Thomas Frank, author of "What's The Matter With Kansas?" and "The Wrecking Crew" writes about the poor, poor plutocrats who are so very sad that no one appreciates them: Rhetoric like this makes the very rich feel very sad. It has sent them
October 6, 2012

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Thomas Frank, author of "What's The Matter With Kansas?" and "The Wrecking Crew" writes about the poor, poor plutocrats who are so very sad that no one appreciates them:

Rhetoric like this makes the very rich feel very sad. It has sent them on a crusade to restore matters to their rightful place. And in the process they have developed one of the distinctive literary forms of our time: the plutocrat’s j’accuse.

The most famous example is the open letter to the president written last year by the hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman and dissected at length in this week’s New Yorker magazine. In it, Mr. Cooperman blames Mr. Obama (and his “minions”) for “setting the tenor of the rancorous debate now roiling us that smacks of what so many have characterized as ‘class warfare.’ ” This is serious, this roiling and this tenor-setting, but it is not the only damage the president’s words have done. The “divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf,” Mr. Cooperman continued, “between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them” — meaning, apparently, hedge fund managers like himself.

Other princelings who have made noteworthy contributions to the genre include Ted Leonsis, the owner of several Washington sports teams, who feels that “anyone who has achieved success in terms of rank or fiscal success is being cast as a bad guy in a black hat,” and the casino magnate Steve Wynn, who griped in a famous conference call that the president “keeps making speeches about redistribution.” He said, “We haven’t heard that kind of talk except from pure socialists.”

Reports have even reached us, via The Wall Street Journal, of a tragic incident last year on the streets of New York in which an unnamed “panhandler” rejected a handout with a spiteful, “You Wall Street fat cats!” Thankfully, the man at whom this imprecation was directed, the chief executive of a venture capital firm, knew whom to blame: President Obama, whose “incendiary message has now reached the streets.”

Nobody likes to be criticized, but one would expect captains of industry, Darwinian tough guys that they are, to have thicker skins. Were Mr. Obama a true incendiary, he might have found a way on Wednesday to mention his opponent’s millions; his work for Bain Capital; or his dismissal, captured on video, of those layabouts who make up 47 percent of the country. Mr. Obama called for ending the tax break for corporate jets, sure, but that’s about it.

In the broad scheme of things, these are excellent times to be a billionaire. Labor is powerless. Taxes are low. The banks that survived the crisis are bigger than ever. So why do the well-to-do whine so? Why do they wring their hands?

For one thing, their criticisms reveal a contemptuous view of their fellow citizens. That all the books and articles on the financial crisis and the recession might have had an effect — that people might see the economic downturn as a reflection on the individuals who were, a few years back, lionized as the economy’s leaders — is inconceivable to the class-war complainers. The public’s attitude, they seem to believe, can have arisen only as a result of propagandizing by Mr. Obama. No American would ever stop respecting his betters unless he was brainwashed into it.

It is also a play for legitimacy. In good times, the very rich compare themselves to the Almighty; in hard times they convince themselves that Huey P. Long lurks just around the corner. History, they fear, will repeat its most sordid chapters unless it is stopped right now, and that’s why they act as if a few mean words wound as hurtfully as any program of, say, antitrust enforcement.

They whine because whining works. One only wishes that if he wins a second term, Barack Obama will give them something to really cry about.

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