As the election cycle heats up and money flies in every direction for the political parties and their causes, several members of the media have branded our own Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson the right-wing version of financier George Soros.
The comparison is an easy one to make when you don’t dig much deeper than the superficial similarities. The Hungarian-born Soros is a known lefty billionaire who hands over shocking amounts of cash to MoveOn.org, to the Center for American Progress, to groups pushing marijuana legalization, physician-assisted suicide, abortion rights and gun control. Adelson, too, gives away eye-popping amounts of cash to certain conservative groups and is known to vehemently support many Republicans, including President George W. Bush and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons.
Except here’s the big flaw in the analogy: Adelson is actually a liberal. No, really. He said so. I know because, last January while I was interviewing the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. in advance of the opening of the Palazzo, he said so. We were talking about his efforts to build a casino in Massachusetts, and he spoke highly of his interactions with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. When I remarked that the Democratic governor with strong ties to Barack Obama seemed an unlikely bedfellow for a man like Adelson, he pushed back.
“I’m a social liberal,” he told me. “I’m socially very liberal. Too liberal.”
At first, like you, I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.” This is the guy the leftist magazine Mother Jones referred to as “the right’s white knight” and whom right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin called a “conservative Soros.”
- From the Archives
- An appeal to Mr. Adelson (8/17/07)
- After the Strip and Macau, next stop for Venetian is India (8/28/08)
- Beyond the Weekly
- Video: Falling Flat (Las Vegas Sun, 9/5/08)
- A taxing problem (Las Vegas Sun, 9/7/08)
- The Brass Ring: A multibillionaire's relentless quest for global influence (The New Yorker, 6/20/08)
- Sheldon Adelson: The Right's White Knight? (Mother Jones, 4/8/08)
- A Conservative Saros? (Michelle Malkin blog, 5/9/08)
But then I started thinking about it a bit, thinking about what Adelson says and to whom he gives those huge sums of money. And I realized that there are two defining political issues that land him on the Republican side of the aisle but do not necessarily make him a conservative ideologue and religious fringeist in the mold of, say, Sarah Palin.
Adelson cares about two major things—fighting labor unions and protecting the state of Israel. Those are the issues that get him worked up, that he lives and breathes, that inform his political donations, his reading list, his life. Israel is why he gives $30 million a year to a program that pays for American Jewish 20-somethings to go there, and why he spent at least $10 million on a political action committee called Freedom’s Watch to evangelize in support of Bush’s approach to the war on terror. And the labor unions are why he has dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Clark County Commission races and races for governor and other state offices.
To whom don’t you see Adelson handing out large sums? Groups trying to ban abortion or same-sex marriage. Groups hoping to convince the public that man-caused global warming’s a hoax. Groups working to build anti-Mexican fences or line our borders with gun-toting vigilantes.
His business practices speak for themselves. The Venetian wedding chapel warmly welcomes gay couples to celebrate their unions. The Venetian and Palazzo earlier this year became the world’s largest LEED-certified structure, albeit one that qualified Adelson for a hefty tax break.
His philanthropy is not the typical right-winger stuff; a 12,000-word New Yorker profile earlier this year detailed his activism in creating drug-addiction treatment clinics.
“I’m in favor of environmental policies, I’m in favor of community centers, I’m in favor of helping people who can’t help themselves,” Adelson says. “That’s what I do in my philanthropy. I don’t want the government to do it; I want to make the decision of where the money’s going to go.”
Yes, it is true, Adelson’s hatred of labor unions is virulent. And he himself explains why he’s not a Democrat thusly: “I talk to Jewish people a lot, and I say, ‘I used to be a Democrat until I learned better.’ Then I learned that the Democrats are on the side of unions, in the pocket of unions.”
Certainly, his opposition to organized labor—and his willingness to conduct hand-to-hand combat with the most powerful force in Nevada, the Culinary 226—is a significant reason why Democrats oppose him. Adelson believes unions are bad both for business and for the worker; the unions charge he doesn’t give a damn about the workers. And so battle lines are drawn.
But one domestic issue and one foreign matter of personal import don’t a right-wing wackadoodle make. There are lots of union members who vote Republican, and they do so because their union status isn’t all there is to their political beings. In fact, the outcome of this year’s presidential race may very well come down to working-class Midwesterners, many of whom are union members, who feel there are other factors to consider and could choose John McCain despite other disagreements.
There may be causes and candidates supported by Adelson that many left-leaning people oppose. But when I think of Soros, I think of a man who opposes every last thing that every Republican supports, from economic issues to social issues to foreign policy, without pause or any sense of moderation.
Adelson’s more complex than that. Most of us are.