With another week comes another angry plutocrat who, for want of any other analogy or argument, attacks the Democratic focus on income inequality as similar to Hitler’s arguments during his rise to power. Last time, it was billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins. This time? Home Depot co-found Ken Lagone. Here’s POLITICO with more:
“I hope it’s not working,” Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot and major GOP donor, said of populist political appeals. “Because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”
Setting aside the straightforward fact that higher taxes aren’t genocide, there is—as Jonathan Cohn notes for The New Republic—the simple fact that the politics of inequality aren’t driven by envy or jealousy. From lower life expectancies for the poor to diminished opportunities for a wide range of Americans, there are real costs to the wide wealth gaps and deep income disparities that define America in the 21st century.
But beyond that, it’s worth making a point of historical clarification. Adolf Hitler said a lot of things in his rise to power. None of them sounded like mainstream or progressive Democratic rhetoric. Most of them sounded like this, from Hitler’s speech on the Enabling Act of 1933:
It is not the task of a superior national leadership to subsequently surrender what has grown organically to the theoretical principle of an unrestrained unitarianization. But it is its duty to raise the unity of spirit and will of the leadership of the nation and thus the concept of the Reich as such beyond all shadow of a doubt.
Or this, as he discussed his plan for organizing the economy of a post-Weimar Germany:
In principle, the Government protects the economic interests of the German Volk not by taking the roundabout way through an economic bureaucracy to be organized by the State, but by the utmost promotion of private initiative and a recognition of the rights of property.
If Hitler had a “pitch” to the German people, it was a promise to deliver prosperity, dominate their international rivals, and restore them to their perceived former glory. Say what you will about the rhetoric of Elizabeth Warren or Bill De Blasio, it sounds nothing like the megalomania and bombastic esotericism of a Hitler-on-the-rise.