Have a Koch and a Smile

So we now discover yet another similarity between Left and Right -- they both seem to get powerful motivation by singling out a billionaire on the opposite side of the political spectrum and then blaming all manner of conspiracies on him.  The right has had fun for years vilifying George Soros and so the Left, sad to be left out of the fun, has latched onto the Koch brothers.  The objective is to tar an individual so thoroughly that mere suggestion that he supports a particular issue  casts so much doubt on the issue that its merits do not even have to be argued.  This is a game that climate alarmists were really pioneers at devising, tarring skeptics for years at the mere hint that some organization they are related to got 0.1% of its funding from Exxon.  I know folks play this game in my comment section from time to time.

This is a game I find utterly exhausting and absolutely without merit, a black hole of intellectual productivity.  For God sakes there are 524,000 Google results for "soros-funded."  Of what possible value is this adjective?  Perhaps at its best it is a proxy for "left-leaning" but then why not just use those more descriptive words?

  • ben

    That argument is the true meaning of argumentum ad hominem. "Oh you associate with/have the characteristic of [x], therefore your argument can be safely ignored."

  • JC

    Google results for "Koch-funded" - 2,040,000.

  • Dr. T

    "... why not just use those more descriptive words?"

    Because people react to "enemy" individuals more strongly than they do to "enemy" ideologies or groups. It is easier to generate vitriol against the Koch brothers than against the right wing or conservatives. Ad hominem and straw man attacks are logical fallacies, but their effectiveness means that they will continue to be used.

  • Douglas2

    In my history of blog reading, I'd say about a third of the favorites that became regular reading during their active blogging life were written by veterans of the early 90s ex-pat scene in Prague. They all knew and wrote about the Open Society Institute, and they all knew and wrote that it was Soros funded, because it was, and without that steady source of cash and leadership it would have been nothing.
    Check out the "About the Open Society Foundations" page: http://www.soros.org/about
    Helping countries make the transition from communism, and the other stated goals of the OSI are laudable -- everyone except ex-autocrats seemed to like them back then. But it is unmistakeably a Soros project.
    Match that with the colorful background of the man's rise from a desperate childhood, conviction for insider trading, and the residual anger over his actions that led to black Wednesday (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Wednesday), it seems to me that it is hard not to write about Mr. Soros when you are writing about anything he funds.

    Contrast that with the Koch-funded operations. The "about page" for the website of Koch family foundations features not a photo of anyone from the family, but currently pictures of people aided by a Goodwill Industries jobs program. If you look at the website for a prominent political organization funded by the Kochs, such as the Reason foundation, you get the impression that a Mr. Koch is just one board member and donor out of many. Valued, yes. The hand that pulls the strings, no. Reason Foundation, and Goodwill, and ballet would all continue without the Kochs. MoveOn, ThinkProgress, and the OSI -- I'm not so sure about their future without Soros. (Although the fist two existed before he noticed them, is the institutional growth that his grants have allowed them sustainable with alternative sources of funding?)

    This isn't to say that people like Glenn Back and Rush don't have an irrational obsession with Soros. But if you read his Washington post interview where he said something akin to "the main obstacle to stability and justice in the world is the United States", some might interpret that to indicate that he doesn't have the good of the USA as the goal in his political donations here. He also said something like it being a matter of "life and death" that the Republicans lose in the 2004 elections -- so if (like him) you think that the world will end if the wrong party out of the coke and pepsi choices wins, but are on the opposite side, he is something like a devil figure, actively helping the "wrong" side. Before he was a political figure in the US, he was an international figure and a philanthropist, so much was reported in the mainstream press about the controversies of his life. So there are skiploads of "oppo" material that never would have come out in respectable press had he peen an openly political figure and donor to progressive causes at the time.

    So the right writes about Soros because one can see his fingerprints all over opposition to the right since the campaigns for the 2004 election. And the left writes about the Kochs because? Because they need an anti-Soros? How are they newsworthy otherwise?

  • TDK

    The argument is often about funding vs demos. "Nice" people are the grass roots who derive the rightness of their cause by the numbers of people agreeing to the same thing. "Nasty" people are lone billionaires who can use their money to buy up support for causes that would otherwise gain no support.

    Given that underlying idea, we convert the undecided by creating a narrative that emphasises only those facts that support the idea and ignoring others. Thus to mention Soros or Koch supports the idea that this is a billionaires idea, not really commanding of popular support. Logical fallacy or not, this is how rhetoric works. The value of highlighting Soros lies less in establishing a positive argument than in undermining the narrative that position on the wealth scale predicts ideological outlook.