It’s no secret, as the New York Times has reported, that billionaire George Soros has put a lot of money behind electing reform-minded prosecutors like Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner and Manhattan’s Alvin Bragg. He doesn’t do this directly, but rather through donating to organizations that do field work like Color for Change. In this, he’s not different from many right-wing billionaires who are lavish in their financial support of right-wing organizations, issues and candidates. When critics of Alvin Bragg say that he is backed by Soros, it is superficially the same as when critics say Republican politicians are backed by the Koch Brothers. Back in 2004, when I was a county coordinator for ACORN, you could have said I was Soros-backed since he had donated to the organization that actually paid me. In other words, it means something, but it doesn’t mean much. I wasn’t aware that Soros helped cut my check until after I’d left the job, and it wouldn’t have changed a thing about how I did my job if I had known at the time. Did Alvin Bragg know he was getting indirect support form Soros? I honestly don’t know.
Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner is right about one thing.
The political spending of Charles Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Peter Thiel, and other billionaires has been the focus of millions of words of the mainstream press, and for a good reason: Politicians are influenced by their donors in ways not immediately obvious to the public, but relevant to the public’s consideration of their politicians.
But when a mainstream reporter or a progressive critic makes a big deal about a Koch, Adelson or Thiel-backed candidate, the point is pretty plainly about oil, gas, gambling or the weird contrarian impulses and libertarianism of Thiel. The idea is that the politicians are beholden to big corporate interests which are usually pretty obvious. In some cases, the cause may be more social, like promoting religious education or opposing gay marriage, but you know why you are concerned about the billionaire’s influence.
Mention of George Soros feels different than this. The reason for opposing him is rarely spelled out, even in the case of his support for reform-minded prosecutors. You get more general descriptions, like he’s a “globalist.” It’s far from clear that most of the people using Soros’s name as an epithet know anything about his ideology at all.
Of course, Soros is Jewish, and charges that rich Jews try to control the world (or globe) for their own mysterious and nefarious reasons are an old and dangerous habit of the right. Adelson was Jewish, too, and he was quite obviously a huge backer of Israel, but when the left criticized him it was generally because of the non-Jewish politicians he backed who invariably voted against Democratic and progressive interests across the whole spectrum of issues.
Billionaires having too much influence is annoying and concerning to regular people of both parties, and how they spend their money is legitimate news. But, ordinarily, so is why they spend their money. And it just seems like Soros has become a bad word to the right without a lot of expressed rationale undergirding it.
There are non-Jewish billionaires who finance progressive causes that right-wingers don’t even know about, including some who also helped fund Color for Change’s program to elect reform-minded prosecutors, but it’s Soros name that gets mentioned every single time.
Now, Carney is complaining that people are trying to stifle any mention of Soros’s influence by suggesting that these references are anti-Semitic. The problem is that Carney doesn’t explain what else there might be about Soros that is so uniquely objectionable. Yes, he indirectly and intentionally funded prosecutors like Bragg, but what is Bragg doing that we wouldn’t have done anyway? How is Soros pulling Bragg’s strings? And why is Soros in more control than other major donors?
I think it’s worth mentioning that Bragg received backing from Soros, but it’s more interesting for what it says about Soros than what it says about Bragg. It tells us what kind of prosecutor Soros likes, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about why Bragg makes his decisions. There’s really no indication that Bragg is bucking popular opinion to do the bidding of a billionaire, but I don’t think you can say the same about a lot of NRA-backed politicians who will ignore popular opinion to do the bidding of the gun industry. If the idea is that Bragg is prosecuting Trump because Soros told him to do it, there’s simply no evidence for that at all.
This is why is seems like the real argument is that Soros is Jewish and part of a global Jewish cabal that is out to destroy America or the political right. And every time conservative politicians use Soros’s name as shorthand without explaining with any specificity what’s wrong with him, that impression is strengthened.
Does that mean it’s automatically anti-Semitic to mention Soros or point to who or what he supports?
No, of course not. But if you want to avoid that charge, you’ve got to explain why we’re supposed to care about Soros in the first place.