GEORGE SOROS LUNCHED with some reporters on Saturday at Davos. He talked about spending $600 million on civil society projects during the 1990s, then trying to cut back to $300 million, and how this year it will be between $450 and $500 million. His new projects aim, in Floyd Norris’s words, to promote a “common European foreign policy” (read: an anti-American foreign policy) and also to study the integration (or so he thinks) of Muslims in eleven European cities. He included among his dicta a little slight at Bill and Melinda Gates, who “have chosen public health, which is like apple pie.” And then, after saying the United States was now recognizing the errors it made in Iraq, he added this comment, as reported by Norris in The New York Times’ online “Davos Diary”: “To what extent it recognizes the mistake will determine its future.” Soros said Turkey and Japan were still hurt by a reluctance to admit to dark parts of their history and contrasted that reluctance to Germany’s rejection of its Nazi-era past. “America needs to follow the policies it has introduced in Germany. We have to go through a certain deNazification process.”
No, you are not seeing things. He said de-Nazification. He is not saying, in the traditional manner of liberal alarmists, that the United States is now where Weimar Germany was. He is saying that the United States is now where Germany after Weimar was. Even for Davos, this was stupid. Actually, worse than stupid. There is a historical analysis, a moral claim, in Soros’s word. He believes that the United States is now a Nazi country. Why else would we have to go through a “certain de-Nazification process”? I defy anybody to interpret the remark differently. The analogy between Bush’s America and Hitler’s Germany is not fleshed out, and one is left wondering how far he would take it. Is Bush like Hitler? If it is “de-Nazification” that we need, then in some sense Bush must be like Hitler. Was the invasion of Iraq like the invasion of Poland? Perhaps. The more one lingers over Soros’s word, the more one’s eyes pop from one’s head. In the old days, the Amerika view of America was propagated by angry kids on their painful way to adulthood; now, it is propagated by the Maecenas of the Democratic Party.
But nobody seems to have noticed. I did not see Soros’s canard reported in other places, and on the Times’ website on the day I saw it there were only four comments. Imagine the outcry if a Republican moneybags—say, Richard Mellon Scaife—had declared that Hillary Clinton is a communist or that Bill Clinton’s America had been in need of a certain de-Stalinization process. But I hear no outcry from Soros’s congregation. People who were repelled by Bush’s rather plausible notion of the “axis of evil” seem untroubled by Soros’s imputation of even worse evil to Bush. Because Bush really is a fascist, isn’t he? And Cheney, too; and Donald Rumsfeld, and Antonin Scalia, and even Joe Lieberman, right? Or so I fear too many liberals now believe. There seems to be a renaissance among liberals of the view that there are no enemies to the left. I hear no Democrats expressing embarrassment, or revulsion, at Soros’s comment. Whether this silence is owed to their agreement or to their greed, it is outrageous.
But if Soros lives in a Nazi state, what does that make him? I still recall Karl Jaspers’s devastating point, in The Question of German Guilt in 1947, that every German shares in the guilt of Hitlerism. Such guilt was not, in Jaspers’s mind, an abstraction or a purely political matter. But Soros does not appear to accept any responsibility for the Nazi-like crimes he ascribes to the United States. Perhaps he thinks that, having contributed $18 million to elect John Kerry in 2004, he was an American hero, a dissident, a resistance fighter, the Grill Room’s representative of the White Rose. And if, in 2008, Soros’s gang comes to power, how will de-Nazification work? Whom shall we send to prison? Perhaps we should prevent everybody who voted or argued for the war from running for office. At the very least, the neocons must be brought to justice. (Maybe Ramsey Clark can represent them.)
WHAT MAKES SOROS’S remark even more twisted is that he himself experienced something of Nazism. He was 14 when the Nazis entered Budapest. On December 20, 1998, there appeared this exchange between Soros and Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes”:
Kroft: “You’re a Hungarian Jew ...”
Kroft: “... who escaped the Holocaust ...”
Kroft: “... by posing as a Christian.”
Kroft: “And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.”
Soros: “Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that’s when my character was made.”
Kroft: “In what way?”
Soros: “That one should think ahead. One should understand that—and anticipate events and when, when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a— a very personal threat of evil.”
Kroft: “My understanding is that you went ... went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.”
Soros: “Yes, that’s right. Yes.”
Kroft: “I mean, that’s—that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?”
Soros: “Not, not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don’t ...you don’t see the connection. But it was—it created no—no problem at all.”
Kroft: “No feeling of guilt?”
Kroft: “For example, that, ‘I’m Jewish, and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be these, I should be there.’ None of that?”
Soros: “Well, of course, ... I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, because that was—well, actually, in a funny way, it’s just like in the markets—that is I weren’t there—of course, I wasn’t doing it, but somebody else would—would—would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the—whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the—I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.”
So this is the psychodrama that has been visited on American liberalism. We learn Soros never has nightmares. Had he been tried in a de-Nazification process for having been a young cog in the Hitlerite wheel, he would have felt that, since other people would have confiscated the same Jewish property and delivered the same deportation notices to the same doomed Jews, it was as if he hadn’t done it himself. He sleeps well, while we sleep in Nazi America.
SOROS IS OSTENTATIOUSLY indifferent to his own Jewishness. He is not a believer. He has no Jewish communal ties. He certainly isn’t a Zionist. He told Connie Bruck in The New Yorker—testily, she recounted—that “I don’t deny the Jews their right to a national existence—but I don’t want to be part of it.” But he has involved himself in the founding of an anti-AIPAC, more dovish Israel lobby. Suddenly, he wants to influence the character of a Jewish state about which he loudly cares nothing. Once again, he bears no responsibility. Perhaps his sense of his own purity also underwrites his heartlessness in business. As a big currency player in the world markets, Soros was at least partially responsible for the decline in the British pound.
Forget my differences with Soros’s Jewishness. Call it shul politics. But the characterization of the United States under Bush as Nazi is much bigger, and more grave, than shul politics. It casts a shadow over U.S. politics. In the same conversation at Davos, Soros announced that he is supporting Senator Barack Obama, though he would also support Senator Hillary Clinton. So my question to both of those progressives is this: How, without any explanation or apology from him, will you take this man’s money?
This article appeared in the February 12, 2007 issue of the magazine.