It is easy, and even enjoyable, to call foul when Fox News side-show barker Glenn Beck slanders a great American and personal hero like Theodore Roosevelt. It is less enjoyable when his target of abuse is someone I am far less fond of, George Soros. I don’t like to see billionaires use their checkbook to prop up juvenile Angry Left slime-artists like Move-On. Org, or to foist another family and character-wrecking drug on society by pushing us toward the legalization of marijuana. But fair is fair, and lies are lies, and never the twain shall meet. The fact that Glenn Beck doesn’t agree with George Soros’s political activities can’t justify or excuse Beck’s use of falsehoods to paint him as something he is not.
What Soros is not is a sinister, James Bond villain-like villain bent on world domination, which is only a slightly exaggerated description of Beck’s portrait. What is George Soros really? He is a thoughtful, energetic, genuinely generous and public service-minded billionaire who has done more in his life to advance the cause of freedom than Glenn Beck and all the conservative talk show hosts rolled up into one huge Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man talk show host. As with Teddy Roosevelt, Beck owes Soros some respect, and has a duty to enlighten his trusting audiences about all the good Soros has done with his wealth and activism while condemning Soros’s less-inspired activities. Instead, Beck paints him as a monster.
Monster? Soros is a Hungarian-born Jew who spent his boyhood hiding from the Nazis as his father disguised the family’s ethnicity with fake documents and manufacture identities. Having observed the Nazis all too closely through World War II, Soros then had the pleasure of watching a Communist dictatorship in action; unlike Beck, when Soros spits out hatred of authoritarian regimes, he speaks from first hand experience. He eventually got out of Hungary, studied at the London School of Economics, and ended up on Wall Street, where he made himself filthy rich in skillful stock and currency speculation. Beck’s monster is the epitome of the American Dream, and one would think that a self-educated drunk-to rich Mad Prophet of the Cable Wars like Beck would appreciate, if not celebrate such a life story. But no.
Soros, unlike a lot of tycoons, wasn’t satisfied with mere wealth: he wanted others to have a shot at the same path to success he had taken. He used his billions to support democracy movements throughout the Soviet bloc; as Hendrik Hertzberg correctly writes in the New Yorker: “He probably did more than any other private citizen in the West to nudge European Communism into history’s dustbin.” Soros has continued democracy-fueling initiatives; I was involved in one of them, as Soros has funded a program in Outer Mongolia to reform and Westernize the judicial system in the rapidly-modernizing country. His project there brought me to Mongolia to teach judges and lawyers about legal ethics. Building democratic institutions around the world with private dollars is an act of patriotism and humanitarianism as well as philanthropy. Soros doesn’t just have good intentions; he has achieved, and is achieving, good on a global scale.
This is nothing to Beck, though. In his personal attacks on Soros for funding liberal policy institutes and advocacy groups as well as as spending millions backing the Presidential candidacies of John Kerry and Barack Obama, these epic accomplishments are just footnotes in a James Bond villain’s rise. “Soros has helped fund the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, the Rose Revolution in Georgia. He also helped engineer coups in Slovakia, Croatia, and Yugoslavia,” Beck has said. “So, what is his target now? Us. America.” Beck had an obligation to mention that those other revolutions threw off the chains of authoritarian Communist rule. Soros is trying to help the people of Burma do something similar right now. None of this makes him a threat to America. Soros, who has understandably grown to adulthood with a deep hatred of authority and oppression, isn’t an enemy of freedom, but something of a pro-democracy fanatic. Pro-democracy fanatics can be annoying; look at Tom Paine and Sam Adams. They still wear white hats, though. They are Good Guys.
Our other fanatics on the left and right, however, including Glenn Beck, can’t process the fact that someone with profoundly different ideas from their own can still be worthy of admiration and respect. Thus Beck has undertaken a relentless campaign to demonize Soros as “the Puppet Master,” a shadowy figure at the center of a conspiracy of leftist organizations and other America-haters seeking to destroy U.S. society as we know it, and make our nation subject to a one-world government. Beck has also claimed that Soros intentionally helped to cause the world economic crisis in order to weaken America.
When you accuse someone who has done as much good as Soros of such dark motives, it is critical to make the theory plausible by showing the seeds of evil at work. In Beck’s version of Soros’s life, he was not a young boy having to conceal his Jewish heritage to survive, but a turncoat and Nazi collaborator. “Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps,” Beck said of Soros on his radio show.
As I noted at the outset, I disagree with Soros’s vision of what American should be and what constitutes a humane and productive democracy. Billionaires are also formidable adversaries. Still, these are controversies of ideas, and the debate should center on those, not personal attacks, lies and manufactured theories of villainy. Glenn Beck makes his own views seem weaker by using such dishonest tactics against Soros, and, as is often the case with Beck, he also makes his viewers ignorant in the process. George Soros deserves to be admired as someone whose rise shows what is great about America. By representing him as something else and using falsehoods and deceit to do it, Beck proves that he doesn’t fully appreciate the very values he claims to be defending.