Conservatives who want to defend freedom must pick their battles wisely, and therefore should support George Soros in his global battle with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his copycats—or so Jeffrey Gedmin and Dalibor Rohac write in a Hill piece devoted almost entirely to Hungary.
The threats represented by Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban represent a first-order threat to liberty while Soros is a second-order threat, they lecture.
Since Gedmin and Rohac chose to lecture at me in particular—and misspell my name in the process (Jeff, how could you? You’ve known me for years!)—I would like to clear up a few matters. The 30-mph grapefruit they barely managed to get over the plate is too tempting not to swing at.
There are in fact three balls that failed to break in their argument: the first, about conservatives “choosing battles wisely”; the second, about conservatives believing that private individuals should be allowed to spend their money according to their beliefs; and the third, the bit about supporting conservative values in funding Soros.
Point No 1—Yes, we should pick battles wisely. Perhaps that’s why in the more than 5,000 words I have written on the subject of Soros and U.S. funding for his leftist causes worldwide, three are conspicuously missing: Victor, Orban and Hungary.
Orban is trying to make life difficult for the Soros-backed Central European University, as Gedmin and Rohac rightly point out. American conservatives ought to get over the fact that CEU teaches “course work in gender studies and environmentalism” and rally to the university’s cause, they write.
I’ve stayed out of that fight because I try to have no truck with strongmen or even would-be strongmen. In fact, in a New York Post piece published this month I specifically write, “Soros’ Open Society Foundation and network of groups does some good in some places — by fighting Vladimir Putin’s bullying of Ukraine, for example.”
The danger is actually the opposite: by abandoning conservatives who have always looked to America for moral and financial support, we all too often drive them into Putin’s hands. As I wrote in a Heritage Foundation paper last month:
In some regions of the globe, tacit or explicit U.S. support for liberal progressive policies backed by taxpayer dollars is cannibalizing moderate political support. Russia is working hard to gain influence is such regions as the Balkans, and political parties in these regions may turn increasingly to Putin’s Russia as an alternative if no other conservative policy position exists as a counter.
Point No. 2—Yes, conservatives have always insisted that “living in a free society means that private individuals and organizations are free to fund causes with which they disagree.”
I happily endorse that view. That’s why in the Heritage paper I wrote, “It is Soros’s right as a private individual to act on his convictions.” I celebrate that we live in a society that lets him do so.
What I don’t think is right is having our lead international aid agency, the US Agency for International Development, fund Soros projects around the world, from Latin America to Europe, Asia and Africa.
Six GOP senators have called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to conduct a probe of the agency’s support and its work with Soros. But the dearth of political appointments (of 554 key positions only 22 have been confirmed by the Senate so far) has meant that the senators’ letter was responded to by Joseph E. Macmanus, a career official who was close to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Macmanus pretty much told the senators to mind their own business, not even acknowledging their call for an investigation.
Point No. 3—Soros is a second-order threat, and those who want to defend conservative values should look the other way. I’m frankly surprised that Gedmin and Rohac take such a short-term view here.
Putin is a rank thug, but he is devoid of ideological content. His own survival guides his actions. He uses terror and his ability to dupe those eager to be duped. His interference in Western elections is a matter of great concern, and the West should respond. His support for dictators such as Syrian President Bashar Assad and North Korea's Kim Jong Un creates geopolitical trouble, but inevitably drives Western leaders away—as we’re seeing with Donald Trump.
Putin offers a lot of money for those willing to be corrupted, but zero inspiration of the kind successfully offered by Kremlin predecessors who successfully peddled collectivism.
Soros does seem to offer a unified vision, one he spreads far and wide. He and his groups (worth $24 billion according to Forbes, making him the world’s 24th richest man) turn up nearly everywhere.
And everywhere he supports legalizing drugs and prostitution, abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, the erosion of national sovereignty, and the rise of transnationalism. The enactment of his agenda would fritter away traditional institutions. Here, in Hungary, and elsewhere.
His vision has little or no place for national government, the family, God. It has room only for the individual and the world, a kind of the polyglot Hapsburg Empire writ large. This does appeal to some people, the kind who see John Lennon’s “Imagine” as some sort of anthem.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on 4/19/17