Billionaire investor Leon Cooperman made public his letter to the President, in which he calls for Obama to end his class warfare rhetoric and appeal to all voters today. Cooperman, below, makes the point that the President’s comments are divisive at a time we can least afford it. The chairman of Omega Advisors was a one-time Goldman Sachs asset management chief.
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
November 28, 2011
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
It is with a great sense of disappointment that I write this. Like
many others, I hoped that your election would bring a salutary change of
direction to the country, despite what more than a few feared was an
overly aggressive social agenda. And I cannot credibly blame you for the
economic mess that you inherited, even if the policy response on your
watch has been profligate and largely ineffectual. (You did not, after
all, invent TARP.) I understand that when surrounded by cries of "the
end of the world as we know it is nigh", even the strongest of minds may
have a tendency to shoot first and aim later in a well-intended effort
to stave off the predicted apocalypse.
But what I can justifiably hold you accountable for is you and your
minions' role in setting the tenor of the rancorous debate now roiling
us that smacks of what so many have characterized as "class warfare".
Whether this reflects your principled belief that the eternal divide
between the haves and have-nots is at the root of all the evils that
afflict our society or just a cynical, populist appeal to his base by a
president struggling in the polls is of little importance. What does
matter is 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. It is a gulf that is at once counterproductive and freighted with
dangerous historical precedents. And it is an approach to governing
that owes more to desperate demagoguery than your Administration should
feel comfortable with.
Just to be clear, 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. My father
was a plumber who practiced his trade in the South Bronx after he and
my mother emigrated from Poland. I was the first member of my family to
earn a college degree. I benefited from both a good public education
system (P.S. 75, Morris High School and Hunter College, all in the
Bronx) and my parents' constant prodding. When I joined Goldman Sachs
following graduation from Columbia University's business school, I had
no money in the bank, a negative net worth, a National Defense Education
Act student loan to repay, and a six-month-old child (not to mention
his mother, my wife of now 47 years) to support. I had a successful,
near-25-year run at Goldman, which I left 20 years ago to start a
private investment firm. As a result of my good fortune, I have been
able to give away to those less blessed far more than I have spent on
myself and my family over a lifetime, and last year I subscribed to
Warren Buffet's Giving Pledge to ensure that my money, properly
stewarded, continues to do some good after I'm gone.
My story is anything but unique. I know many people who are similarly
situated, by both humble family history and hard-won accomplishment,
whose greatest joy in life is to use their resources to sustain their
communities. Some have achieved a level of wealth where philanthropy is
no longer a by-product of their work but its primary impetus. This is as
it should be. We feel privileged to be in a position to give back, and
we do. My parents would have expected nothing less of me.
I am not, by training or disposition, a policy wonk, polemicist or
pamphleteer. I confess admiration for those who, with greater clarity of
expression and command of the relevant statistical details, make these
same points with more eloquence and authoritativeness than I can hope to
muster. For recent examples, I would point you to "Hunting the Rich"
(Leaders, The Economist, September 24, 2011), "The Divider vs. the
Thinker" (Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2011),
"Wall Street Occupiers Misdirect Anger" (Christine Todd Whitman,
Bloomberg, October 31, 2011), and "Beyond Occupy" (Bill Keller, The New
York Times, October 31, 2011) - all, if you haven't read them, making
estimable work of the subject.
But as a taxpaying businessman with a weekly payroll to meet and more
than a passing familiarity with the ways of both Wall Street and
Washington, I do feel justified in asking you: is the tone of the
current debate really constructive?