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Taking Aim At Soros Is Hardly Politic

By Sally Jenkins
Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Some Republican lawmakers don't think George Soros should be permitted to purchase a Major League Baseball team because he's too liberal and he has some wacky notions. I must have been napping, and that's why I missed the part where we became a country in which Democrats are no longer allowed to buy things.

If lawmakers start banning people from owning ballclubs just because of their politics or because they have a few woo-woo ideas, there are going to be a lot of shuttered ballparks. Anybody who tries to say that MLB owners should meet a certain standard of political correctness will get knocked back on their butts every time by two simple words: Marge Schott.

It was all right for Schott, the racist collector of Nazi memorabilia, to own a baseball team for years, but it's not for Soros, the billion-dollar philanthropist and Nobel Prize nominee?

That's exactly what some Republicans on Capitol Hill are suggesting, led by Tom Davis, the Republican from Virginia who is trying to steer the sale of the Nationals and who says Soros is just not the kind of person "we need or want in the nation's capital."

I don't much care about George Soros, and I don't care at all which rich guy gets the privilege of spending $400 million in heavy sugar on the Nats. But I do care when members of a ruling party start pushing people around, because next, it could be me. This is supposed to be the party that doesn't believe in government telling business or private citizens what to do. So here's what I have to say to Davis about that: Get your boot off my front porch, mister.

Davis, who first expressed his views in Roll Call, contends he is just speaking as a citizen -- "This is one fan's opinion." -- but he can't hide behind a hot dog, or a flag, on this one. Davis is chair of the House Committee on Government Reform, which has been investigating steroid usage in baseball. Therefore, it's not just unseemly for him to pressure MLB on the Nats sale. It's a bald abuse of power.

An even nastier abuse came from Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), who actually suggested baseball's antitrust exemption might be in trouble on the Hill if MLB let Soros have the Nats. It's one thing to threaten MLB for failing to govern drug usage -- Congress was quite right to do that. It's quite another to threaten it over one prospective owner's politics. In doing so, Davis and Sweeney just cost themselves all credibility.

You can't help wondering what's behind the outrageous attack on Soros, who isn't even a major partner in the bid for the Nats. (Local entrepreneur Jon Ledecky is the real bidder.) Isn't it strange that rival bidder Fred Malek, the head of the Washington Baseball club, just happens to be a very big GOP fundraiser? And isn't it strange that, in a telephone interview, Davis went out of his way to praise Malek's bid? And isn't it strange that these attacks on Soros from Republicans came on the very day that Ledecky and his partners were being interviewed by MLB?

Davis doesn't bother to hide his agenda. He says straight out that baseball needs to cultivate some good will on Capitol Hill at the moment, given the steroid investigations, and that selling the team to billionaire Soros, a critic of President Bush and a massive financial supporter of liberal causes, would anger him.

"They could use some friends on the Hill right now, and this is not the way to make them," Davis said yesterday.

Davis called Soros "a convicted felon" and "pro-marijuana." He was referring to Soros's conviction in France on insider trading charges, and to the fact that Soros favors the decriminalization of marijuana, and clean needle programs, as a way to combat drug use.

"You've got a league with a steroid problem, and you're going to sell the team to a guy who is pro marijuana? I just don't think we need or want that in the nation's capital. I just don't think you want such a polarizing figure."

But Davis has another problem with Soros, too. He's an "out of towner." Listening to Davis, you wonder if he's next going to say Soros's Hungarian accent is too thick.

"I mean, to me, Soros is the guy who has so much money and wants to buy the world," Davis said. "I mean that's not what baseball's about. This is above all a fan sport. This is the Nationals, and they're going to give it to some multinational?"

The argument that Soros is the wrong person to own a stake in the Nats because of his politics, or his business dealings, or some perceived character flaws, is an insidious one. There are no fewer than eight bidders for the Nats, and every single one of them is engaged politically in some way.

And all of them have warts. You want a wart? Malek has a big one. Malek is a former Richard Nixon aide. When he was White House personnel chief, he was summoned by Nixon to discuss a "Jewish cabal" in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nixon believed Jews in the bureau were tilting stats to make his policies look bad. He wanted to know how many Jews there were in the bureau, and he wanted Malek to count them. Malek eventually complied and produced a list. Some of them were later demoted or transferred. Malek, who insists he is not anti-Semitic, has said that he resisted the order at first and argued with Nixon that there was no "cabal."

This is the sort of ugliness you get into when you start weighing the political desirability of baseball owners. Okay, Soros is a convicted felon in France. George Steinbrenner is a convicted felon in this country. A pardoned one, but still.

If congressmen want to ban major Democratic fundraisers from MLB, could they please start with Peter Angelos? Surely he's a more "polarizing" figure than George Soros? And then there is Rupert Murdoch, who as the head of Fox was nominally in charge of the Dodgers. Another "polarizing" figure. A lot of people find President Bush rather "polarizing," and he owned the Texas Rangers (along with Malek).

But polarizing to whom? Those who disagree with them? Or are they not polarizing, because they are conservatives? And then you have baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who "polarized" Milwaukee by engineering one of the more rapacious stadium deals in recent memory. What about Coors Field? Now there's a polarizing family, the Coors. But they get their name on a ballpark because they earned it the old-fashioned way: They put up the money.

Just like Soros wants to.

It would serve Davis and Sweeney right if Soros were to win a stake in the team. There may be a very simple and primal partisan reason why Republicans are so opposed to a Soros ownership of the Nats. If Soros is an owner of the club, does that mean the R's get really lousy seats and the D's get all the good ones?

"I don't think I'll be getting good season tickets if he gets the team," Davis admitted.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company