We return this week to the conservative crusade to destroy the reputation of financier and philanthropist George Soros. The Hungarian-born billionaire has driven Republicans to distraction for two reasons. First, after decades of dedicating his fortune to fighting for democracy and civil society in his native Eastern Europe, he has turned his attention to the United States, where he is spending as much as $15 million to help various liberal groups improve their efforts to expose the malfeasance of the Bush Administration and defeat it in 2004. Second, in response to some surprise questioning at a meeting with Jewish leaders last year, Soros offered his opinion that Israeli foreign policy is in significant measure responsible for increasing anti-Semitism around the world.

The attacks have been ratcheted up in recent weeks because the Republicans see his prominent role in funding organizations like America Coming Together, MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress (where I am a senior fellow) as a means to tar John Kerry as a dangerous radical by association. They’d also like to scare off others who might be considering such roles for themselves. The Republican National Committee has circulated a briefing paper on Capitol Hill in which Soros is referred to as “Lord of the Democrats” and the “Daddy Warbucks” of the drug legalization movement, and which highlights what it deems to be his controversial positions on abortion, gun control and the right to end one’s own life. In Richard Mellon Scaife’s NewsMax magazine, a writer named Richard Poe has extended the attack against the “somewhat loony” Soros, who, he says, “hates America” and is seeking to engineer a “coup” against George W. Bush. Poe has been invited out of the Scaife swamp to repeat this nonsense to millions of people via Bill O’Reilly’s Fox program, in which the host has repeatedly denounced the alleged crimes of the man he calls “as far left as you can get and not move to Havana,” “the most powerful Democrat in the country” and “the Godfather.” Not much on nuance, O’Reilly describes Soros’s position on immigration as follows: “Come on in, Al Qaeda. We’ll get bin Laden a condo. If he doesn’t have the money, we’ll income-redistribute and get it to him.” Mr. “No Spin” alleges that the mainstream media present Soros as if he were “Little Bo Peep” in order to protect the Democrats “because most Americans don’t buy into his agenda.”

O’Reilly also heaps scorn on Soros for being a “committed atheist,” characterizing him as “definitely anti-Israel in the sense that he believes…that the Palestinians are the aggrieved and the oppressors are the Israeli government.” But even he does not go as far as Tony Blankley, editor of the editorial page of Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, former spokesperson for Newt Gingrich and a frequent guest panelist on cable and network chat shows. Using unmistakably anti-Semitic tropes and metaphors, Blankley appeared on Fox’s Hannity & Colmes to call Soros a “robber baron” and “pirate capitalist.” “This is a man who blamed the Jews for anti-Semitism,” he continued. “This is a man who, when he was plundering the world’s currencies, in England in ’92, he caused the Southeast Asian financial crisis in ’97. He said that he has no moral responsibility for the consequences of his financial actions…. He is a self-admitted atheist; he was a Jew who figured out a way to survive the Holocaust.” As blogger Josh Marshall pointed out, “You have to hand it to [Blankley], pasting together a rant which manages to weave together accusations of anti-Semitism and most of the key anti-Semitic slurs and motifs.” Moreover, Blankley implies that Soros should somehow be blamed for surviving the Holocaust.

Along with others, I called attention to this incredible outburst on my website, Altercation (www.altercation.msnbc.com), and a reader contacted Blankley about it. Blankley responded with an e-mail that was then passed on to me with no promise of off-the-record protection. The pundit made his meaning plain: “Soros and his family converted from their Jewish faith and survived the Holocaust (there was speculation that they may have collaborated with the Nazi’s [sic]).” When I both called and e-mailed Blankley to ask him to defend this slander, he did not deny he sent the e-mail, nor did he specifically address its contents, though he expressed “regret” that his statement on Hannity & Colmes was “both incomplete and pregnant with a malicious implication I did not intend.” He claimed that, having read an assertion on the Internet that Soros collaborated with the Nazis, he “started down that path and thought better of it in mid-sentence” in his appearance on Fox. What’s unclear is why he continued to circulate this outrageous tale–as he did in the e-mail he sent to my Altercation correspondent–long after he had time to rethink the comments he made for which he now expresses regret. It is hard to imagine a more immoral strategy to use against a Jewish opponent than to insinuate that his family were Nazi collaborators (not that a teenage George Soros would have had much say in the matter at the time).

All of the above bespeaks the desperation that Republicans and their punditocracy shock troops apparently feel at the prospect of being challenged by someone with the resources to make a difference in an election in which polls show that a majority of voters disapprove of George Bush and that a plurality plan to vote for his opponent. And while they cannot be held responsible for the poisonous rhetoric of Blankley and others, mainstream Jewish organizations like Abe Foxman’s ADL have sought to stigmatize Soros because they cannot countenance the view–openly stated by Jewish leaders in Europe–that Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians under Ariel Sharon contributes to worldwide hatred of, and violence against, diaspora Jews.

Soros tells me that none of these ugly slanders of his good name will in any way deter him from his task of helping to save the nation and the world from the Bush Administration. “The more I am attacked, the more I am ready to stand up for what I believe in. But I am frustrated by the reach and influence of the RNC propaganda machine. They are presenting a totally distorted picture of who I am and what I stand for.”