It was startling to see billionaire Leon Cooperman shed a tear on TV as he responded to criticism from presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. It was illuminating a week later to hear him explain his reaction. Cooperman declared that while he, too, favors higher taxes on the uber-rich, his emotional reaction was because he felt that Warren had attacked his family and that was simply too much for his sensitivities. I will accept his explanation; I also am given to tears in times of high emotion.
But what he said next restored my suspicion that the super-rich are not like you and me — that there must be a certain tone-deafness that afflicts those with great wealth; a side effect of excess dollars, if you will.
Cooperman repeatedly complained that Warren’s tax proposals vilify those who have simply “worked hard” such as Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. He didn’t acknowledge the many turns of fortune that bountifully rewarded the hard work of his fellow billionaires. Nor did he mention the government regulations enacted or, in other cases, voided that advanced their fortune-building. Nor did he mention the banking and tax regulations that help the rich get richer.
Neither did he recognize the multitude of circumstances that conspire to leave many equally hardworking people in need, be it due to generational poverty, subpar education, sexism or racial prejudice.
Instead he shared this story to show — what? — that he understands the lot of the unfortunate?
With no sense of irony, he told of a man he knew, Friend No. 1, who was dismissed from his job shortly before Christmas. To make it worse, Friend No. 1 had a family and a large mortgage (knowing it takes big money to get a big mortgage, my sympathy was already flagging). In distress, Friend No. 1 called a mutual friend to commiserate with. Friend No. 2 came up with a solution — a brilliant solution it turns out — he volunteered to help raise $2 million to fund Friend No. 1’s dream: a giant hardware store empire. Incidentally, the venture made billionaires of all three friends. Presto! Problem solved! Win-win-win!
Yes — a brilliant solution. Why don’t all unemployed people simply turn to their rich friends to underwrite their entrepreneurial dreams? Why haven’t we all thought of that? Kind of a GoFundMe for billionaires-in-waiting?
Is Cooperman truly that far removed from the realities of life for the vast majority of Americans?
I’d like him to explain his get-rich-quick plans to the single mom whose chronically ill child just lost her health insurance due to capricious changes in government regulations. Or the Army veteran whose post-traumatic stress disorder torments him every night and many days, keeping him unemployed, and yet is denied a disability pension. Or the young teacher and recent college grad whose student loan payments guarantee he’ll be living in his parents’ basement for the foreseeable future?
I’ve heard this corrupt “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” myth for years, and it always seems to come from people whose own boots are most assuredly in place and often have been so for generations. It suspiciously sounds like a blame-the-victim narrative.
The bootstraps argument refuses to acknowledge that no one "makes it" by themselves, and refuses to even consider that we may have a responsibility, not just to stay out of the way as our neighbor pulls up her boots, but perhaps to even help. Even Leon Cooperman’s Friend No. 1, who it turns out was the founder of Home Depot, needed help. He was just lucky that his helpers were wealthy and well-connected.