Home Depot Co-Founder Ken Langone Worried Democrats Sound Like Hitler

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March 19, 2014; Politico


Poor Ken Langone—well, super rich Ken Langone—is sorry. Sorry, he says, that his “choice of words was inappropriate.” Did he utter a vulgarism with his mic inadvertently on? Did he mistakenly identify his firm as Lowe’s rather than Home Depot? 

No, Langone’s inappropriate choice of words was his surprising characterization of populist Democratic political agendas. Expressing his hope that populist politics would ultimately fail, Langone said, “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.”

Perhaps Langone’s inappropriately chosen word was “Hitler” or “1933” or “Germany,” or maybe a more accurate reason for apologizing might have been “inappropriate historical metaphor.” Langone was not much different in this instance than billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins who compared Occupy Wall Street activists’ “demonization” of the rich with Nazis carrying out the 1938 Kristallnacht against Germany’s Jews. Like Langone, Perkins eventually apologized for his inadvertent inclusion of Kristallnacht in his diversion into historical analysis, though he stood by his analysis and its meaning. 

“My remarks were intended to discourage pitting one group against another group in a society,” Langone said in a statement issued earlier this week. “If my choice of words was inappropriate—and they well may have been that—I extend my profound apologies to anyone and everyone who I may have offended.” 

Don’t you just love the “if” and “anyone…who I may have offended” language? Langone, like Perkins before him, compares rich people in the U.S. to Jews in Germany before the Holocaust and wonders “if…anyone…may have [been] offended.” You think?

Perhaps nonprofits were among those offended. Langone is a trustee of the Marcus Foundation, the family foundation of Bernie Marcus, the other founder of Home Depot; the Robin Hood Foundation, where he serves on the board with nonprofit lawyer and scholar Victoria Bjorklund, Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Children’s Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, among others; and the Medal of Honor Foundation. Intriguingly, one would think that Langone might have had a little more sensitivity to the history of the Holocaust given the Marcus Foundation’s extensive grantmaking history to Jewish organizations in the U.S. and Israel, including over $1 million in grants to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum plus several grants to Kennesaw State University’s Holocaust Education Program. 

It would be silly and useless to ask nonprofits, including Jewish nonprofits, to turn back their grants from Langone-affiliated charities. It won’t happen. But it would be entirely appropriate for Langone’s philanthropic colleagues and charitable beneficiaries to repudiate his pathetic half-apology and denounce his equally pathetic concern for rich people feeling threatened by populist political rhetoric. If board member collegiality and access to grantmaking are sufficient to keep people quiet about Langone’s gaffe, that would be a sad state of affairs.—Rick Cohen

  • Keith Oberg

    So, Mr Langone’s remarks “were intended to discourage pitting one group against another group in a society”?? Where is this Republican Party supporter when we have the NRA attacking medical personnel concerned about gun violence? Where we have the Republican Party attacking a “liberal Hollywood elite”? Where we have a concerted strategy of building resentment against supposed-haves (blacks benefiting “unfairly” from affirmative action, “welfare queens”, “pointy-headed intellectuals, etc. etc.)??

    His major concern, it seems, is that some people have become concerned at the growing disparity in incomes, making the United States one of the most unequal of Western societies, and the growing weight of money in politics and public discourse.

    Who is promoting the division of the country, and for what purposes? What is Mr. Langone doing about it? If he were really concerned about “pitting one group against another group in a society”, we should expect to see him speaking out on this…and maybe disassociate himself from those groups that actively do what he says he is against.

  • Claude Thau

    I caution against ignoring the risks of setting one part of society against another, such as by promoting class warfare. Focus on the issue rather than finding ways to be offended by someone’s particular wording. I voted for President Obama in his first election, having great hope that he could bring our country together. Clearly many people may not agree with me, but I believe he could have brought many parts of society together and inspired sacrifice and co-operation to help solve our nation’s problems by educating each group about the past, existing and potential contributions of other groups and by asking each group to do more. Unfortunately, we’ll never know if I was right because he chose instead to divide the country.