When Wall Street and Obama Trade Barbs, Does Anyone Actually Mean It?

Wall Street, wounded by President Barack Obama’s anti-Wall Street rhetoric, responded with anti-Obama rhetoric: It’s not a new story, but Chrystia Freeland’s story on Leon Cooperman in The New Yorker today does a nice job of bringing it into focus.

Mr. Cooperman, child of the Bronx, alumnus of Goldman Sachs, founder of the hedge fund Omega Advisors, voted for John McCain in 2008 but didn’t become an impassioned critic of the president until viewing an Obama ad chiding millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes.

“The divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf, at this point as much visceral as philosophical, between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them,” Mr. Cooperman wrote in a widely circulated letter to the president.

Having gotten that much off of his chest, Mr. Cooperman went on to compare Mr. Obama to Adolf Hitler, first during a conference hosted by CNBC, then in an interview with Ms. Freeland:

“You know, the largest and greatest country in the free world put a forty-seven-year-old guy that never worked a day in his life and made him in charge of the free world,” Cooperman said. “Not totally different from taking Adolf Hitler in Germany and making him in charge of Germany because people were economically dissatisfied. Now, Obama’s not Hitler. I don’t even mean to say anything like that. But it is a question that the dissatisfaction of the populace was so great that they were willing to take a chance on an untested individual.”

Mr. Cooperman wasn’t the only one to scratch that itch. Blackstone founder Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama tax proposal to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Dan Loeb, the founder of Third Point Capital and an erstwhile supporter of the president, compared Mr. Obama to an abusive spouse: “He really loves us and when he beats us, he doesn’t mean it; he just gets a little angry,” Loeb wrote in 2010 in an email to his peers.

Anthony Scaramucci, not one to be left out when it comes to zinging off one-liners, described a meeting in which Mr. Cooperman expressed his sentiments towards Mr. Obama as the “activation” of a “sleeper cell” of hedge-fund managers against Obama, according to Ms. Freeland.

None of this is so hard to understand: Mr. Obama has himself endorsed such intemperate statements as to compare Bain Capital to a vampire. What’s less clear is whether anyone actually believes any of this. Mr. Obama, of course, is in a heated political campaign against the private equity firm’s founder. Sure the president has called for increased financial regulation; He’s also presided, in part, over a massive bailout of U.S. financial firms.

When Mr. Cooperman, meanwhile, takes a conversation with a reporter as an opportunity to mention Mr. Obama and Adolf Hitler in the same breath, it’s hard to take him particularly seriously. What we wonder, though, is whether he speaks as a businessman wounded by anti-business rhetoric, or a hedge fund manager campaigning for a former titan of finance?

When Wall Street and Obama Trade Barbs, Does Anyone Actually Mean It?