Days after the 2020 election, I wrote a column predicting that the search for a new conservative bogeyman would begin. The Left has settled on its preferred villain: Florida governor Ron DeSantis. My home state has long been reviled by progressives, and many now view our governor as an example of everything wrong with the United States. In the DeSantis era, the Sunshine State represents either freedom or tyranny, depending on your politics.
Yet amid the avalanche of negative, misleading, and false stories about DeSantis, he enjoys a sizable lead in polling in a state that only recently gained a slim majority of registered Republicans. Let’s examine some of the spurious charges against him.
His approach to classroom issues endangers kids. To say that Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law (often mislabeled the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) has been controversial would be an understatement. U.S. transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, among others, said that the bill would lead children to commit suicide (borrowing a dubious talking point), while the media painted a distorted picture of the legislation. Many outlets gave readers the impression that the law prohibited teachers from saying the words “gay” or “homosexual,” but their coverage often left out or buried the fact that the law applies only to students in kindergarten through third grade, and several journalists suggested that the law would prohibit students from asking their teachers questions about gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact, the law covers only “classroom instruction” on such matters and doesn’t prohibit casual conversations about these topics. A recent poll indicated that 67 percent of parents and 61 percent of overall respondents support the legislation.
His approach to Covid endangers the elderly. Florida’s resistance to lockdowns and mandates has been vindicated over time, not that you’d know it from media coverage or the “DeathSantis” moniker coined by left-wing activists. Using raw Covid numbers, rather than age-adjusted mortality rates, made Florida’s performance appear worse than it was. The state has the second-highest percentage (21 percent) of residents aged 65 and over, and that doesn’t fully reflect the large, elderly snowbird and seasonal-visitor population that flocks to the state each year. Given Covid’s disproportionate toll on the elderly, failing to adjust for age when comparing state death tolls is misleading. On an age-adjusted basis, Florida ranks 31 out of 50 in per capita Covid deaths. Florida also had significantly fewer nursing home deaths per capita than did New York or New Jersey, its schools reopened by August 2020, and its economy is booming.
He bullied kids into removing their masks. Democrats and many media outlets branded DeSantis a “bully” for scolding students at the University of South Florida into taking off their masks earlier this year. “You do not have to wear those masks, I mean please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything and we have to stop with this Covid theater. If you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.” When he said it, several students started laughing and at least four of them immediately took their masks off. Some kept their masks on, and DeSantis didn’t belabor the point.
In any case, the media’s outrage and subsequent claims that the episode was proof that DeSantis is “anti-science” are ridiculous. The Daily Beast, for example, said that DeSantis had offered students “terrible, anti-science” advice. The Palm Beach Post opined that DeSantis’s actions were a “blatant attempt to pander to the most anti-science elements of society.” At the time, the media framed anyone who objected to mask mandates as anti-science, but a few weeks later, mask mandates of all sorts were scrapped.
He’s bullying the Walt Disney Corporation. When Florida Republicans voted to dissolve Disney’s self-governing status, Democratic state legislators howled in protest. Revoking Disney’s special status is obviously political retribution for the company’s distorting and grandstanding against the Parental Rights in Education Law. But Disney had a deal like no other employer in Florida—one that’s impossible to justify even if the company wasn’t taking a partisan stand. Don’t Democrats profess to oppose corporatist special treatment?
He’s banning books. In March, DeSantis signed legislation that allows parents to object to educational materials used in schools. And the Florida Department of Education recently rejected 41 percent of the math textbooks under consideration. Many were ruled out for nonpolitical reasons; others were disqualified for inappropriately political material. Officials provided examples of offending books. In one, a word problem used data portraying conservatives as far more racist than liberals. CNN, NBC, and other news outlets provided images of the offending word problem but downplayed it in typically dishonest coverage. In any case, the notion of book-banning is a red herring. Publishers are producing an avalanche of woke children’s literature, some with LGBT themes and pornographic content. Many schools are offering or assigning these titles to kids. Parents, with support from DeSantis, have pushed back. Liberals have met the removal of these books from libraries or curricula with outrage, but how would they feel if schools assigned children to read, say, conservative firebrand Matt Walsh’s satire Johnny the Walrus or Bethany Bomberg’s book Pro-Life Kids?
He’s a racist. DeSantis recently signed the Stop Woke bill, which prevents schools and employers from pushing critical race theory. MSNBC host Joy Reid tweeted that DeSantis was “anti-Black” and guilty of child abuse for having some black boys around him for a photo when he signed the bill. A liberal Florida legislator and other Democrats weighed in, insisting that the boys must not have known what the law was about. Not so, says former NFL player Jack Brewer, who works with the kids, and has threatened to sue Reid for defamation.
He’s a dictator. When NBA player Enes Freedom recently posted a photo with DeSantis on Instagram and Twitter, for example, hundreds of progressives asked him how he could pose with a “dictator” or “authoritarian” while critiquing China and other repressive regimes. One liberal PAC recently compared DeSantis to Fidel Castro, while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried has compared him to Castro and Adolf Hitler. These attacks don’t merit a response.
When DeSantis took office in January 2019, Florida had 257,175 more registered Democrats than Republicans. The GOP now has 89,528 more Republicans than Democrats—a remarkable swing of 346,703 voters during his tenure. And the state’s population continues to grow. Apparently, Americans love his brand of tyranny.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images