When we talk of tokenism, escapism, or penance, we are still in world of symptoms, not the etiology of the malady. All can understand the very human desire to support a liberal crusader like Barack Obama among those who pay no income tax, belong to the near 50% who receive some sort of government aid, or are part of the one-sixth of the population on food stamps. Self-interest is an understandable motivation. It explains why the public employee and teacher naturally worry more about pay increases than the tax wherewithal to pay for them.
But for the more elite and influential progressive, affluence has allowed liberal orthodoxy to evolve to its theoretical limitations. There is a reason why 90% of professors — life-long tenure, summers off, guaranteed pay raises — are liberal and 70% of small-business people are conservative. The more removed one becomes from the elemental struggle to eat one more day — and never in the history of civilization have so many been so exempt from such existential worries — the more one enjoys the luxury of pondering more cosmic issues such as extending Social Security disability payments to youths suffering from attention deficit disorder or mandating gay history in state public schools or saving the smelt.
The problem, however, with modern redistributive liberalism is that it is predicated on a number of people not predicating their existences on just such modern liberal principles. When the natural gas fracker, the dairy owner, the cement contractor, and the software engineer either quit or move, then the Pine Flat campgrounds become, as they are now, the norm rather than the aberration.
A rich inheritance, a big law settlement, tenure, a movie deal, a state sinecure — these enablers of elite liberal thought are all predicated on the less-liberal productive classes creating wealth to shear. Behind every liberal philanthropist fortune is a huge capitalist score. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett can afford now to be liberal — an expensive indulgence — because in their early incarnations they were no-holds-barred capitalists who made lots of enemies conducting business without mercy and in search of pure profit. (In the 1980s and early 1990s Bill Gates’ Microsoft was cast as a Darth Vader enemy that had crushed the underdog, hip, and nearly insolvent Apple through piratical means.)
Put Sean Penn or George Clooney in a socialist Hollywood (one in fact, not in mere name), where the state ran the industry and the profits were divided evenly among actors, crews, and janitors (who is to say that Clooney “built” a film any more than the guy who swept the set after he got in his Mercedes and headed home?), and soon you would have a suddenly conservative Penn or Clooney, netting about $70,000 a year before taxes and without the wherewithal to jet to Caracas or hold a fund-raiser in Geneva — and furious that they were making the same as the guy who swept the set (as in most can sweep sets, but not all can be Sean Penns).
Affluence and poverty are the twins of liberalism. The former allows one to both dream and to escape that dream. The latter provides the fodder for liberal artillery.