I Guess it Depends on the Meaning of the Word "Soros"


Jane Mayer, 2010:

Of course, Democrats give money, too. Their most prominent donor, the financier George Soros, runs a foundation, the Open Society Institute, that has spent as much as a hundred million dollars a year in America. Soros has also made generous private contributions to various Democratic campaigns, including Obama's. But Michael Vachon, his spokesman, argued that Soros's giving is transparent, and that "none of his contributions are in the service of his own economic interests." The Kochs have given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry. Gus diZerega, the former friend, suggested that the Kochs' youthful idealism about libertarianism had largely devolved into a rationale for corporate self-interest. He said of Charles, "Perhaps he has confused making money with freedom."

Jane Mayer, 2004:

Soros said that he tries to maintain a strict separation between his financial and his philanthropic work. Yet he acknowledged, "There are occasionally symbiotic moments between political and business interests." He cited one example: an attempt to set up a public-policy think tank in England which had at first looked like a fruitless venture; it had landed him in what promised to be one of the most boring conferences of his life. But, chatting with British notables, he caught a serendipitous glimpse of a way to break into the closed world of the British bond market, which he soon did. It became "one of the most rewarding weekends of my life," he said. "I made many millions."

I went looking for such dissonances in Mayer's big Soros profile (which I had nice things to say about at the time), but I ended up getting distracted by something else entirely: The piece opens with an extended 2004 anecdote about a strategy meeting between five billionaire Bush-haters about how to depose 43 after his first term. Three of them–Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling–happen to be among the biggest bankrollers of organizations dedicated to legalizing (at the least) marijuana. So I guess my question to these Kerry/Obama backers is, how's that working out for ya?

And it's not just drugs. Here are some of Soros's Mayer-reported concerns about politics in the aughts:

The Bush Administration, he said, has exploited the terrorist threat to consolidate its own power, in ways that threaten the country's core democratic values. […]

According to Soros, the war in Iraq attempted to spread democracy in precisely the wrong way—at gunpoint. "Democracy can only be built if local forces are eager to see it established," he said. More broadly, he feared that the detention of terrorist suspects in Guantánamo Bay, and the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, would undermine America's ability to champion human rights. (Soros suggested that the Bush Administration's meek reaction to Vladimir Putin's recent retreat from democracy in Russia was a consequence of our compromised credibility.) […]

Soros, who describes himself as an agnostic, contended that Bush's religious beliefs are in conflict with America's democratic traditions. "The separation of church and state, the bedrock of our democracy, is clearly undermined by having a born-again President," he said.

Seriously, how's all that working out? Did Obama de-consolidate power? Not so's you could notice. Democracy at gunpoint? Well, there are certainly a lot more of the things (gunpoints) in Afghanistan. Guantánamo Bay is as open as it was in 2004, and America's ability to champion human rights is currently being undermined by, among other things, the Obama Administration's assertion that the federal government can kill a U.S. citizen without trial. Conversely, if George Soros was looking for a get-tough-on-Russia president, then he certainly backed the wrong horse, and if anyone was thinking they were electing a secret secularist in November 2008, they were either not paying attention or deluding themselves that a core campaign tactic and rhetorical crutch would be thrown aside the day after Rick Warren's Inauguration prayer.

The Soros piece is certainly worth a re-read for the media/political studies completists among you (especially in comparing it to Mayer's Koch-slam). One nostalgia-making undercurrent throughout is that lefty billionaires had miles to go before they could erase the gap between moneybags Republicanoids, let alone reverse the tide of creeping one-party-GOPism. Like most political fear-fads, this belief vanished into the memory hole with the re-ascendance (both electorally and financially) of the former opposition, and now we've cycled back to the Scaifegoating era of looking for mustache-twirlers to explain why Americans aren't as thrilled with their Oval Officer as Joe Klein is.

I defended Soros from Republican attacks back in 2003.