Venture capitalist Tom Perkins caused quite a stir over the weekend when he argued, in a Wall Street Journal letter to the editor, that the “progressive war on the American one percent” is comparable to Nazi genocide. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930,” he wrote, “is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”
Apparently hoping to quell the controversy, Perkins sat down with Bloomberg News’ Emily Chang yesterday to make his case. After the host asked if he regrets the comparison, Perkins’ response started off relatively well.
“Yes. I - I talked to the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, this morning following up on a letter I’d sent over the weekend apologizing for the use of the world Kristallnacht. It was a terrible word to have chosen. I, like many, have tried to understand the 20th century and the incomprehensible evil of the Holocaust. It can’t be explained. Even to try to explain it is questionable. It’s wrong. It’s evil.”
He then read from a letter he wrote to the ADL in which he “deeply” apologized, before pointing to some liberals he considers “friends.”
As a rule, when someone reaches the “some of my best friends are _____” phase, it’s a bad sign.
Regardless, if Perkins had simply acknowledged his mistake, apologized, and moved on, it’s likely he would have faded from public view fairly quickly. But as the interview progressed, Perkins decided to step all over his own message and arguably make the controversy worse.
Watching the interview, it quickly became apparent that Perkins saw the use of the word “Kristallnacht” as politically problematic, but he actually believes what he wrote in his now-infamous letter.
Consider this gem:
“I’m your classical self-made man, if you will. I think the 99 percent is struggling and really struggling to get along in America. We have ever-increasing regulation, higher costs I think caused by more government than we need. Small businesses – it’s difficult to form and prosper in a small business these days. It’s difficult to hire. And that in my view is what is hurting and causing – hurting the 99 percent and causing the inequality.“So I think that the solution is less interference, lower taxes. Let the rich do what the rich do, which is get richer.”
In other words, the hyper-wealthy venture capitalist thinks the American mainstream will prosper once there are more policies in place intended to benefit the rich.
And what about the Nazi analogy?
“I regret the use of that word. It was a terrible misjudgment. I don’t regret the message at all… The message is any time the majority starts to demonize a minority, no matter what it is, it’s wrong and dangerous. And no good ever comes from it.”
And the criticism from Paul Krugman?
“He won the Nobel prize in economics. I can’t argue economics with him, but to demonize the job creators is crazy and to demonize the rich who spend and buy things and stimulate the economy is crazy. I heard on the news hour with - gosh, name escapes me. Anyway, New York Times, and they got into a discussion about the idiocy of Rolex watches and why does any man need a Rolex watch and it’s a symbol of - of terrible values and it’s - et cetera. Well, I think that’s a little silly. This isn’t a Rolex. I could buy a six pack of Rolexes for this, but so what?”
Yes, he really did say he “could buy a six pack of Rolexes,” though he later added that was “off the air,” apparently unaware of the fact that he made the comment out loud on live television. (His current watch, Perkins added, was a gift from the company that made his yacht.)
The larger takeaway is that Perkins actually believes everything he said, though he regrets that he distracted from his bizarre message with a “Kristallnacht” reference. He’s sorry for his offensive message, though he stands by his message.
Finally, note that Josh Green added the appropriate context: “If you strip out all the weirdness, inappropriate quasi-apologies for the Nazi stuff and listen to the core of what Perkins believes, it’s actually the standard-issue Republican platform, which Perkins himself at one point helpfully boiled down to tweet length: ‘I think the solution is less interference, lower taxes, let the rich do what the rich do.’
Quite right. While Perkins’ appearance is easy to mock for its tone-deaf elitism and patrician arrogance, his economic vision is no different from that of the contemporary Republican Party.