Skip to main content

One percenters, stop embarrassing yourselves!

By John MacIntosh
updated 3:09 PM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
A participant in the Occupy Wall Street protest is arrested during a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the movement in New York on Monday, September 17, 2012. A participant in the Occupy Wall Street protest is arrested during a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the movement in New York on Monday, September 17, 2012.
HIDE CAPTION
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
Occupy Wall Street: One year later
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prominent venture capitalist compares war on the 1% with Nazi treatment of Jews
  • John MacIntosh: How can the 1% avoid embarrassing Perkins-like incidents?
  • He says while you can be pro-gun or pro-choice, it's impossible to be pro-inequality
  • MacIntosh: If you sympathize with 99%, show it; if you don't, better to keep quiet

Editor's note: John MacIntosh was a partner at a leading global private equity firm, where he worked from 1994 to 2006 in New York, Tokyo and London. He now runs a nonprofit in New York.

(CNN) -- Tom Perkins, a well-known venture capitalist, got himself in hot water when he compared the "progressive war on the 1%" with Nazis' treatment of Jews in World War II. Although Perkins apologized for his comments, he stood by his main point that anger at the rich is a wrong and dangerous attitude.

It's easy to dismiss Perkins' sentiment as nothing more than the ill-advised ravings of a cantankerous, thin-skinned old man. But it also illustrates just how bizarre things have gotten for some wealthy people, who find themselves in a new socially constructed category and on the wrong side of a resurgent but elusive political ideal, facing off against mesmerizing populist adversaries.

How can the "1%" make the best of the situation they're in and reduce the likelihood of more embarrassing Perkins-like incidents? Here's my advice.

John MacIntosh
John MacIntosh

First, remember that the 1% is an almost meaningless moniker for a multifarious bunch of people who differ greatly in political leaning, wealth, occupation and ethics.

Yes, you are luckier, better educated and perhaps a little bit smarter than the rest, but that hardly makes you a monolithic class. And while there are certainly scoundrels, sociopaths, wealth addicts and Ayn Rand-devotees in your midst, these bad apples are far from the norm despite the attention they garner. You're really just like everybody else, only richer.

However, as "welfare moms," "urban youth" and "unionized teachers" have long since discovered, resistance is futile once a pejorative new category bursts onto the scene. And you'll only make things worse by trying to introduce something better (Perkins tried "successful 1%," which is even more objectionable because it implies the "unsuccessful 99%").

So you're stuck with the 1% label. But rather than wax nostalgic for the honorific categories of yesteryear - "global elite," "electronic herd" and "mass affluent" -- try to remember that "sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you" while waiting calmly for the rhetorical storm to pass. And please don't succumb to self-pity for suffering the indignity of guilt by association; name-calling is nothing like stop-and-frisk, job discrimination or profiling. Toughen up!

Investor apologizes for Nazi comparison
War on rich likened to Holocaust

Second, for all the easy talk about reducing inequality, its corollary -- equality -- is the most complex and controversial social ideal. Is it equality of opportunity or income? At a moment in time or across generations? Why is it important over and above the goal of helping those at the bottom?

But what makes equality difficult to define philosophically makes it expedient politically, because its vagueness and complexity allow it to be offered as a panacea for almost any problem. Just accept that while it's possible to be pro-gun or pro-choice, it's impossible to be pro-inequality.

And when cornered at a cocktail party, please don't ask opponents to tell you what equality really means or to offer a coherent explanation of its causes and effects. Equality is the zeitgeist for a period when many people feel under pressure and shafted by a system that they think you represent. If you sympathize, show it. If you don't, keep your mouth shut.

Third, you need a grass-roots strategy for dealing with Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio and the other emerging populist rock stars. It simply won't do to continue relying on the octogenarian trinity -- Warren Buffett, George Soros and John Bogle -- to be your friendly faces. Nor can the job be outsourced to Third Way staffers or lefty celebrities.

To meet the populist media challenge will take some courage by a younger generation of 1% Democrats with charisma and a willingness to seek common ground with the populists even though by doing so they'll be viewed by many friends and colleagues as traitors to their class.

Rather than put your head in the sand or stay safely in the limousine, get out there and make your case in the street, on TV, in bars and on the Internet. But be realistic, for in the current environment the best you can do may be to get yourselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists.

Finally, be invigorated by this moment in the spotlight! You have status to engage politically simply by virtue of your membership in a category - the 1% - that did not even exist until 2011. But political winds are fickle and may soon blow you off the stage. As Oscar Wilde said, "the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John MacIntosh.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT