The Hurt Feelings of the Super-Sensitive Top .01 Percent

Mega-billionaire Leon Cooperman

I just finished reading an article by Chrystia Freeland of The New Yorker: Super-Rich Irony: Why do billionaires feel victimized by Obama? I think I’m finally beginning to understand why wealthy assholes like Mitt Romney disdain almost half of the country as losers who think of ourselves as victims and are dependent on the government. It’s because the superrich believe that they are the victims, and anyone who works for a paycheck–as opposed to running a business–isn’t really working. Seriously, I know it’s a cliche at this point, but it really is time to break out guillotines. It’s time to show the entitled, self-involved, stuffed-shirt class what real class warfare looks and feels like. For the sake of humanity, they need to be humbled.

Freeland centers the article around the billionaire financier Leon Cooperman, who listed his grievances against President Obama in a lengthy open letter last November. Cooperman’s complaints sound remarkably similar to Mitt Romney’s endless whining. (Although he is nowhere near as rich as Cooperman, Romney’s fortune still puts him in to top .01 of earners.)

Like Romney, Cooperman is all bent out of shape about Obama’s “tone,” i.e., he has said mean things about rich people, and he doesn’t bow down and abjectly worship “success” often enough.  Cooper also shares with Romney the belief that “success” is indistinguishable from wealth and that ordinary wage earners are just useless drags on the productive few at the top. From The New York Times’ Dealbook, on Cooperman’s letter, November 29, 2011:

Last week, in a widely circulated “open letter” to President Obama that whizzed around e-mail inboxes of Wall Street and corporate America, Mr. Cooperman argued that “the divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf, at this point as much visceral as philosophical, between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them.”

He went on to say, “To frame the debate as one of rich-and-entitled versus poor-and-dispossessed is to both miss the point and further inflame an already incendiary environment.”

….

Mr. Cooperman’s complaint has less to do with the substance of taxing the wealthy than it does the president’s choice of words in promoting it, an emphasis that he says is “villainizing the American Dream.”

I always thought the American dream was owning a house, raising a family, doing work you enjoy, and having a dignified retirement. But I guess I was wrong.

Getting back to the New Yorker article, Freeland writes that:

One night last May, some twenty financiers and politicians met for dinner in the Tuscany private dining room at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. The eight-course meal included blinis with caviar; a fennel, grapefruit, and pomegranate salad; cocoa-encrusted beef tenderloin; and blue-cheese panna cotta. The richest man in the room was Leon Cooperman, a Bronx-born, sixty-nine-year-old billionaire. Cooperman is the founder of a hedge fund called Omega Advisors, but he has gained notice beyond Wall Street over the past year for his outspoken criticism of President Obama. Cooperman formalized his critique in a letter to the President late last year which was widely circulated in the business community; in an interview and in a speech, he has gone so far as to draw a parallel between Obama’s election and the rise of the Third Reich.

This was the beginning of a rebellion, what Cooperman termed “a sleeper cell.”  The superrich are sick and tired of being disrespected and they aren’t going to take it anymore!  But what about this Third Reich business?  According to Freeland,

Comparing Hitler and Obama, as Cooperman did last year at the CNBC conference, is something of a meme. In 2010, the private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, of the Blackstone Group, compared the President’s as yet unsuccessful effort to eliminate some of the preferential tax treatment his sector receives to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. After Cooperman made his Hitler comment, he has said, his wife called him a “schmuck.” But he couldn’t resist repeating the analogy when we spoke in May of this year. “You know, the largest and greatest country in the free world put a forty-seven-year-old guy that never worked a day in his life and made him in charge of the free world,” Cooperman said. “Not totally different from taking Adolf Hitler in Germany and making him in charge of Germany because people were economically dissatisfied. Now, Obama’s not Hitler. I don’t even mean to say anything like that. But it is a question that the dissatisfaction of the populace was so great that they were willing to take a chance on an untested individual.”

Because, you see, Obama only “worked” for a paycheck, like the majority of us losers in the 47 percent.

America’s super-rich feel aggrieved in part because they believe themselves to be fundamentally different from a leisured, hereditary gentry. In his letter, Cooperman detailed a Horatio Alger biography that has made him an avatar for the new super-rich. “While I have been richly rewarded by a life of hard work (and a great deal of luck), I was not to-the-manor-born,” he wrote, going on to describe his humble beginnings in the South Bronx, as the son of working-class parents—his father was a plumber—who had emigrated from Poland. Cooperman makes it known that he gets up at 5:20 a.m. and is at his desk at Omega’s offices in lower Manhattan, on the thirty-first floor of a building overlooking the East River and Brooklyn, by 6:40 a.m. He rarely gets home before 9 p.m., and most evenings he has a business dinner after leaving the office. “I say that I date my wife on the weekends,” he told me one August afternoon at his office. The space is defiantly modest, furnished with nineteen-nineties-era glass coffee tables, unfashionable yellow couches, and family photographs.

So Cooperman has devoted his entire life to making money. Has he ever read a book? Does he appreciate art or music? Probably not, because that would take time away from hoarding more and more money. If that’s the “American dream,” I’m just not interested. I also find it ironic that these millionaires and billionaires supposedly pride themselves on being self-made–different from the landed gentry; yet at the same time, they are demanding to be treated like kings and princes, expecting the rest of us to bow and scrape before their awesome “success.”

Cooperman’s pride in his work ethic is one source of his disdain for Obama. “When he ran for President, he’d never worked a day in his life. Never held a job,” he said. Obama had, of course, worked—as a business researcher, a community organizer, a law professor, and an attorney at a law firm, not to mention an Illinois state legislator and a U.S. senator, before being elected President. But Cooperman was unimpressed. “He went into government service right out of Harvard,” he said. “He never made payroll. He’s never built anything.”

You see? If you didn’t start a business, if you worked for the government or a university or even for a corporation that you didn’t own, you never worked a day in your life. You are a worthless layabout, deserving of nothing more than starving to death on the street or dying of an untreated illness. Cooperman even looks down his nose at educated professionals from dentist office rochester mn. He’s very relieved that he dropped out of dental school and went into finance .

“I probably make more than a thousand dentists, summed up.” (A thousand dentist would need to work for a decade—and pay no taxes or living expenses—to collectively earn Cooperman’s net worth.) During another conversation, Cooperman mentioned that over the weekend an acquaintance had come by to get some friendly advice on managing his personal finances. He was a seventy-two-year-old world-renowned cardiologist; his wife was one of the country’s experts in women’s medicine. Together, they had a net worth of around ten million dollars. “It was shocking how tight he was going to be in retirement,” Cooperman said. “He needed four hundred thousand dollars a year to live on. He had a home in Florida, a home in New Jersey. He had certain habits he wanted to continue to pursue.

“I’m just saying that it’s not an impressive amount of capital for two people that were leading physicians for their entire work life,” Cooperman went on. “You know, I lost more today than they spent a lifetime accumulating.”

And Cooperman isn’t even a far right winger. He thinks the rich should willingly pay more taxes, and he has “signed Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least fifty per cent of [his] net worth to charity”–for which he was honored at the White House. Now we get to the deepest cut, the biggest slight to Cooper’s pride and self-image:

At the event, Cooperman handed the President two copies of “Inspired: My Life (So Far) in Poems,” a self-published book written by Courtney Cooperman, his fourteen-year-old granddaughter. Cooperman was surprised that the President didn’t send him a thank-you note or that Malia and Sasha Obama, for whom the books were intended as a gift and to whom Courtney wrote a separate letter, didn’t write to Courtney. (After Cooperman grumbled to a few friends, including Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, Michelle Obama did write. Booker, who was also a recipient of Courtney’s book, promptly wrote her “a very nice note,” Cooperman said.)

This is the American ruling class. These are the people who want to destroy what is left of the American social safety net. They’re complete assholes, and they think the rest of us are the scum of the earth–even the President of the United States.