Leon Cooperman is an extremely wealthy and powerful man. A Wall Street veteran who started his own hedge fund, his fortune is estimated at around $1.8 billion. Even though he’s not a public official, his pronouncements about politics and policy receive widespread media attention.
And yet not all is sunny in Mr. Cooperman’s life. That’s because he still can’t get over the belittling rhetoric President Obama employed about millionaires and billionaires and their corporate jet loopholes in a speech six months ago.
With Obama again set to amp up the rhetoric today in Kansas, this episode is worth a look.
Last week, Cooperman circulated an “open letter” to President Obama that accused him of a ”divisive, polarizing tone” that risks further inflaming an “already incendiary environment.” The letter was a sensation on Wall Street, so Andrew Ross Sorkin interviewed Cooperman to find out what exactly ticked him off badly enough to inspire him to write it:
“What pushed me over the fence was the president’s dialogue over the debt ceiling,” Mr. Cooperman said, explaining that just when it seemed like a compromise was near, President Obama went on national television and pressed harder on “millionaires and billionaires,” a phrase that has stuck in the craw of many of the elite.
For example, Mr. Cooperman zeroed in on what he described as the president’s belittling remarks about taxing the wealthy: “If you are a wealthy C.E.O. or hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been. They are lower than they have been since the 1950s. And they can afford it,” the president said back in June. “You can still ride on your corporate jet. You’re just going to have to pay a little more.”...
Mr. Cooperman acknowledges that, in the debt ceiling debate this summer, it was as much the fault of Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner’s inability to gain support for a compromise as it was the Democrats that a deal did not get done. And Mr. Cooperman accepts that taxes are indeed at record lows.
But he says the president could do a better job of pressing for higher taxes on the rich without “the sense that we’re bad people.”
Are we really at the point where the phrase “millionaires and billionaires” is too sharp-elbowed for our thin-skinned elites to countenance? Are we really at the point where that little jibe from Obama about corporate jets is tantamount to casting the wealthy as “bad people”? Making this odder still, Cooperman agrees with Obama on the fundamentals: He agrees that taxes on the rich are at record lows, and according to Sorkin, he even agrees that the wealthy should pay higher taxes. Yet he sees it as belittling to his class for Obama to point out these things in a vivid and forceful way, even though he’s doing so in order to break a political logjam that is blocking the implementation of the solutions Cooperman himself advocates.
We’re mired in a severe and chronic unemployment crisis that’s causing suffering among millions of Americans. The deficit is soaring at levels that (we are told) represent a threat to American civilization as we know it. Obama and Democrats are proposing to solve these problems with policies that would require an infinitessimal sacrifice from a small group of Americans who have gotten extraordinarily, almost unspeakably rich in recent years, thanks to trends that have horribly exacerbated inequality in ways with untold consequences for our culture and future. Yet as we grope for a way out of this mess, we should above all take great care to avoid bruising these folks’ fragile egos. Such remarkably sound priorities!