WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY — November 11, 2019 — It is instructive and appalling to listen to the whining of billionaires as their power and greed are challenged by Elizabeth Warren. They are adding daily to a long history of tone-deaf and politically inept responses to real economic populism. We’re headed back in time to when the super rich were politically vulnerable and smart politicians led the charge.
The whiner-in-chief is Leon Cooperman, a Wall Street money manipulator who authored an off-the-wall tirade against Warren and her “wealth tax.” He was subsequently joined by the normally rational Bill Gates.
What seems to provoke these outbursts of self-pity is Warren’s proposal for a wealth tax. Warren’s proposal would tax accumulated wealth at 2 percent over $50 million and at 3 percent over $1 billion. That would leave Cooperman with $970 million to feed his family.
What says Cooperman about the Warren plan? “This is the f***ing American Dream she is s****ing on.” Really. That’s what he said in an interview with Politico, without the asterisks.
There certainly can be reasoned debate and hesitancy about the Warren tax and its consequences. But after decades of tax cuts for billionaires, a ballooning national debt and astounding income inequality, it ought to get a rational analysis, not an expletive-doused rant.
Put the merits aside for a moment and look at the politics. Warren has been justly criticized for promising a lot of stuff and not clarifying how to pay for it. Now she’s told us. Average Americans will decide for themselves between Cooperman’s version of the American Dream and Warren’s. I predict that most Americans will side with Warren. And the repulsive outbursts of the privileged will help her.
There is a large and growing political constituency for soaking the rich. Voters who were alienated by a Democratic Party at ease in corporate boardrooms and in the globalist elites will listen to a message that focuses on fairness and taxing the super-wealthy. But Warren cannot be intimidated by these attacks. If her message is to survive she needs to double down and explain again and again that the wealth tax is an important element of restoring the health of the American middle class. She seems to understand the challenge, so far.
This kind of uncompromising progressive rhetoric has been successfully used by American presidents and won elections for them.
President Teddy Roosevelt was unsparing. “Too much cannot be said against the men of wealth who sacrifice everything to getting wealth. There is not in the world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, putting his fortune only to the basest uses — whether these uses be to speculate in stocks and wreck railroads himself, or to allow his son to lead a life of foolish and expensive idleness and gross debauchery. These men are equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil. They are curses to the country.”
President Franklin Roosevelt was more nuanced but no less pointed. “We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”
Cooperman and Gates are setting the stage for a resurgence of left-wing populism. It’s an unexpected turn that benefits Warren, and should lead to a more reasoned debate over wealth taxes and income inequality. TR and FDR would be pleased.
Richard Brodsky is a former state Assembly member.
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Original publication by Times-Union on November 10, 2019.