It must be nice to be Leon Cooperman. He’s rich, well-educated, well-respected, married and the father of two children. He lives in a leafy suburb in New Jersey and serves on numerous high-profile boards. The hedge fund that he started, Omega Advisors, has netted him a fortune estimated at $1.8 billion (yes, that’s “billion” with a “b.”)
Even though he is a Republican and a major donor to many GOP candidates, he has some progressive instincts. He supports higher taxes for the wealthy. He has signed “The Giving Pledge,” vowing to give away at least half of his wealth. He says he voted for Al Gore in 2000. He says he has some sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street protestors.
Despite all of his advantages and all of his generosity, I am concerned about Mr. Cooperman. I fear that he is blind.
In an article in the Dec. 6 Business Section of the New York Times, reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin writes about a letter that Mr. Cooperman wrote to President Obama. The letter criticizes the President for what Mr. Cooperman calls the “divisive, polarizing tone of (his) rhetoric, (which is) cleaving a widening gulf…. between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them.”
And then there is this paragraph:
I came from nothing,” he (Cooperman) said, explaining how he grew up in the Bronx and went to P.S. 75. “I have lived the American Dream. I don’t want to be constantly attacked.
Give me a break.
Mr. Cooperman did not “come from nothing.” Let’s look at the privileges he apparently cannot see or chooses to ignore:
First, he was born a white male. These two race and gender cards have given him a head start in the game of life, whether he knows it or not.
Second, Mr. Cooperman is Jewish. Jewish families, even those of modest means, traditionally emphasize education and hard work so the children can rise above the status of the parents.
Third, Mr. Cooperman has the advantages of a quality education. He graduated from Hunter College and has an MBA from Columbia University Business School. If he were burdened by student loans, he has managed to pay them off years ago.
Fourth, Mr. Cooperman was born in 1943 and grew up in the “boom years,” when our country and our economy were both energized and opportunities seemed endless for those who worked hard.
Fifth, Mr. Cooperman parlayed his intelligence and education into a first job at Goldman-Sachs, where he stayed for 25 years. The benefits of the professional network he established there have accrued throughout his lifetime.
The advantages of being a white, straight, healthy, intelligent male in America during the past 50 years cannot be over-estimated. They have been powerful, direct forces in Mr. Cooperman’s life, whether he sees them or not. He may enjoy claiming a rags-to-riches story, but the intangible riches were there to nourish him from day one. And they were gifts; he did nothing to earn them.
I once heard Cory Booker, the major of Newark, N.J., say: “I have drunk deeply from wells that I did not dig.” It’s something Mr. Cooperman should think about.
I’ll stop worrying about Mr. Cooperman’s vision when he opens his eyes to realize the privileges he has that his money did not buy. It’s certainly his right to complain about what he perceives as the “tone” of President Obama’s rhetoric. Let’s just hope that most people can see through his “poor me” posture. After all, how many “poor me” individuals do you know who can write a letter of complaint to the President and end up with a photo and 34 inches of copy on the front page of the Business section of the New York Times?