The latest issue of The New York Review of Books contains a strange article by none other than George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management and of the Open Society Foundations and, although the literary review does not see fit to mention, funder of scores of different left-wing institutes and foundations. Although Soros writes apparently to let his audience know what his hopes are for his work to endure after his death — the title of his article is “My Philanthropy” — he explains that his one hope is to make sure that in our own country “the government upholds the right of all people and adheres to the restrictions on state power established by the Constitution.”
For a brief moment, Soros sounds like a rock-ribbed conservative, concerned with fidelity to the Constitution and curbing the power of big government. But have no fears — that is not Soros’s intention. In Eastern Europe in the age in which the nations there were under Soviet captivity, Soros notes that he started “with supporting critical thinking or dissident activity.” Certainly, even he must know that the United States has little resemblance to the nations held under the realm of Soviet power in the Cold War days. Indeed, as he writes, “The United States has been a democracy and open society since its founding,” and the idea that it might cease to be “seems preposterous.”
In his very next sentence, however, Soros writes that, in fact, the end of democracy in America “is a very likely prospect.” How? Some might think he would be about to suggest the bypassing of Congress by the executive; the move to institute unpopular programs that extend the power of government by stealth means, like ObamaCare, or to issue executive edicts that accomplish what the president desires and what Congress opposes. But no, this is not the danger to which Soros points.
Rather, it is the fragility of the Open Society of which philosopher Karl Popper wrote. Unlike Popper, Soros says he has learned that free speech does not lead to better laws. The reason he advances is one I call Chomsky lite — a version of Noam Chomsky’s belief that consent can be manipulated by the media and the ruling class, as explained in his book Manufacturing Consent. Soros is too wise to acknowledge any debt to Chomsky, who is regarded today as such an extremist that he has not appeared in the pages of the NYRB for decades.
However, his analysis greatly resembles the argument of Chomsky and his co-author Edward Herman. He puts his theory this way in a rather remarkable paragraph:
People like me, misguided by that fallacy, believed that the propaganda methods described in George Orwell’s 1984 could prevail only in a dictatorship. They [the Bush administration]knew better. Frank Luntz, the well-known right-wing political consultant, proudly acknowledged that he used 1984 as his textbook in designing his catchy slogans. And Karl Rove reportedly claimed that he didn’t have to study reality; he could create it. The adoption of Orwellian techniques gave the Republican propaganda machine a competitive advantage in electoral politics.
Anyone who read this, except for the journal’s own readers who are almost entirely self-proclaimed leftists and liberals, must be stunned at the theory’s simplicity. Even if one acknowledges that Republicans, like Democrats, engage in propaganda, everyone knows that most of the media — including The New York Times, NPR, PBS, MSNBC, CNN, Time, Newsweek, Slate, The Daily Beast — usually speaks in unison on the most critical issues of the day. At times they have some independent commentators and writers, but they are few among the many. There are fifty writers or broadcasters like Jonathan Alter and Fareed Zakaria for five like George Will or Peggy Noonan. If viewers choose to turn to Fox News, that is their choice. No one forces them to watch Hannity or O’Reilly instead of Rachel Maddow or Anderson Cooper.
Nevertheless, Soros argues that “deliberately misleading propaganda techniques can destroy an open society. Nazi propaganda methods were powerful enough to destroy the Weimar Republic.” Putting aside the point that there were many other factors that led to the collapse of Weimar, Soros — like Chomsky — essentially believes the people are stupid, and will not follow his enlightened views when they can be misled so easily by the likes of Frank Luntz.
His words appear just as we have all seen how Andrew Breitbart was vindicated, after so many of Sorors’ favorite media types were arguing that it was Breitbart himself who fabricated photos to destroy Rep. Anthony Weiner. The result was not only that Breitbart was vindicated — and he would be case no.1 for Soros’s example of a propagator of misleading propaganda — but even the MSM’s main morning news program, the Today show, had to feature him in an exclusive one-on-one interview with Matt Lauer.
So Soros argues that in the U.S. today, the Right is using “different but in some ways similar [Nazi] methods,” although of a “refined” character. Even in a nation in which democracy has “deep roots,” he writes, our citizens are “not immune to deliberate deception.”
Soros does not see fit to provide one example to prove his assertion. So let me raise one. The Democrats have in the past few weeks engaged in their new propaganda tactic of “Mediscare,” in which they have offered a TV commercial of a Paul Ryan look-alike throwing Granny off a cliff, and generally argued that with Republican rule, Medicare would be destroyed and all health care lost for senior citizens.
The Democrats, in truth, are engaging in just the kind of misleading propaganda that might be used to prove Soros right. But of course, he is referring only to what the Republicans and conservatives favor as alternatives without trying to deal with any of them. In fact, as economic writer Robert J. Samuelson points out in his current column, Medicare is a real problem, one that the Democrats’ scare tactics do not address. This is what Samuelson says about the Democrats’ reaction to the Republican arguments:
This predictably partisan reaction — preying upon the anxieties of retirees — must depress anyone who cares about the country’s future. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that unless we end Medicare “as we know it,” America “as we know it” will end. Spiraling health spending is the crux of our federal budget problem. In 1965 — the year Congress created Medicare and Medicaid — health spending was 2.6 percent of the budget. In 2010, it was 26.5 percent. The Obama administration estimates it will be 30.3 percent in 2016. By contrast, defense spending is about 20 percent; scientific research and development is 4 percent.
Samuelson goes on to give a short and accurate summary of what Ryan and others are trying to accomplish. He does not claim that Ryan’s plan is perfect or even that it will work. But as he writes, “First, as Medicare goes, so goes the entire health-care system. Medicare is the nation’s largest insurance program, with 48 million recipients and spending last year of $520 billion. About 75 percent of beneficiaries have fee-for-service coverage. If Medicare remains largely fee-for-service, the rest of the system will, too.”
Under Ryan’s plan, incentives would shift. Medicare would no longer be an open ATM; the vouchers would limit total spending. Providers would face pressures to do more with less; there would certainly be charges that essential care was being denied. The Obama administration argues that better results can be achieved by modifying incentives within the existing system. Perhaps. But history suggests skepticism. Presidents since Jimmy Carter have made proposals to control spending, with meager results. From 1970 to 2008, Medicare spending per beneficiary increased an average of 9 percent annually.
So his point is simple: This is an important debate that should “rise above cheap political rhetoric.” Rather than debate, Soros implies that if the public chooses a Republican Senate and Congress, and even a Republican president in 2012, it will be not because it has seriously faced the issues Samuelson writes about, but because it has been captivated by propaganda from the Right that has manipulated them.
So Soros writes that everything got worse when George W. Bush became president, and since perceptions were manipulated, the truth “did not have an effect on the public that reelected Bush in 2004.” So if the public votes against the Democrats, despite all Soros has done to give them the funding for their own propaganda, it means that democracy has failed, and the public has succumbed to manipulation.
Soros, of course, hoped that Obama’s election would give the world a new “powerful message.” But alas, “the change was temporary”; the malaise went deeper “than incompetent leadership.” The public, instead, was asking to “be deceived” by those nefarious conservatives, who oppose liberal programs. Obama, he writes, “was reluctant to forthrightly blame the outgoing administration and went out of his way to avoid criticism and conflict.”
Is Soros serious? Time after time, Obama and the Democrats blamed the Bush administration for the financial crisis, and continually talked about how they inherited the crisis from Bush. Although Obama did mediate its effect and prevent a full depression from occurring, Soros says, the public — the people again — “was hardly aware of what he had done.” They showed “little appreciation of Obama.” And then the Republicans took advantage of the situation instead of cooperating with him, letting loose “the Republican propaganda machine.”
Once again, the people, unlike Soros, were unable to see the truth, and instead listened to Luntz, Fox News and all the Democrats’ opponents. The Republicans won not because people were rightfully fed up with the Democrats, but because of “the power of Orwell’s Newspeak” and because they do not want to face “harsh realities.”
As we have seen, it is conservatives and writers like Robert Samuelson who are not afraid to face harsh realities, and liberals and leftists like Soros who snidely condemn those who are doing just that. Soros writes that Fox News has been “accusing me of being the puppet master of a media empire.” That too is inaccurate. Glenn Beck has been doing that, not the entire entity known as Fox News. And since he provides no serious answer to the charge — only mocks it — NYRB readers will not know that the fact is that Soros indeed does fund scores of media opponents of conservatives and Republicans. And yet he dares to claim that “facts do not provide any protection.” This is especially so, since Soros provides none at all — only fatuous assertions.
So Soros returns to Weimar. Ironically, this is one analogy that both he and Glenn Beck seem to agree upon. Beck argues that the United States, like the Weimar Republic, is on the eve of a great inflation and the possibility of revolution gaining followers in the U.S. Soros argues that Weimar Germany was “disoriented by runaway inflation,” a point again that Beck makes regularly. Soros writes:
In its own quite different way, the American public has been subjected to somewhat comparable experiences, first by the terrorist attacks of September 11, and then by the financial crisis, which not only caused material hardship but also seemed to seal the decline of the United States as the dominant power in the world.
The result is that the United States is no longer an Open Society, since it has been buffeted by two things: “the reluctance to face harsh reality coupled with the refinement in the techniques of deception.” He is allergic to propaganda, he writes, since he knew both Nazism and Communism. But the people of the United States are not and need Soros to protect them. So his job is to get the people to “face harsh reality.” That does not mean, per Samuelson, to recognize that our entitlement state is unsustainable. It is, in his eyes, to fight Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, and not let their “lies” stand. And it also means fighting the “misleading narrative” of the Republicans and conservatives.
In George Soros’ confused world, right is on one side — that of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party — and wrong is on the side of the Republican Party and conservatism. What upsets him is that the electorate is wiser than he and his friends on the left side of the political spectrum. Since he cannot countenance anyone thinking that Democratic left-liberals do not have the right answers, he comes up with the only answer to explain the declining political fortunes of his side: manipulation by those who manufacture consent.
At least George Soros should have the honesty to let people know he is stealing more than a leaf from Noam Chomsky.