What’s The Point Of Bringing Up George Soros?

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Published on: 2017.01.30

Screenshot of George Soros’ Wikipedia page

I’m surprised I haven’t blogged about this before; I’ve seen this tactic for years now. Here’s how it works… In the midst of a political discussion, someone will bring up George Soros. Two things are always true about these instances: (1) it’s always a right-wing/conservative person, and (2) Soros is always irrelevant to the conversation at hand.

So why do they do it? What are they hoping to accomplish?

Some of them probably don’t even realize it, but it’s an argument tactic called deflection, diversion, or a red herring. Deflection is used in chess as an intentional strategy, and the red herring is an oft-employed literary device, especially in mystery novels. In those contexts, it’s cool and smart.

But in the context of a debate or a discussion, it’s underhanded. If you successfully deflect someone from the point of the conversation, it doesn’t mean you “won”; it just means the other person didn’t realize what you were doing.

Take this example from an online conversation I participated in yesterday:

(1) The OP (a guy who went to high school with me) posted about the recent protests, and the right-wingers who keep saying the protesters should just “get over it”. He compared the situation to historic protests, and concluded: “However, if the tables were turned and you were being marginalized in some way, would you just, ‘get over it’?”

(2) Someone commented: “Whats [sic] been proven in the latest few batches of uprisings is that they are paid and orchastrated efforts by George Soros and his minions…”

The commenter linked to an op-ed in the “Women In The World” section of the New York Times (here), titled: “Billionaire George Soros has ties to more than 50 ‘partners’ of the Women’s March on Washington”, as proof. Before getting to any meat, the author of that piece admits she “voted for Trump”, didn’t “feel welcome” at the Women’s March, and “rejects the liberal identity-politics”. The author said she “stayed up through the nights this week, studying” and linked to a poorly crafted spreadsheet on Google Docs as her smoking gun that “Soros has funded, or has close relationships with, at least 56 of the march’s ‘partners’…” And she piles on, revealing the startling fact that Soros is a Clinton supporter! Oh noes! (Stragically, the op-ed was published on inauguration day, a day before the Women’s March.)

It’s tempting to attack the op-ed or to defend Soros, but doing either means the deflection has been successful.

But here’s the thing: none of that is relevant to the topic at hand. The topic was whether or not protestors should “get over it”, not who was funding it. The topic was also raised in the context of the #NoMuslimBan protests, a week after the Women’s March.

It’s tempting to attack the op-ed itself (which would be easy, since it never actually showed that Soros funded the protests, only that he regularly donates to the worthwhile organizations, some of which partnered with the Women’s March), but that’s exactly how deflections and red herrings work. Once you’re attacking the op-ed’s silliness, then you’re no longer discussing whether people should protest or “get over it”.

It would also be tempting to defend Soros. After all, he apparently donates to a wide variety of great causes. Even according to the right-winger’s “source”, Soros helps fund Planned Parenthood, National Resource Defense Council, MoveOn.org, the National Action Network, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Wow. I wish I was rich enough to donate to all of these! According to his Wikipedia page (which is full of source citations), he’s been funding good causes since the 1970s, including dissident movements behind the Iron Curtain, anti-apartheid activities in South Africa, eradicating poverty in Africa, building universities in Russia, and much more. He’s given away billions to good causes over the decades.

But again, this plays into the deflection. You’re now talking about Soros the man instead of whether people should protest (which was the original topic, remember?)

My response in that instance was simple, though it slightly played into the deflection (because I didn’t recognize the deflection in time):

“If I was a billionaire, I’d be funding pro-rights organizations too. Heck, I’m currently a ‘thousandaire’ and I’m funding them. I know “but Soros is funding them” is a common trope, but it’s actually a good thing to fund helpful causes.”

And this is why right-wingers keep bringing up George Soros.

8 Comments
  1. Bill Hamilton says:

    Well done, Wil.

  2. Mammon says:

    I’ve sometimes seen conspiracy theories about George Soros pushed by rather extreme left-wingers too. In those cases the claims often seem to come from very pro-Russia news sources.

  3. Dana says:

    My standard response to anyone who brings up George Soros is “so what?” (or “and?”). The other side never has a sufficient response to that. (For what it’s worth – liberals like to drag out the Koch Brothers when the tables are reversed.)

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Ah, yes. Though it’s a false equivalency to have the Koch/Soros conversation, I think. One donates to morally defensible causes; the Kochs want to eliminate minimum wage and other protective regulations.

      • Dana says:

        In the conservative universe Soros is as morally bankrupt as the liberals view the Koch Brothers.

        • Wil C. Fry says:

          Ha. Yes.

          Fortunately (or unfortunately?) I grew up in that universe, so I at least know what they’re thinking, even if I no longer empathize with it. :-/

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