One wonders if it would be possible for a journalist on the left wing of the political spectrum to write a book describing the role of prominent conservatives in the 2004 Presidential election using the same tone employed by National Review’s White House correspondent, Byron York. Judging from the rhetoric calmly catalogued in The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, many a leftist author would have difficulty avoiding lurid references to Adolf Hitler or the Spanish Inquisition when portraying prominent players on the Right. There’s no telling what epithets might fly if that same correspondent were dealing with a Republican financier who had just spent 27 million dollars to buy a Presidential election--an unprecedented figure that, even in inflation-adjusted terms, dwarfs W. Clement Stone's 2 million dollar contribution to Richard Nixon in 1972.
Fortunately for our imaginary scrivener, George Soros was on his side--a partisan fact that seems to erase concerns about big-money’s corrupting political influence. Soros is, indeed, the name that pervades York’s level-headed account of movers and shakers who established a clutch of organizations intent on defeating George W. Bush in 2004. But the Hungarian-born billionaire wasn’t alone in funding this loosely-coordinated infrastructure that answered Slate magazine’s prayer for a left-wing version of Hillary’s hypothetical cabal from the right. As York notes, money from only four sources totaled more than the 75 million dollars in federal funds that was given to each of the two major campaigns. Besides Soros, this quartet included Soros friend and Progressive Insurance chairman, Peter Lewis ($24,000,000), Hollywood magnate Stephen Bing ($14,000,000), plus Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Sandler, the founders of Golden West Financial Corporation who chipped in an additional $13,000,000. Not surprisingly, Herb and Marion were also friends of George S.
According to York, a total of 230 million dollars was donated to supposedly non-partisan 527 organizations on the Left--almost two and a half times the sum raised by Republican counterparts. The most lavishly funded of these 527’s, America Coming Together, took in $200 million in 2003 and 2004--one-tenth of it supplied by Soros. In analyzing this cash cow, York notes the absurdity of ACT’s election-year declaration that 98% of its funds were being spent on activities other than partisan Presidential politics--an accounting fantasy rooted in ACT’s dual role as a Political Action Committee to which strict donation limits apply. Similar duplicity characterized John Podesta’s think tank, The Center for American Progress--an institution whose “scholarly” endeavors amounted to a series of political hit pieces directed at the President.
Besides focusing on dollar figures and campaign finance laws, York offers insights into the political and intellectual milieu of emergent power-brokers--starting with Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the couple who founded MoveOn.Org when their anger over Bill Clinton’s possible impeachment was echoed by fellow-diners at a Chinese restaurant near Berkeley. The tendency to confuse the views of like-minded associates with mainstream America frequently plagued these aspiring operatives. This myopia doubtless contributed to Blades’s June, 2004, assertion that Kerry would not only win the upcoming election--but win in a landslide.
More intriguing is York’s tantalizing portrait of George Soros--a man whose wealth and influence far exceed his capacity to articulate a theory that links market bubbles to the rise and fall of empires. No one, it seems, finds Soros’s paradigm comprehensible--much less persuasive. As for the multi-billionaire’s view of 9/11, like Blades and Boyd, the key to Soros’s response is greater sensitivity: “...the Bush administration must realize we have to be concerned about the reactions of others.” In sum, York’s sketch suggests a man who, being the object of countless solicitations, vastly overestimates his philosophical assets.
York’s analysis of another “conspirator,” Michael Moore, is largely devoted to the filmmaker’s bogus claim of Red-state success. According to York, the following facts about Fahrenheit 9/11 went unreported in 2004: The movie underperformed significantly in Red-state markets; only eight cities accounted for 44% of box-office receipts; of those eight cities, only one lay outside of Blue-state America--Toronto. Indeed, York notes that the movie was popular throughout Canada--a region which accounted for considerably more of the film’s take than it did of John Kerry’s electoral vote total. Amid discussions of Moore’s audience, York employs a few pages to debunk misrepresentations in the “documentary” itself.
Al Franken is the best known of lesser media lights that York discusses in a chapter devoted to Air America. This radio arm of the elect-Kerry cabal initially aimed at a centrist audience--but like its hypersensitive star, didn’t follow through on the blueprint. A final chapter inspects the fever-swamp inhabited by NYU Professor Mark Crispin Miller. While Miller’s theocratic fantasy, A Patriot Act, was, at best, a fringe cultural event, its over-the-top terminology has become common in post-election Democrat rhetoric. Even Tim Russert now feels free to use the T-word in his Meet the Press interrogations.
York’s conclusions about The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy are a mixed bag. Obviously, the (tongue-partly-in-cheek) conspiracy failed in its primary mission, to defeat the President--but it failed by only 3 million votes. Moreover, most of these new organizations were founded shortly after the disastrous (for the Left) 2002 Congressional elections. Thus, future efforts are likely to become more efficient and less inclined to mistake choir-preaching for effective outreach. Of course a huge amount (pun intended) depends on the political whims of George Soros and company--without whose funds many of these organizations would never have seen the light of day.In brief, The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy is a hugely informative work that puts in perspective the meetings, the minds, and, above all, the money involved in a massive effort to defeat George W. Bush in 2004. The enduring institutional legacies of that effort betoken future campaigns whose dynamics and results might not be described with such admirable equipoise by Mr. York.