Sore Winners and “Class Warfare”

From their windows, people in the financial sector have looked down on the protests below with glasses of champagne and signs taunting “we are the 1 percent.” What are they thinking?

It’s hard to overstate how the financial elites of the country—after years of growing inequality and a preventable, devastating financial collapse caused by corporate misbehavior—see themselves as the real victims. And the depressing thing is that the executives most likely to whine about our country’s supposed unfairness to the very wealthy are the same ones whose words are most closely attended to by politicians and the leading lights of the mainstream press.

There are plenty of politicians, think tanks and media outlets explicitly dedicated to comforting the comfortable, but the idea that the wealthiest few are the put-upon victims of class warfare is weirdly prevalent in our political conversation. Just look at the fact that President Obama’s jobs plan is greeted with skepticism and disdain by Congress and the pundit class even as it’s pretty broadly popular among voters.

At a conference featuring an audience of CEOs and executives, reporter Ezra Klein couldn’t help but notice how much they’re feeling sorry for themselves:

Business types really hate Barack Obama…these folks really, really feel persecuted and unappreciated. The common response to this, of course, is that corporate profits have hit record levels in recent years and the top 1 percent has never been richer. But if you need more evidence that money doesn’t buy happiness, you should sit with some CEOs for an hour.

Home Depot founder and former New York Stock Exchange head Ken Langone is just such a sensitive soul. The multi-millionaire with the ear of high government officials thinks he isn’t getting a fair shake, because President Obama is insufficiently respectful in his words and policies.

He is behaving in a way designed in my opinion to divide us, to make us look at each other with skepticism, with suspicion.

Salon’s Alex Pareene aptly calls Langone’s words here “thin-skinned paranoia.”

Asked about rumors of Wall Street’s falling-out with the administration, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner offered this explanation:

I think people resent the anger directed toward the people who caused the crisis. They sometimes claim it was created by us, that anger, which I think is a deeply unfair judgment. They react to what are pretty common sense observations about the system as if deep affronts to the dignity of their profession. I don’t see why they’re so sensitive. But they’re very wounded.

If they feel wounded, they should imagine what a laid-off school teacher, an idle construction worker or a working mom with an underwater mortgage and a sick kid feels like.

You don’t need me to run through all the statistics about how a tiny number of people at the top have been the only winners in our economy for decades and the only people seeing a recovery after the recession they helped create. That’s well-traveled territory. What is noteworthy is that, even as the top sliver of our country see vaulting incomes and an outsized voice in politics, they still insist that the biggest problem we face is insufficient deference to their needs.

The talking heads and politicians who are quick to dismiss the Wall Street protestors as smug, clueless, or hung up on fuzzy and factually-shaky grievances need to take a look at CEOs for a real demonstration.

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