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The Wall Street “veteran” Leon Cooperman has written an“Open Letter to President Obama” that provides us with a glimpse into the mindset of our 21st century corporate overlords. He’s upset not with President Obama’s Treasury Department or his Securities and Exchange Commission, or even his Department of Justice or the IRS. No, what’s put a bee in Mr. Cooperman’s bonnet is the president’s “tone” toward billionaires like himself. Apparently for the captains of industry and high finance it’s not enough for Obama to be a faithful servant of their narrow class interests, they also want him to bend down and kiss their rings.

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Leon Cooperman is but one citizen in our grand republic, yet by virtue of his station he automatically receives a wide airing of his elitist views of Obama’s “tone” toward big business. Cooperman chose to pen the letter at this time, according to Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times, because he believes Obama’s rhetoric of late has been “villainizing success.” And this he believes is a bad thing because: “We are supposed to admire success.”

Cooperman conflates “wealth” with “success” and when he uses the term “we” it is revelatory. Does he include in the “we” the woman who changes the sheets in his 5-star hotel rooms? Or the guy who cleans the toilet of his private jet? In the midst of the most serious legitimation crisis facing American capitalism in 70 years, and at a time when the Occupy Wall Street movement has opened up the floodgates of questioning a system that is clearly slanted against ordinary people, Cooperman tells us “we” should be “admiring” the rich? His use of “we” reminds me of an observation Sonya O. Rose makes in Which People’s War? (2003) where she writes: “all definitions of who ‘we’ are . . . once they move beyond the generality that ‘we are all in this together,’ once who the ‘we’ is, and what ‘together’ means are specified, the singularity of that identity is exposed as being false.” (p. 285)

The President of the United States probably receives a half million letters every month from desperate low-wage workers, pink-slipped teachers and public employees, and people losing their homes to foreclosure or declaring bankruptcy after becoming sick. These types of letters won’t likely make it onto the Times’ business page.

It apparently wasn’t enough for Cooperman and his friends on Wall Street to strip away an obscene share of the nation’s wealth by sucking dry a once solid middle class; or make billions of dollars crashing the nation’s housing market; or extort a fat federal bail-out (and $7.7 trillion from the Federal Reserve); or own both political parties in Washington and hundreds of state-level politicians; or control a large swathe of the corporate media. They don’t even show gratitude for the “get-out-of-jail-free” card Obama gave them. No. They bitch and moan about the “tone” of a president they deem not “pro-business” enough.

I think I’ve seen everything now: Whiny billionaires (Cooperman and John Paulson); clueless billionaires (Michael Bloomberg); 19th century-style authoritarian billionaires (the Koch Brothers); and even billionaires whose “philanthropy” always ends up busting teachers’ unions (Bill Gates).

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Despite President Obama’s nice sounding rhetoric in Osawatomie, Kansas where he tried to channel the “trust-busting” TR, his appointment of Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Larry Summers (for a time) to lead his economic team — along with his toothless SEC, (which afederal judge recently slapped down), and his asleep-at-the-switch Justice Department that has apparently misplaced its prosecutorial tools to deal with securities fraud — these moves and many others like it have already shown us which side he’s on.

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If President Obama is finally going to get serious and stand up for the middle class he needs to take concrete actions, not soothe us with meaningless words. At the very least he must fire Geithner and Mary Schapiro at the SEC and replace them with people who, unlike them, are not tools of Wall Street. That move alone might signal to the 99 percent that he’s turning over a new leaf. He also needs a major confrontation with the Republicans on a substantive economic issue where HE DOES NOT CAVE IN. He might also do something he should have done during his first 100 days: form an Executive Branch task force comprised of prosecutors from the Department of Justice, investigators from the Internal Revenue Service, examiners from the FDIC and the SEC, and put a federal hammer down on those big banks. The federal machinery must be used to force them to write down the loans for residential mortgage owners who find themselves, through no fault of their own, hopelessly underwater. Anything short of moves like these is just rhetoric.

Besides, at this late date who really cares if Obama, facing re-election, now starts talking up legislation he knows full well will never pass the Republican Congress? He had several years to do something forceful for the 99 percent and (for whatever reason) he chose an utterly pusillanimous “wait-and-see” posture.

The money changers must be thrown out of Washington and the state houses; money must be rendered irrelevant in determining the outcome of political campaigns so that our elections cease being little more than auctions to the highest bidder; corporate personhood must be abolished, (as the Los Angeles City Council recently codified), and people must stand up to the banks and occupy homes in communities across the country when the foreclosure notices go up.

Kvetching about Obama’s “anti-business tone” from people who have made out better in recent years than any elite since the days of Caligula tells us something about them and their astonishing sense of entitlement. These Emperors are not only content to walk naked among us; they’re advertising their detachment from the rest of society as if it’s something to be proud of.

The billionaires want the two political parties to be totally subservient free of any criticism whatsoever. They won’t even allow their president to pander once in a while to the 99 percent. They want total capitulation, not just in policy prerogatives, but also in “tone.” But the social movement that will challenge them is just getting off the ground. And their complaining only serves to remind us who “we” really are.

Joe Palermo

Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo's Blog