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Planet Soros
A pit stop on the financier's magical mystery university tour.


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–I’ve been feeling a little low about my relationship with George W. Bush lately. I’m worried about the situation in Iraq. Dubya’s trademark, endearing smirk–the one that enrages Democrats–just doesn’t lift my spirits like it used to. And during the State of the Union, I definitely felt like we were drifting apart.

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To be fair, Karl Rove has no need to panic. Realistically, who else am I going to vote for? John “Millionaires are out to get you, America…except for this millionaire!” Edwards? Please.

Regardless, I’ve been a little depressed. So last week, for a little pick-me-up, I did the only natural thing: I went to see George Soros.

Soros, for those who have been smart enough to ignore him, is on a cross-country crusade to get President Bush out of the White House. He is also promoting his book, The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power. And at the University of Chicago last Wednesday, he made very little sense.

There are three types of people who oppose the war in Iraq. The first group knows their history, understands foreign policy, and can make a logical, respectable argument about why the war is not in America’s best strategic interest. The second group are always antiwar, period. The third group consists of people who only need to hear the words “Dick Cheney” for their heads to start spinning around like that poor little possessed girl in The Exorcist.

I probably don’t need to tell you which camp Soros falls into. “President Bush,” he announced after stepping to the podium, “is leading the country and the world in a dangerous direction.” After a smattering of applause, the audience sat in silence, waiting for Soros to tell them why this was so.

I could write many things about Soros’s argument that followed. It was at turns inconsistent (praising state sovereignty one minute and calling for an “interventionist” strategy the next), laughable (“I have experienced in the media an Orwellian truth machine–I think this problem requires very serious research”), and vindictive (“I am actually eager to have this [American] bubble punctured. Because otherwise we will be able to squeeze through and inflate it again.”)

But the most interesting thing about Soros’s central argument has nothing to do with strategy. It has nothing to do with war or peace. Instead, it has everything to do with his personal philosophy, which he declared at the beginning of his speech.

After a brief paean to the philosopher Karl Popper, Soros began his lecture by revealing the greatest possible threat to an open society: People who believe in ultimate truth.

“Nazism, Communism, Fascism: The problem with all of these is that they believed that they had the ultimate truth. Nobody has access to the ultimate truth. Because of this, Nazism, Communism, and Fascism had to enforce their ultimate truth–with repression.”

Um, wait a minute, Soros.

I sincerely believe that I have access to the ultimate truth. If I jump off of a bridge, that’s a bad idea. If I stick my hand into the mouth of a great white shark, I don’t expect it to come out with a French manicure. If I wear the “urban cowboy” look two years after its disastrous fashion apex, I expect to get ridiculed.

More importantly, and I know this is a stretch, but could it be that the problem is not the belief in ultimate truth, but the nature of the ultimate truth you hold? Could it be that the problem with Nazism, Communism, and Fascism was that their versions of truth involved genocide, wanton murder, class warfare, and total control of the populace? And could it be that our whole conceptions of “good” and “bad” come from–yes–a belief in ultimate truth?

“The open society is always in danger,” Soros continued. “But I never thought I would have to defend it in the United States.” As football announcer Terry Bradshaw once brilliantly it, you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to see the linkage forming in Soros’s head: Bush equals Hitler.

There are perfectly rational, intelligent arguments that can be made against the Iraq war, the Bush Doctrine, or the national-security strategy. The problem is, Soros isn’t making these arguments. Instead, he’s on a one-man crusade against a president who sees things in black and white. He’s incensed about a president who believes that there is a truth, saw a problem, and decided to take action.

This is, of course, terribly ironic–-after all, the Bush administration has spent the past few months swatting off charges that they distorted the truth to get into Iraq. For Soros, though, WMDs and stretched intelligence are peripheral issues. Our action in Iraq may have been flawed, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time offering plausible alternatives. That’s because, for him, this really isn’t about the war. It’s a personal problem.

To be fair to Soros, he is, as he says, “putting his money where his mouth is.” He has a charitable foundation which, I hope, makes life better for many people. That’s wonderful. I can’t bash it.

But the philosophy and motivations behind his current crusade are alarming–-and if people take them seriously, that’s downright scary.

However, when I think about it, I can’t be too hard on George Soros. He did, after all, make me feel a whole lot better about George W. Bush.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Chicago.



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