Yes, Tom Perkins went there.
In a letter to the Wall Street Journal published this morning, with the surprising title “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?,” the legendary venture capitalist compared Nazi Germany’s war on the Jews to “the progressive war on the American one percent.”
Before going too much further, let’s get this one little thing out of the way: Nothing should EVER be compared to the Holocaust, a tragedy in which 6 million Jews and another 5 million Germans lost their lives, except the Holocaust, or at the very least, other massive state-run genocides.
Godwin’s Law notwithstanding, there are serious issues with Perkins’ letter, both in his perception of the problem and tone deaf reaction to it.
“From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” Perkins writes. This, at least, most people agree on.
The problem is that Perkins only reinforces that hatred with his parallel between the distraught working class citizens of San Francisco and a national movement to eradicate an entire ethnic group.
There is no centralized movement to remove the 1 percent from their penthouse apartments and send them to work camps. There’s no planned nationalization of the region’s thriving tech sector. There’s no threat of assets being seized and redistributed by a fascist government body.
Protest is nothing new to San Francisco: Its citizens were some of the leading voices in the Vietnam War in the 60s and 70s, and during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. That many in the city would rally around the Occupy Movement and call attention to the rapidly growing income disparity that is taking place in their own back yard should not come as a surprise.
Blaming the victim is hardly the way toward progress or compromise. But Perkins’ letter does just that.
Perhaps what is most alarming is that Perkins doesn’t seem to understand why people are upset about the growing income disparity, why there is resentment against the one percent. It’s this lack of self awareness which is most distressing, because it reinforces some of the very same stereotypes many in the industry are trying so hard to debunk.
And for those who want to effect real change in the Bay Area, for those who are trying to bridge the divide between the rich techies and their less fortunate neighbors, for those who truly believe that “it doesn’t have to be this way“… Perkins’ letter makes things just that much harder.
Update: The Twitter account of Kleiner Perkins just issued the following statement:
Tom Perkins has not been involved in KPCB in years. We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree.—
Kleiner Perkins (@kpcb) January 25, 2014