Perkins' defenders speak up

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins is interviewed in his office in San Francisco, California in this September 12, 2011 file photo.
Venture capitalist Tom Perkins is interviewed in his office in San Francisco, California in this September 12, 2011 file photo.
When venture capitalist Tom Perkins recently became the subject of a national controversy, comparing contemporary liberals to Nazis, there was a lingering question: why in the world did the Wall Street Journal publish his now-infamous letter to the editor? Today, the answer to that question came into sharper focus.
To briefly recap, Perkins made the case that liberal criticism of the wealthiest 1% has "parallels" to Nazi genocide. "Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930," he wrote, "is its descendent 'progressive' radicalism unthinkable now?" Soon after, Perkins appeared on Bloomberg Television and apologized for his word-choice, but defended his message. During the same interview, he boasted he "could buy a six pack of Rolexes" while arguing the rich feel put upon.
It seemed odd that the Wall Street Journal would publish Perkins' letter, knowing that many would likely find it offensive. Did the paper's editors want to make him look bad? As it turns out, no -- the newspaper published Perkins' message because it's sympathetic to his argument.
Under a curious "Perkinsnacht" headline, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal argues today that progressive criticism of Perkins "is making our friend's point about liberal intolerance." Though the editorial board concedes that his Nazi comparison was "unfortunate," today's editorial nevertheless thinks Perkins was onto something.

While claiming to be outraged at the Nazi reference, the critics seem more incensed that Mr. Perkins dared to question the politics of economic class warfare. The boys at Bloomberg View—we read them since no one else does—devoted an entire editorial to inequality and Mr. Perkins's "unhinged Nazi rant." Others denounced him for defending his former wife Danielle Steel, and even for owning too many Rolex watches.  Maybe the critics are afraid that Mr. Perkins is onto something about the left's political method.

Wait, it gets worse.
The Journal's editorial board proceeded to publish an odd indictment of "liberals in power," including allegations that there are "federal agencies" trying to "shut down" the Koch brothers, and "President Obama's IRS targeted conservative political groups."
For the record, there are no agencies trying to shut down the Koch brothers and the IRS "scandal" is discredited nonsense.
The piece concludes, "The liberals aren't encouraging violence, but they are promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents."
What we're left with, then, is a Wall Street Journal letter to the editor that compared liberals to Nazis, and a Wall Street Journal editorial that rebukes the comparison, but still feels as if the offending letter has merit.
Jon Chait's response rings true: "The Journal's editorial underscores that the widespread mockery of Perkins, far from piling on a bewildered plutocrat, actually understates the broader problem. Perkins's letter provided a peek into the fantasy world of the right-wing one percent, in which fantasies of an incipient Hitler-esque terror are just slightly beyond the norm. The Journal editorial defines persecution of the one percent as the existence of public disagreement. Liberals are mocking Perkins, therefore Perkins is basically right. For Perkins to be wrong -- for the rich to enjoy the level of deference the Journal deems appropriate -- a billionaire could compare his plight to the victims of the Holocaust and nobody would make fun of him at all."