Skip to main content

One percenters, stop embarrassing yourselves!

By John MacIntosh
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 2009 GMT (0409 HKT)
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
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT