Bil­lion­aires are tar­get of elec­tion cam­paign

Widen­ing eco­nomic di­vide turns su­per rich Amer­i­cans into par­tic­u­lar mark

The Korea Times - - FEATURE - By Evan Halper (Los An­ge­les Times/Tri­bune News)

WASH­ING­TON — When in­vest­ment mogul Henry Kravis put his Colorado ranch on the market ear­lier this year for $46 million, at­ten­tion to its big-game hunt­ing grounds, mar­ble-coun­tered but­ler’s pantry and golf course de­signed by Greg Nor­man ran high on the so­ci­ety pages — and on the Twitter feed of Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren.

“Bil­lion­aires like this guy make me won­der what our coun­try needs more of,” the Mas­sachusetts se­na­tor wrote, “ranches with golf cour­ses de­signed by PGA play­ers & fire­places ‘im­ported from Euro­pean cas­tles’ — or uni­ver­sal child­care & a Green New Deal?”

It wasn’t long ago that de­mo­niz­ing the su­per-rich was risky pol­i­tics for Democrats. Can­di­dates wor­ried about charges of class war­fare and feared turn­ing off vot­ers who dreamed of join­ing the ranks of the 1 per­cent. The Demo­cratic Party’s eco­nomic poli­cies sought to aid the poor and mid­dle class, but mostly not at the ex­pense of the rich.

As Tues­day night’s Demo­cratic can­di­date de­bate made clear, such ret­i­cence has van­ished from the cur­rent cam­paign.

A widen­ing eco­nomic di­vide, a raft of mis­deeds by the bil­lion­aire class and di­min­ished po­lit­i­cal clout for cam­paign mega-donors have turned the rich­est Amer­i­cans into a par­tic­u­larly ripe tar­get this elec­tion cy­cle. Not since the Great De­pres­sion have so many can­di­dates so ag­gres­sively pil­lo­ried the well-to-do.

“We haven’t seen any­thing like this since 1936,” said for­mer La­bor Sec­re­tary Robert Re­ich, whose films and writ­ings have been a ral­ly­ing point for rage against the ul­tra-rich. “That was when FDR said, ‘I wel­come their ha­tred,’” he said, re­fer­ring to Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt. Now Bernie San­ders has been re­cy­cling that ex­act line on the cam­paign trail.

“Bil­lion­aires Should Not Ex­ist” is em­bla­zoned on bumper stick­ers sent to San­ders en­thu­si­asts.

The Ver­mon­ter isn’t new to cru­sades against bil­lion­aires. But now he has lots of com­pany: Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris boasts that a ca­reer high­light was un­load­ing on Jamie Di­mon, the bil­lion­aire chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of JPMor­gan Chase, when she was the state at­tor­ney gen­eral. Tom Steyer, the for­mer hedge fund in­vestor, doesn’t let his own bil­lion­aire sta­tus in­ter­fere with bash­ing the up­per crust while cam­paign­ing.

“No one on this stage wants to pro­tect bil­lion­aires,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota said dur­ing Tues­day’s de­bate. “Not even the bil­lion­aire wants to pro­tect bil­lion­aires,” she added, re­fer­ring to Steyer.

Even for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den stepped in to bur­nish his anti-bil­lion­aire cred. “No one is sup­port­ing bil­lion­aires,” he said.

But while oth­ers have joined the pile-on against the su­per wealthy, it is San­ders and War­ren who on many days seem to be in an arms race of bil­lion­aire an­tag­o­nism.

They ea­gerly bait, troll and bash bil­lion­aires at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. They send out mis­sives to donors boast­ing how much dam­age their plans would in­flict on the wal­lets of spe­cific wealthy fam­i­lies and cor­po­ra­tions.

War­ren pro­motes her wealth tax by tak­ing aim at the $4 million per hour that Wal­mart heirs ac­cu­mu­late. She takes pride in the fore­cast by hedge fund bil­lion­aire Leon Coop­er­man that a War­ren pres­i­dency would send the stock market into a plunge, re­post­ing his warn­ing on so­cial me­dia to am­plify her ar­gu­ment that the rich and pow­er­ful feel most threat­ened by her.

Mil­lions have watched a video ex­plainer by War­ren and Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-N.Y., out­lin­ing how bil­lion­aire Eddie Lam­bert and U.S. Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven T. Mnuchin, a mega-mil­lion­aire, al­legedly en­riched them­selves while driv­ing Sears stores into bank­ruptcy.

San­ders boasts that his wealth tax would cost Ama­zon owner Jeff Be­zos $8.9 bil­lion per year. He even cham­pi­oned a bill with the acro­nym BE­ZOS: The Stop Bad Em­ploy­ers By Ze­ro­ing Out Sub­si­dies Act would have forced Ama­zon and other large firms to pay the full cost of food stamps and other ben­e­fits re­ceived by their low­est-wage em­ploy­ees.

The broad­sides come amid a raft of new data that un­der­score why bil­lion­aires are such a ripe tar­get. Amer­ica’s 400 rich­est fam­i­lies last year, for the first time, paid a lower ef­fec­tive tax rate than the bot­tom 50 per­cent of Amer­i­can earn­ers, a new book by Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley econ­o­mists Em­manuel Saez and Gabriel Zuc­man re­ported. (In the 1960s and 1970s, the rich­est Amer­i­cans typ­i­cally paid taxes twice as high as those paid by the work­ing class.)

The top 1 per­cent of earn­ers in Amer­ica have seen their wealth triple in the last 30 years, as the bot­tom half of Amer­i­can earn­ers watched theirs stag­nate. Then there are the scan­dals: Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal execs goug­ing cus­tomers, tech execs hap­lessly fail­ing to pro­tect users’ pri­vacy or re­spond to for­eign dis­in­for­ma­tion, fi­nan­cial execs bailed out fol­low­ing the mort­gage cri­sis they helped cause.

That has all lead to a sour­ing of Amer­i­can at­ti­tudes to­ward the ul­tra­rich. A re­cent sur­vey by the non­par­ti­san Democ­racy Fund Voter Study Group found that Democrats over­whelm­ingly be­lieve the wealthy have too much po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence (89 per­cent), ex­ploit peo­ple who work for them (78 per­cent) and give un­fair ad­van­tages to fam­ily and friends (84 per­cent).

Some in the party have been itch­ing for years to cru­sade against bil­lion­aires, but it be­came com­pli­cated in the Obama era.

“Pres­i­dent Obama, in some ways, did not al­low this,” said Stan Green­berg, a Demo­cratic poll­ster. “He was try­ing to make the case for the way he ad­dressed the eco­nomic cri­sis, which was bail­ing out banks. That cre­ated a lot of dis­gruntle­ment among the work­ing class.”

But af­ter San­ders nearly de­railed Hil­lary Clin­ton in the 2016 pri­mary with his anti-bil­lion­aire theme — and Don­ald Trump won the gen­eral elec­tion partly by feed­ing into pop­ulist eco­nomic re­sent­ment — the ar­gu­ment for a mea­sured ap­proach faded.

“This is not just about peo­ple be­ing an­gry be­cause rich peo­ple are rich, and they are not,” said Nell Aber­nathy, vice pres­i­dent of pol­icy and strat­egy at the Roo­sevelt In­sti­tute, a pro­gres­sive non­profit. “The can­di­dates are fo­cused on peo­ple who are get­ting rich at the ex­pense of av­er­age Amer­i­cans.”

As they build their case, there are few things some cam­paigns prize more than anti-en­dorse­ments of the su­per-rich. San­ders has a full page of them proudly dis­played on his web­site.

He boasts how for­mer Gold­man Sachs Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Lloyd Blank­fein warned the San­ders can­di­dacy “has the po­ten­tial to be a dan­ger­ous mo­ment” and how for­mer Ver­i­zon Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Low­ell McA­dam called the se­na­tor’s views “con­temptible.”


Ama­zon Founder and CEO Jeff Be­zos speaks to the me­dia on the com­pany’s sus­tain­abil­ity ef­forts in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Sept,19.


U.S. Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin looks on dur­ing a meet­ing be­tween the Fi­nance Min­is­ters and Cen­tral Bank Gover­nors of the G7 na­tions dur­ing the IMF and World Bank Fall Meet­ings Oct. 17.

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