Jonathan Cohn

Be Nice to the Fat Cat

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If I were to write a parody of a financial executive whining about President Obama, I imagine it’d look just like an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

The author is David Moore. The identification line at the bottom of the essay tells us that he is the CEO of a financial firm called Moore Holdings and – this is important – that he is a trustee of several major New York charities.

It’s one of several places in the op-ed we are supposed to learn that Moore is compassionate. Another is the opening anecdote, in which Moore describes giving a homeless man a $1 bill – something he does frequently, he says, despite the expert advice to keep walking. But this homeless man rejects it:

"A dollar?" the man shouted. "You Wall Street fat cats! This is what the problem is with this country. Take your damn dollar." With that, he threw it on the sidewalk.

Apparently, street charity now has a minimum.

Not only have I never had anyone refuse my donation under such circumstances, but recipients are generally quite appreciative regardless of the amount. Not this time. It was as if the class-warfare rhetoric of the left had surfaced on 55th Street, while I was just trying to show some goodwill and help a guy out.

He didn't even ask for a little more, as sometimes happens. ("How about $5 for a meal? . . . $20 for a bus ticket?") He simply judged that my $1 gift was not sufficient and threw it on the ground. I had not given my "fair share."

The scare quotes around “fair share” should tip you to what’s coming next: Moore blames the man's behavior on President Obama. Seriously. I’m not making this up. Here’s Moore a few sentences later, word for word:

The president's incendiary message has now reached the streets. His complaints that rich people must "pay their fair share" have now goaded some of our society's most unfortunate, including one who felt compelled to refuse money because it was not enough. President Obama has become the "Great Divider" instead of the "Great Unifier" that we all hoped he would be.

Later, Moore justifies his conclusion based on a survey he took of a “more than a dozen” friends, none of whom could ever recall having a panhandler turn down a dollar as insufficient. A Wall Street executive who cares about poor people and does his own reporting -- imagine!

Moore's biography says he's a professional stand-up comedian, so perhaps this is parody. But the venue makes me think otherwise. So I feel compelled to point out that the term “fat cat” did not, in fact, originate with the Obama Administration; that "more than a dozen" self-selected friends are not a great scientific basis for drawing broad political conclusions; and that homeless people frequently say angry, sometimes inexplicable things. This is one good reason that we should be renewing, rather than ending, federal aid to the states – which, because of plummeting revenues, are slashing the very safety net and mental health services on which the homeless depend.

I don’t know what Moore thinks about those budget cuts. I see from the same biography that he raises money for charities that serve the mentally ill in New York City – and that he is a volunteer with the East Harlem Tutorial Program. Those are genuinely admirable activities.

On the other hand, he makes a point of complaining that Obama has done too little to curb government "overspending." I wonder whether those charities agree on the wisdom of austerity policies right now. The people I know working in and with such charities do not.

One last note: Moore says that attacking the rich, as Obama has supposedly done, is un-presidential:

Presidents, once elected, instantly become president of all the people. They are the ultimate parental figures who should show no favoritism while always reaching across the dinner table to keep the family together. Even when they are confident their plan is the right one, they must communicate it such that everyone in the family knows they care equally about each of them. Painting important parts of our economy and population with such a negative brush is not only un-presidential, it is destructive to the fabric of our nation.

Well, I remember a president famous for "painting important parts of our economy and population with such a negative brush." His name was Ronald Reagan. He campaigned for the presidency by attacking welfare queens who bought Cadillacs with their government checks. He softened his rhetoric a bit once he became president – perhaps because reporters never could verify the anecdotes he was telling – but the idea that large numbers of poor people were cheating the welfare system was a theme throughout his presidency. 

Some would argue Reagan was right about the poor taking advantage mismanaged welfare systems. They may even be right. But surely Obama has at least as much reason to single out Wall Street executives who not only took advantage of regulatory laxity but also, in the process, helped to bring down the whole economy.

More from Steve Benen and Jonathan Chait.

Creative Commons Credit: mrdamcgowan

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