Call it a billionaire's luck, or maybe his wizardry: Not five minutes after George Soros warned ominously at the National Press Club yesterday of an impending Republican smear campaign against him, it materialized.
There at the back of the room a tall man carrying an enormous manila envelope stealthily handed out statements from Republican spokesman Jim Dyke describing Soros as, among other things, "the Daddy Warbucks of the Democratic Party," soft on drug dealers, someone whose latest crusade is a sure sign of the Democrats' late-stage "desperation."
Thus the world's most successful investor turned antiwar activist launched his month-long, 12-city tour against Bush and the war in Iraq, the usual stream of insults and innuendo trailing behind him.
"I'm not a politician," Soros says in his gentle Hungarian-accented voice, when asked if he has any advice for John Kerry in the debates. But in fact Soros has placed himself in the thick of this election for more than a year.
To date he's donated more than $15 million to liberal activist groups including MoveOn.org and America Coming Together, with the express purpose of ousting the president. In his latest venture he plans to spend more than $2 million speaking in swing states and running ads in major newspapers, spreading the message that the war in Iraq has done "untold damage" to the United States.
"If I could contribute to repudiating Bush's policies it would be the greatest good deed I could do for the world," says the philanthropist who has spent billions promoting democracy all over the world.
Soros has repeatedly talked about Bush's popularity as if it were one of the many inflated currencies he's bet against: as something illusory, an Internet stock, a bubble he could pop if he threw enough money at it.
Now the anticipated moment for Bush to bust has arrived. But with only 34 days to go, the president has a solid lead in the polls. Was it a wise investment, Soros is asked, and one can only say he hedged, by adopting the romantic pose of the underdog.
In the world of ideas success is measured differently, he says, citing a quote from the Russian liberal thinker Sergei Kovaylov: "All my life I've fought for losing causes."
"But please, don't use that as your headline," he adds.
Soros opened his speech before about 100 reporters yesterday, many of them foreign, by asking the obvious question -- "Why should anybody listen to me?" -- and then pretending that it was not because he was one of the world's richest men but because of his "rather unusual background." He made most of his money speculating in foreign currencies.
Soros, 74, grew up Jewish in occupied Hungary. He survived the Holocaust because his father changed his family's identity. Then he got a taste of communism before coming in his twenties to the United States, a country he chose "because I value freedom and democracy," he says, and the place that made him one of the richest men in the world.
In his speeches and his writing, Soros backs the left's standard criticism of the war: that Bush took advantage of 9/11 to "further his own agenda"; that, seized with a mistaken vision of military omnipotence, he launched the country into a "vicious cycle of escalating violence."
But what really gets Soros going is what he calls Bush's "intimidation tactics," his attitude that "you are with us or with the terrorists" -- a way of stifling dissent that Soros recognizes from his youth.