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My Response to Leon Cooperman

From: J. Brad Hicks, ret.
To: Leon Cooperman, CEO, Omega Advisors
Date: October 1, 2012
Subject: Re: Your Open Letter(s) to the President

Dear Mr. Cooperman, et al,

I have read with interest your open letter to President Obama regarding what is, in your opinion, the President's hostile tone towards success in a capitalist economy. As one of the now-famous 99%, and indeed, being a retiree, as one of the 47%, I am writing to correct one misconception you seem to be laboring under. We 47%, we 99%, do not resent your success, nor do we resent or covet your money. We fear what you can do with your money.

It may not be a popular opinion, but it is a fact: Citizens United v FEC, 558 US 310 (2010), was correctly decided. That sentence will shock many of my friends, who know that you can predict my position on a Constitutional issue, with 99% reliability, by asking Antonin Scalia his opinion and predicting that I will believe the exact opposite. But in this case, he is right; it is impossible to reconcile the First Amendment with the conduct of the authors of the First Amendment if you do not accept the historical fact that the authors of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights fully intended it to mean that anybody in America is entitled to spend as much of their own money as they want on publishing anything they want to publish. Even later courts that disagreed with Hugo Black's famous "plain and simple" rule ("When the Constitution says 'no law,' I believe it means no law") have upheld that principle when it relates to political speech. Under our system of government, you and your fellow multi-billionaires are, and must be, legally entitled to spend as much of your money as you choose on attempting to influence your fellow voters.

But that's a problem. Because, as you must know as someone who made his fortune investing in companies that manufacture and sell consumer goods, influence works. As you are about to find out, there are limits to how much the voters can be swayed by the side that has a vastly greater advertising budget. But you have doubtless also, by now, observed the transparent relief among President Obama's supporters when George Soros finally "came off of the sidelines" and resumed funding advertisements for the incumbent President.

We are all Americans. We all honor success. We all believe that success should be rewarded. As David Wong recently pointed out, "go into the bedroom of any child in America ... you'll see posters of pro athletes and Disney pop stars and famous actors dressed as action heroes. Millionaires, all. That's because all of our ... heroes are millionaires."

But you know whose posters you won't see up there? The billionaires who use their money to exercise a veto over the nominating process for either political party, or both political parties. Both political parties in America now vet their candidates for statewide or federal office based on "elect-ability" which is defined, in no small part, by "fund raising success," that is to say, based on the extent to which they are acceptable to those of you in the top 1/10th of one percent of us by wealth who have so much money that you are the only people who can fund a successful advertising campaign for statewide or federal office. This reduces the remaining 311 million of us to the position of courtiers, trying to make our case to the Forbes 400, because we can't have anything unless we persuade a majority of you that it's acceptable.

Now, you can describe a political system in which the financial success of the wealthiest couple of dozen or couple hundred people is so honored that they are, in effect, a House of Lords that is above all other branches of government. But you cannot describe any country, so run, as either free or democratic. Nor, in the long run, can you even describe such a country as having a free market. Look at the lobbying behavior of your fellow rich people. Look at the mess they've made of (for example) financial regulation, US energy policy, of health care policy, of intellectual property law and tell me that you don't see what I see: the wealthiest couple of hundred people in the United States are not using the power that their wealth grants them to keep markets free for their potential competitors, they are using that power to make it impossible for potential competitors to succeed.

This, then, is the dilemma that we face: we can be a free, democratic, and free market society, or we can allow unlimited accumulation of wealth. We cannot do both.

(signed) J. Brad Hicks

P.S. I am given to understand, by various journalists who have interviewed you and those who have signed onto your cause, that much of this is less about what Obama has done than about your hurt feelings. According to reporters, you have in fact gone so far as to say that you personally would accept policies that are even less friendly to the wealth accumulation of the 0.1% as long as those campaigning for those policies did not do so by vilifying the 0.1%.

Turn that around, if you will. When President Obama proposed the exact policies that you've expressed support for (for example, your remarks to Mr. Gore suggest that you are okay with allowing the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich to expire), your supporters vilified him in terms far, far harsher than anything anyone has said about people like you, and in far less honest ways at that. If he has made intemperate remarks about (some of) the super-rich, do you think maybe that might be why?

There are a few cranky liberals out here (myself included, I admit, but by no means including the President, who is a self-identified pro-wealthy Blue Dog Democrat) who have expressed some doubt that any of you in the Forbes 400 earned your money entirely legally, and some anger at the two-tier legal system that lets those who stole their wealth or who obtained it by bribery or who obtained it by gaming the legal system rather than by honest competition to deliver affordable high quality services keep their ill-gotten goods (and their freedom). This hurts your feelings. You don't think that you're a crook, maybe it's even true that you're not. (I haven't researched your personal fortune, although your past affiliation with Goldman Sachs raises red flags given that firm's recent lawless history.) You feel tarred by association.

All right, examine those feelings. Now imagine if we cranky couple of hundred far-left liberals could afford to intrude into every hour of television and every hour of radio half a dozen times or so to repeat that accusation. How much angrier would you be? How besieged would you feel? How frightened would you be of that (possibly) unfair accusation becoming accepted as fact through sheer repetition? If President Obama is as angry towards rich people as you think he is, do you think maybe that's why?


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 1st, 2012 04:45 pm (UTC)
There seems to be lots of debate about whether more money entitles you to more Free Speech. It seems fairly clear to me that money is not speech -- it amplifies speech and therefore would be more correctly described as "publishing".

So, if we decide that freedom to spend arbitrary amounts of money to amplify/broadcast speech would fall under "Freedom of the Press" and not "Freedom of Speech" would this alter the debate much? Or are these two freedoms thought of as equivalent and interchangeable?

If such broadcasting uses the airwaves, they are actually using a license granted by the people, for a public resource. I guess people often forget that air waves are public property, and once a station gets a license, they treat their channel like private property. Much the same way as patent holders forget that the other half of the patent agreement is that the invention should become public property after some time...
Oct. 1st, 2012 05:22 pm (UTC)
The problem is that there is no knife sharp enough to separate freedom of speech from freedom of the press. So unhappily I must agree with Brad; Citizens United was rightly decided.
Oct. 1st, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
Oct. 2nd, 2012 12:43 am (UTC)
Would anyone have given a rat's ass what this assclown thought if he weren't rich? And there, in a nutshell, is the entire point of the matter.
Oct. 2nd, 2012 05:24 am (UTC)
Money equals speech?
Doesn't the spirit of the Constitution intend that we should all have equal free speech?
If money is speech, doesn't that then mean they have to spread the money around evenly to give us all equal free speech?
Oct. 2nd, 2012 06:12 am (UTC)
Re: Money equals speech?
No. No, it doesn't imply anything of the sort, or else Ben Franklin wouldn't have been so obsessive about owning print shops. "The press is free to him who owns one" is a maxim that dates all the way back to the 18th century.
Oct. 2nd, 2012 05:46 am (UTC)
“People don’t realize how wealthy people self-tax,” he said. “If you have a certain cause, an art museum or a symphony, and you want to support it, it would be nice if you had the choice.”

This gem was particularly enraging; I'm sure you know that the rich consistently give less of their income to charity than the poor do. Last time I went over stats put out by the IRS detailing Sch A averages, people earning between $25-50k gave about 5% of their income to charity, and people earning over $250k gave closer to 3%. (IMX a lot of that difference is churches creaming poor people for money.)
Oct. 2nd, 2012 06:11 am (UTC)
Not to mention the implication that it's not enough to have a veto over all presidential, Senate, and House candidates for both parties, the wealthy should also have the unlimited right to designate what their tax money goes to. Because even with that veto over all "unelectable" (read: unfinanceable) candidates, they still can't trust voters to do what's right with "their" tax money - a privilege they sure as heck don't intend to trust us with.

Hence my line, above: you can't have unlimited wealth accumulation and still call what you end up with "democracy."
Oct. 2nd, 2012 09:00 pm (UTC)
This is one of the major reasons why I believe in socialism as part of a sane societal policy. The rich have little interest in supporting the poor, because they typically got rich by exploiting those who have less business sense or less financial sense, and because labor costs money. Noblesse oblige is quaint at best in a non-feudal society, and a functional democracy eliminates rule by landowners as the primary form of government -- unless a majority of citizens are also landowners.

But this annoys the people who own stuff. After all, "Nobody got rich working for The Man," and they happen to be The Man. So they exert their considerable influence on government and authority in order to reduce the strength and voice of those who don't have as much as they. This results in a turn toward feudalistic government -- and thus the people no longer have a democracy.

By ensuring that the people are in balance across class lines, democracy is preserved.
Oct. 3rd, 2012 06:53 am (UTC)
There's a reason there tends to be fear when the masses start having unsanctioned opinions. It's not just that they tend to be right, but also that the masses can cause a lot of potential damage if they stop playing the game the very wealthy need to stay wealthy in large enough numbers. Tightening the screws on them using the law usually encourages more creative ways of getting around the law.
Oct. 4th, 2012 06:31 am (UTC)
The headache is not going away... 26 September-3 October 02012
User silveradept referenced to your post from The headache is not going away... 26 September-3 October 02012 saying: [...] free democratic society and a society that allows the unlimited accumulation of wealth by oligarchs [...]
Oct. 4th, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
I don't think corporations should be people, and I tend to favor dramatically restricting them (charters for a particular purpose and duration, or a holding company, holding companies can own the other kind, and can do nothing else, ownership is public information, etc). Let the owners and workers spend their money lobbying, but not the corp.

Then again, anonymous speech is important.

And I'm still mostly a libertarian. The corporation is a creature of the state.
Oct. 9th, 2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
A bit late on the reply, but I'm not sure I get that last bit - how are corporations creatures of the state?
Oct. 12th, 2012 08:57 pm (UTC)
Well, they exist only by law, you don't have common law corporations (well, not yet anyways). Originally, they had to have a specific purpose, and a limited duration. They have gone rather beyond that.

A fundamental issue is that they don't have the same sort of responsibility a person has, you cannot put the entity in jail, for instance.
Oct. 6th, 2012 04:58 am (UTC)
So you're saying that now that the constitution has been restored, our government will become even more corrupt and incompetent.

I thought I believed in free speech, but you've convinced me that censorship is better. I'm no fan of Hollande or Merkel, but I'd rather be subjected to their tyranny than Exxon's freedom.

-- Carl
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )