Notwithstanding Occupy Wall Street’s focus on the “one per cent,” or Obama’s choice of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars as the level at which taxes on family income should rise, the salient dividing line between rich and not rich is much higher up the income-distribution scale. Hostility toward the President is particularly strident among the ultra-rich.
This is the group that has benefitted most from the winner-take-all economy: the 0.1 per cent, whose share of the national income was 7.8 per cent in 2009, according to I.R.S. data. Moreover, even as the shifting tides of the global economy have rewarded the richest while squeezing the middle class, the U.S. tax system has favored the very top, as the tax returns of the Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, have illustrated. In 2011, Romney paid an effective tax rate of just 14.1 per cent, and his income of $13.7 million places him in the 0.01-per-cent group.
When Obama first ran for President, four years ago, Wall Street formed an important and lucrative part of his base: he raised about sixteen million dollars from the financial sector, compared with McCain, who raised about nine million. Employees of Goldman Sachs contributed more to Obama’s campaign than workers at any other firm, on Wall Street or beyond. Like many others in the financial-services industry, Leon Cooperman was impressed when he first saw Obama in action, at a Goldman Sachs event at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, in May, 2007. Goldman had assembled a group of hedge-fund managers to meet the junior senator from Illinois who had the temerity to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Cooperman said he was impressed by Obama’s reply to a question about what he would do to taxes on the rich if he were elected. “ ‘Raise ’em.’ Just like that. ‘Raise ’em,’ ” Cooperman recalled Obama saying.
Although he voted for McCain in 2008, Cooperman was not compelled to enter the political debate until June, 2011, when he saw the President appear on TV during the debt-ceiling battle. Obama urged America’s “millionaires and billionaires” to pay their fair share, pointing out that they were doing well at a time when both the American middle class and the American federal treasury were under pressure. “If you are a wealthy C.E.O. or hedge-fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been. They are lower than they have been since the nineteen-fifties,” the President said. “You can still ride on your corporate jet. You’re just going to have to pay a little more.”
Cooperman regarded the comments as a declaration of class warfare, and began to criticize Obama publicly. In September, at a CNBC conference in New York, he compared Hitler’s rise to power with Obama’s ascent to the Presidency, citing disaffected majorities in both countries who elected inexperienced leaders....Evident throughout the letter is a sense of victimization prevalent among so many of America’s wealthiest people. In an extreme version of this, the rich feel that they have become the new, vilified underclass. T. J. Rodgers, a libertarian and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has taken to comparing Barack Obama’s treatment of the rich to the oppression of ethnic minorities—an approach, he says, that the President, as an African-American, should be particularly sensitive to. Clifford S. Asness, the founding partner of the hedge fund AQR Capital Management, wrote an open letter to the President in 2009, after Obama blamed “a small group of speculators” for Chrysler’s bankruptcy. Asness suggested that “hedge funds really need a community organizer,” and accused the White House of “bullying” the financial sector. Dan Loeb, a hedge-fund manager who supported Obama in 2008, has compared his Wall Street peers who still support the President to “battered wives.” “He really loves us and when he beats us, he doesn’t mean it; he just gets a little angry,” Loeb wrote in an e-mail in December, 2010, to a group of Wall Street financiers.