Political Animal


October 13, 2011 12:40 PM An unintentionally amusing take from Wall Street

By Steve Benen

David Moore is the CEO of Wall Street holdings company, and he has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today reflecting on a recent run-in with a panhandler. As best as I can tell, the op-ed is not a parody.

As Moore explains it, he was walking down New York’s 55th Street near Park Avenue last week, when a man on the street said, “Here are a bunch of Wall Street guys. Give me some money.” Moore says he handed the man a dollar and walked away. “A dollar?” the panhandler shouted. “You Wall Street fat cats! This is what the problem is with this country. Take your damn dollar.”

Apparently, this is somehow President Obama’s fault.

Like most people I know, I think President Obama’s tax increases on the wealthy would make sense if we believed he was sincere about — and could be successful at — reforming Washington’s overspending, out-of-control entitlements and regulation. Instead, his attacks on Wall Street bankers (“fat cats,” a phrase Mr. Obama now owns and was eloquently repeated by the panhandler on Friday night), Las Vegas, oil companies, jet manufacturers and “millionaires and billionaires” are inflaming both sides and placating no one. They seriously undermine the chances for reasonable compromise.

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.

Let’s unpack this, because it’s important to realize how misguided the op-ed really is.

First, Moore suggests he could tolerate an increase in the historically-low tax rates for the wealthy if only the White House would also accept entitlement reforms and deregulation (deregulation of what, he didn’t say). In reality, President Obama offered congressional Republicans a “Grand Bargain” that — you guessed it — traded tax increases for entitlement reforms. GOP leaders refused. As for eliminating unnecessary and wasteful regulations, the White House has already acted on this front, without Congress.

Second, the notion that criticism of “fat cats” constitutes “incendiary” rhetoric is deeply silly. The notion that the president now “owns” the oft-used phrase because Moore heard Obama say it once is ridiculous. The notion that a street beggar was inspired by the president to use the phrase, and turn down a charitable dollar, is just ludicrous on its face.

And third, Moore would have us believe President Obama is a big meanie, hurting Wall Street’s feelings by recommending tax increases — a return to Clinton-era levels — for those who’ve been showered with wealth and shielded from consequences by a system already tilted to benefit those at the top. This, in Moore’s words, makes the president a “Great Divider,” targeting those put-upon rich people like no other president in Moore’s lifetime.

If I tried to write a parody of a Wall Street executive needlessly feeling sorry for himself, I probably couldn’t have come up with anything quite this absurd.

In 1985, Ronald Reagan complained that “some of the truly wealthy” were taking advantage of tax breaks that help them “avoid paying their fair share.” The then-president said it was possible for millionaires to pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than a bus driver. “That’s crazy,” Reagan said.

Why Reagan so callously neglected the feelings of millionaires, deliberately divided the country along class lines, and sowed the seeds of “class warfare” and American division is a mystery.

Maybe Moore can explain it to me.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Okie on October 13, 2011 12:46 PM:

    Because that was then. This is now.

    This ain't your grandfather's Republican Party.

  • rk on October 13, 2011 12:54 PM:

    It would be useful for Obama to point out that a primary reason to adopt higher taxes is to fuel economic growth. The wealthy are quite adept at tax avoidance and they will practice it even if it is detrimental to their short or long-term financial status. Many of those tax avoidance practices will involve providing capital for businesses (aka job creation). The paradox is that as a society we absolutely must have higher taxes on the job creators: the main reason many of them create the jobs is because they want to increase their deductions and minimize taxable income.

  • c u n d gulag on October 13, 2011 12:54 PM:

    David Moore:
    "Why, in Great Grandpapa's days, a beggar was happy with a dime!
    Now, these ungrateful lazy wretches don't even offer to shine your shoes for a dollar. THE AUDACITY! Not that I'd let that filthy swine anywhere near my handmade Italian calf-leather shoes with platinum eyelets! But he could at least have asked!"

  • Gretchen on October 13, 2011 12:57 PM:

    I keep waiting for these people to specify what regulations they want to get rid of - my congressman says the same thing, constantly, and never answers the question "which ones?". They mention the EPA once in awhile, and then remember that most of us like clean air and water, and they can't come right out and say they want to gut banking and stock market regulations, so they just glide on to: Regulations kill jobs.

  • stormskies on October 13, 2011 12:58 PM:

    Yet another self appointed Zarathustra pig wallowing in the delusions of it's 'superiority' .......

  • TCinLA on October 13, 2011 1:00 PM:

    Too bad people in NYC don't grab these pinstriped scum and give them the justice they deserve at the nearest lamp pole. Watch the little piggies run to mommy and cry.

  • mike on October 13, 2011 1:06 PM:

    Maybe Moore can explain it to me.

    I'm sure the "Michael" version of a "Moore" certainly can do this.


  • florca on October 13, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Marx(1848) weighs in on the current political set-up:

    “Since the finance aristocracy made the laws, was at the head of the administration of the state, had command of all the organised public authorities, dominated public opinion through the actual state of affairs and through the press, the same prostitution, the same shameless cheating, the same mania to get rich was repeated in every sphere, from the court to the Café Borgne to get rich not by production, but by pocketing the already available wealth of others. Clashing every moment with the bourgeois laws themselves, an unbridled assertion of unhealthy and dissolute appetites manifested itself, particularly at the top of bourgeois society—lusts wherein wealth derived from gambling naturally seeks its satisfaction, where pleasure becomes crapuleux [debauched], where money, filth, and blood commingle. The finance aristocracy, in its mode of acquisition as well as in its pleasures, is nothing but the rebirth of the lumpenproletariat on the heights of bourgeois society.”

  • Texas Aggie on October 13, 2011 1:12 PM:

    This reminds me of a story about a lunch delivery boy in NYC that I read. He got paid $20 a day and was supposed to live on his tips. Whenever he delivered a sandwich to some "fat cat," he would be lucky to get a buck. Usually he didn't get anything. He commented that the rich people were the biggest skinflints.

  • doubtful on October 13, 2011 1:13 PM:

    Moore's run in is almost certainly apocryphal. Anyone can make up anecdotes to support their worldview.

  • martin on October 13, 2011 1:13 PM:

    You realize Moore's panhandler is as real as Tom Friedmans cab driver, don't you?

    Maybe we should bestow upon him the George Will Flamethrower Award.

  • c u n d gulag on October 13, 2011 1:16 PM:

    Texas Aggie,
    I can vouch for that when I was a bartender in NYC years ago.
    Having worked in both upscale and working class establishments, I'll take the working class one EVERY time!
    The rich don't tip. And if do tip, they tip poorly. And yes, of course there were exceptions. But I never, never, not ever, didn't get a tip in the working class bar/restaurant.

  • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on October 13, 2011 1:20 PM:

    Obama has been outrageous in his support for these fat cats...showering them with money and shielding them from prosecution.

    Yet they're always working both parties for an even better deal. Nothing exceeds like excess.

  • Ken Houghton on October 13, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Are you certain that's really someone named David (as in "Who Killed Davey...") Moore and not Heidi N. Moore of Marketplace Radio having a giggle?

  • DAY on October 13, 2011 1:23 PM:

    gulag, your poor tipping was due to your refusal to wear the short shorts and show more cleavage. . .

  • Mudge on October 13, 2011 1:27 PM:

    Apochryphal or not, we have an example of an arrogant plutocrat fuming because the panhandler refused to appreciate the grand gesture. Ungrateful scum. They're not allowed to have any dignity. "Take what I offer or to hell with you." I am sure this will be the attitude of many business owners towards workers should the minimum wage be repealed. The ungrateful wretches are lazy and don't want to work if they refuse.

  • Ted Frier on October 13, 2011 1:29 PM:

    I think what seriously undermined "the chances for reasonable compromise, as David Moore put it, was when the Republican Party threatened to raise the taxes of 98% of Americans and see unemployment insurance for the jobless run out at Christmas time unless the top 2% were spared the French Revolutionary-like ordeal of paying an additional 4.9% in income taxes.

    And that bit of hostage negotiating was followed up a few months later by Republican threats to let the full faith and credit of the United States expire unless Democrats reduced the deficit with spending cuts but -- again -- no tax increases.

    We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

  • Danp on October 13, 2011 1:30 PM:

    I wonder what Moore thought the panhandler was going to do with a dollar. He could have at least pretended he gave the guy 5. Not that the panhandler should complain, but a dollar doesn't make Moore seem like much more than vindictive.

  • SYSPROG on October 13, 2011 1:33 PM:

    From Wikipedia: The word was first used in the 1920s in the United States to describe rich political donors.[4][5]

    The term's coinage for political purposes has been attributed to Frank Kent, a writer for the Baltimore Sun[6] whose essay "Fat Cats and Free Rides" appeared in the American Mercury, a magazine of commentary run by H. L. Mencken.[7] Kent wrote:

    “ A Fat Cat is a man of large means and no political experience who having reached middle age, and success in business, and finding no further thrill ... of satisfaction in the mere piling up of more millions, develops a yearning for some sort of public honor and is willing to pay for it. The machine has what it seeks, public honor, and he has the money the machine needs.[7]

    So nope, Obama doesn't 'own' it. What I'm amazed at is the op-ed. Did Moore REALLY think he would garner sympathy and that it WOULDN'T make him look like a huge whiner? And yes MUDGE...we should spend more time reading history. LET THEM EAT CAKE...sound familiar?

  • Rick Massimo on October 13, 2011 1:41 PM:

    They have to string so many more words together now that they can't say "n!gger" anymore.

  • Mark D on October 13, 2011 1:42 PM:

    Moore is just pissed that the nation is ALREADY divided along class lines -- and he and his buddies are outnumbered.

  • CDW on October 13, 2011 2:10 PM:

    Consider the source.

    The Guardian newspaper reports that the WSJ (in the UK at least) has inflated it's circulation stats by buying up copies of its own newspapers. With any luck, murdoch and his minions will be hoisted by their own petard and put to bed for the last time - to use an old newspaper term (please excuse the mixed metaphors).

  • Wil Burns on October 13, 2011 2:11 PM:

    David Moore made his syory up. There isn't a panhandler anywhere that would refuse a dollar!

  • Rick B on October 13, 2011 2:14 PM:


    Moore wasn't writing to the rest of us. Note where the article was published? He wanted all his friends to sit around nodding their heads and exclaiming how well he understood the modern world.

    Ted Frier above recognizes these individuals. They are the return of the French Aristocrats from before the French Revolution. The kings of France had bought them off by exempting them from taxes and by selling government jobs to them so they could receive rent they had not actually earned. Then the government was forced to tax the poor and middle class to pay for the wars the aristocrats wanted fought.

    Today we have the same aristocrats being bought off by the Republican Party by promises of tax and regulation exemption - along with bailouts when their gambles fail. To make that work the taxes have to come from the poor and the middle class so we are seeing proposals to tax those groups. Since they will object, the Republicans are also working to remove the voting rights of as many of the poor and middle class as possible as fast as they can get the laws passes.

  • Cha on October 13, 2011 2:32 PM:

    Exactly Martin @ 1:13pm ..

    Moore's whole screed just smacks of a republicon liar. That's all they know.

  • SYSPROG on October 13, 2011 2:43 PM:

    Thank you RickB...I just LOVE it when people answer me with history...will definitely be sending THIS on!

  • res ipsa loquitur on October 13, 2011 2:52 PM:

    I don't believe this story for a minute. Where, precisely, did David Moore encounter this panhandler? Was it outside the Ferrari dealership on the SW corner of 55th and Park? Or Outside the Mercedes dealerhsip on the NW corner? Anyone who actually works in the area knows that NYPD keeps pandhandlers off these stretches of Park and the side streets.

    Moore needs to provide evidence for his claim.

  • Flip Wilson on October 13, 2011 2:52 PM:

    Where's that sense of humor?

    From David Moore's Bio:

    "In addition to his professional and charitable activities, Mr. Moore is a professional stand-up comedian. He also lectures on the subject of using humor as a leadership and motivational tool. He is the creator and producer of "Funny Business," a series of sold out comedy shows featuring business-themed comedy. He has headlined at Caroline's on Broadway, and been featured in the New York Comedy Festival and the Nantucket Comedy Festival, as well as The Friar's Club, Stand-Up New York, and the Comic Strip in New York City, the Improv in Los Angeles and Bocanuts in Boca Raton, Florida. He has performed and lectured for the Chamber of Commerce, J.P. Morgan Chase, UBS, Institutional Investor Magazine, Weil, Gotshal law firm and other corporations."

  • Redshift on October 13, 2011 3:11 PM:

    One other talking-point lie you missed -- "reforming Washington’s overspending."

  • Frank Baker on October 13, 2011 4:03 PM:

    These comments miss Moore's main points. "President Obama has become the "Great Divider" instead of the "Great Unifier" that we all hoped he would be." I voted for Obama because I liked his promise of hope and change. He promised to drain the swamp. Instead, we have Solyndra and other wasteful spending on programs that don’t create jobs.

    Moore points out that he would be willing to pay higher taxes if he thought the president was sincere about reforming Washington's overspending, out-of-control entitlements and regulation. In the next week, the EPA’s regulatory changes will put nearly 20,000 Americans out of work with new rules for cement companies. President Obama likes to talk about the need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, but the EPA’s Cement MACT rules will kill thousands of jobs with cement plant closures, higher construction costs, and send thousands of jobs overseas. I don’t want mercury in my water or harmful pollutants in the air, but the EPA's changes are based on bad data. It is better to keep production in the US where we have tighter controls.

    Also, EPA regulations will close coal-fired plants removing 8% of our power capacity. Governors from 11 states and 25 state Attorneys General including four democrats are protesting the utility rule and seeking to lift a legal consent decree the EPA is using for this new rule. Yes, I know the president wants to make energy so costly solar and wind makes sense, but we cannot afford it. Our coal-fired plants are cleaner than what they have in any other country. Bad plants were closed long ago. When we lose power next summer and there is looting, we can thank our president and his EPA.

    Our president of contempt demonizes Las Vegas, oil companies, jet manufacturers, Wall Street, bankers, millionaires and billionaires. I am not in any of these categories, but I agree with Moore. The president should be looking for ways to help us grow instead of scaring us and threatening to take things away from successful people. We should aspire to work harder and be more successful instead of looking for the government to take from the wealthy and give to us. Increasing taxes just makes people want to work less. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin made billions. Instead of having contempt for them or looking for ways to penalize them, let us look for ways to make our own success and encourage the next innovators to help get us out of this downturn. Instead of the government, it will be the innovators that will get us out of this morass and make life better for all of us.

  • Ted Frier on October 13, 2011 4:18 PM:

    Rick B

    You know your history. According to Francis Fukuyama's new book, Origins of the Political Order, on the eve of its great revolution, France was an autocratic if weak and financially bankrupt state, unable to control those elites it was dependent on for cash. Neither could the state protect the French population against exploitation by this elite since, unable to tax its wealthy nobility directly to finance a succession of pointless and wasteful imperial wars, the French monarchy was equally complicit in exploiting its own people.

    As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his diagnosis of the causes of the French Revolution: "Of all the ways to make distinctions between people and classes, inequality of taxation is the most pernicious and the most apt to add isolation to inequality."

    In fact, de Tocqueville dated the beginning of the end of the French Old Order to the day when the nobility "had the cowardice to allow the Third Estate (working class) to be taxed provided that the nobility itself was exempted." On that day, he said, "was planted the seed for almost all the vices and abuse which affected the old regime for the rest of its life and finally caused its violent death."

    The complexities of the pre-Revolutionary tax system, says Fukuyama, "were driven by a welter of special exemptions and privileges."

    The French nobility were able to use their leverage over weak kings "to win themselves a variety of tax exemptions." The French fiscal system that developed by the late 17th century was a highly regressive one in which the poor were taxed to support those rich and powerful groups -- "from high aristocrats to guild members to bourgeois towns" -- that had succeeded in securing for themselves tax exemptions of one kind or another, leaving the greatest burden to fall on "the non-elites, the peasants and the artisans, who constituted the vast majority of the population."

    The French state was gradually able to gain power to govern its subjects, but only "by mortgaging its own future to a legion of corrupt officeholders in an unsustainable way," says Fukuyama.

    The centralized French state was not built around an impersonal merit-based bureaucracy recruited on the basis of functional specialization and education, says Fukuyama. Instead, government offices - "from military commands to positions in the finance ministry to tax collection" -- were sold to the highest bidder by a state that was constantly short of cash and desperate for revenue.

    The word "venality," which we use today as a synonym for "corrupt," comes from this French practice of raising public revenues by selling government positions to those who were literally called "venal officeholders."

    Today, we would call this liquidation of the public estate "privatization," as cash-strapped governments have been forced to raise cash by selling off roads, bridges and other publicly-built assets to private concerns hoping to make a profit.

    Unlike today, however, when privatization is sold to the public based on the fiction that the private sector can provide public services more efficiently than government, when state offices and responsibilities were sold off to rich and powerful oligarchs two or three hundred years ago it was done by reluctant monarchs who recognized that "privatization" was a sign of weakness, one that diminished their power and their ability to govern.

  • Kathryn on October 13, 2011 4:27 PM:

    True story, bought something from cute boy scout before election of 2008' , had Obama lawn sign. When boy scout brought me my purchase, he ask if I wanted to hear something. I said sure. He said he thought neighbors with McCain signs would buy some boy scout stuff from him because John McCain was a supporter of the boy scouts (in their literature, I guess) but to his surprise, McCain sign people bought nothing and some were rude too. But the Obama sign people did buy stuff and had been nice.

  • chi res on October 13, 2011 4:41 PM:

    Pssst! Don't tell anyone.

    Frank Baker is really David Moore.

  • Rick B on October 13, 2011 6:40 PM:

    Ted Frier [4:18 PM]

    It's that obvious that I just finished Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order, is it? Your description of the events is much better and more detailed than mine. I am still trying to absorb his book. It's the finest book explaining history that I have read since trying Max Weber, and since Weber is translated from the German in 1922 Fukuyama is much easier to read.


    A brief review of an outstanding book!

    Anyone who is interested in politics and/or history on a world scale needs to read the Fukuyama book. He basically establishes what science shows to be human nature going back to bands of primates, then explains the evolution of larger and more complex societies from hunter-gatherers up to European, Chinese and Indian history prior to the French Revolution. His next volume will cover the most recent two centuries. He's had a few months since publishing Origins and he hasn't gotten to volume II yet. He needs to get a move on.

    As far as I can tell, the American liberals are defending the existence of a modern state while the American conservatives are attempting to tear it down and replace it with what Fukuyama describes as the default political organization for failed states - a patrimonial tribal organization. The modern state, based on bureaucracy, is much more efficient and is based on rationality and law. Patrimonial governments are inherently corrupt and nepotistic, being much less efficient than a bureaucratic state.

    Latin American governments tend to be patrimonial while America has been a modern state. But as I recall, a modern state is normally based on wars and the threat of wars, but is inherently not comfortable for the elites who face regulations they dislike.

    As I say, I am still trying to understand the implications of Fukuyama's book. This is one of them that I think I can see.

  • DenverRight on October 13, 2011 7:49 PM:

    [wasn't kidding last time. you've made this same point dozens of times = trolling - mod.]

  • HMDK on October 14, 2011 6:41 AM:

    Frank Baker, you're a loon.
    Plain and simple.
    You belief that a mythical "free market" exists is the same sort delusional ranting I hear from both Libertarians and Anarchists. It's bogus. The "we have to deregulate everything, goverment regs are just too stifling!"-spiel only really works when it's in a country that actually does that. The U.S. is one of the most lax in that way.

    And as for your argument that higher taxes makes people want to do less to earn... well, give us a list of important people who have actually "gone Galt".
    Private companies will trade, innovate and sell in the U.S. as long as there is a profit in it. And raising the taxes of the wealtiest percentages of society won't stop that. Do you really think multinational corporations will give up on the entire american market just because they have to pay a little more yet STILL reap outrageous profits? If you really believe that, you've never worked with actual businesspeople in your life, and you've never seen an actual bottom line.

  • john on October 14, 2011 11:15 AM:

    I thought republicans agreed to stop whining about "entitlements" when Clinton passed Welfare Reform. The lesson here is that they will never stop whining, so why keep trying to please them?