Alex Pareene provides some perspective, noting first that TED is a self-indulgent, over-hyped organization funded by and for wealthy Silicon Valley types who love to congratulate themselves on what they fancy is their proper position in the pantheon of money and privilege. As Pareene puts it:
In case you’re unfamiliar with TED, it is a series of short lectures on a variety of subjects that stream on the Internet, for free. That’s it, really, or at least that is all that TED is to most of the people who have even heard of it. For an elite few, though, TED is something more: a lifestyle, an ethos, a bunch of overpriced networking events featuring live entertainment from smart and occasionally famous people...Strip away the hype and you’re left with a reasonably good video podcast with delusions of grandeur. For most of the millions of people who watch TED videos at the office, it’s a middlebrow diversion and a source of factoids to use on your friends. Except TED thinks it’s changing the world, like if “This American Life” suddenly mistook itself for Doctors Without Borders.
TED has a lot riding on its continued success and it doesn't want anyone, including a fellow rich guy, screwing things up by speaking too plainly. Attendees shell out big time to have their egos stroked, not to hear a presentation that was inappropriately "political". That, at least, is how TED was spinning it. My own view is that many in the crowd are not indifferent to Hanauer's argument. Many even share it, including his point that growing inequality will hurt us all, and the wealthy need to pay more taxes.