollywood is so liberal — is it the Bohemian culture surrounding the arts? The natural creative temperament of actors? The Lotus-land surf and sun of the southern-California beach milieu? Perhaps. But penance plays a role as well. For the overpaid and pampered Hollywood movie star, calling for raising taxes, banning guns, ending global warming, and legalizing gay marriage means never having to feel too bad about living on the beach and making, under our capitalist system, more money in a month than do many Americans in a lifetime.