The war on ‘rich’ people

It is always in poor taste for modern Americans to liken their ideological critics to Nazis. So when venture capitalist Tom Perkins wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal that equated “the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich,’” with “fascist Nazi Germany,” he opened his double doors to the cable TV umbrage-fest that followed.

I have a teensy bit of advice for Perkins: When your reported worth is somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 billion, you don’t need to wrap quotes around the word “rich.”

In three paragraphs, Perkins, 82, lambasted the San Francisco Chronicle for “the demonization of the rich” — this time, “rich” was not in quotes — and a “rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.”

Perkins cited the paper’s coverage of public anger at Google buses and rising real estate prices, as well as “libelous and cruel attacks” on the city’s “number-one celebrity,” Danielle Steel. (It’s sweet of husband No. 5 to stand up for his ex-wife, but I can think of bigger outrages than two Chronicle scribes dishing Steel’s big hedge.) He concluded by noting that Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930 and wondering what fresh hell progressive radicalism might unleash on successful Americans.

Perkins’ rhetoric was so over the top that his fellow big shots threw him under the Google bus. Kleiner Perkins Caufield &Byers tweeted that its co-founder hasn’t been “involved in KPCB in years.”

Sam Singer is the San Francisco public relations crisis guru to whom people with money go when they find themselves in a PR pickle. Singer told me that Perkins made a legitimate point about the “open dislike of people who are successful and who have money by certain elements in San Francisco, but he’s approached it in a way that diminishes his point of view” and that allows people “to denigrate it or make fun of it.”

That is, Perkins equated any criticism of rich people and their shrubbery with a precursor to terror. He doesn’t seem to understand the notion of public discourse or give-and-take.

There was a legitimate point behind Perkins’ over-the-top rhetoric, I think. When protesters swarm around Google buses in an attempt to intimidate tech commuters, it may not be a Rosa Parks moment, but it does reveal the ugly underbelly of class envy.

It’s magical thinking to believe that low-income families’ problems could be solved if only affluent earners made less money. When Democrats go after what they call income inequality, they often push for policies that end up pinching the U.S. economy.

Perkins might have written: Demonize tech money and it just could move to a place where it’s welcome. Go too far with these soak-the-super-rich policies and you can kiss our tax dollars and jobs goodbye.

Instead, he launched on a rant that focused on the cheek of San Franciscans who complain about the downside of The Special City’s embarrassment of riches. He wasn’t railing against bad economic policy. He’s angry that people don’t love the super-rich. He wants the peasants to applaud while the royal coach speeds away.

Perkins might want to ask the help to needlepoint a sampler of this famous Michel de Montaigne quotation: “No man is a hero to his valet.”

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

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