The Mouse That Got Roared Back At - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Mouse That Got Roared Back At
by
Disney CEO Bob Chapek in 2019 (Theme Park Insider/YouTube)

It’s so refreshing to see the growing pushback by conservative Americanos against the cultural tyranny of the left, which has had its way with us much too easily and for way too long. The culture war is real. It’s important to our psychological and spiritual health. And it appears that both sides are finally engaging. Until recently, save for sporadic muttering, the silence from the right has been deafening. But there are stirrings now. Better courage should come late than never.

The hopeful signs first appeared in government school board meetings across the country, as aggrieved parents showed up to protest teachers flogging divisive racialist hustles like CRT and pestering children on sexual subjects they are not ready to deal with, and which at any time should be the province of parents, not teachers or any other agents of the state. It’s having an effect.

The latest counterpunch from the right comes from Florida, which, with a combative conservative governor and legislature and a first-in-state-history majority Republican voter registration, has been in the vanguard of fighting for traditional values. The punchee in this case is the formerly great Walt Disney Company, which threw a hissy fit in March when the Florida Legislature passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law an imminently sensible measure that prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. That’s ages 5 through 8, when children not only don’t know anything about sex, they don’t even suspect anything.

Disney’s characterization of this popular law — which bans Comrade Teacher from pestering little 5-year-old Johnny about whether he would be more comfortable as a girl — is wildly over the top.

In a forceful but vague statement, Disney Chairman Bob Chapek, in high sanctimonious dudgeon, threatened the duly-elected Florida Legislature and governor in this wise: “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislation or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.” He claims to worry that the law will be “unfairly used to target gay, lesbian, non-binary, and transgender kids and families.” Of course, he didn’t let on in any way how not talking about sexual orientation targets anyone of any proclivity (to the extent that children of that age have any proclivity at all). But this should come as no surprise. Being progressive today means never having to explain or justify one’s crackpot charges.

Well, Bob, old shoe, the bill was passed and signed into law, reflecting the will of a large majority of Florida voters. Disney has thrown down the cultural gauntlet, announcing that it will be a player in Florida politics and policy in opposition to the governor and state legislature elected by Floridians to attend to these matters. In other jurisdictions, these corporate fever dream charges and challenges would have been ignored by the political establishment. Not in Florida.

Most who follow the news have heard by now that the Florida Legislature has passed a bill this week dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special carveout that has allowed Disney to operate its 40-square-mile Disney World empire outside of Orlando autonomously, out of the reach of government jurisdictions. A country unto itself. The Woke Peoples Republic of Disney. DeSantis signed the bill into law Friday afternoon.

Disney has benefitted mightily from its nation-unto-itself status since Disney World opened in 1971. These benefits include but are not limited to not having to worry about getting pesky building permits or other clearances from various government bodies and being free of myriad other regulations mere Floridians must comply with. Plus Disney and the businesses on its property get property tax breaks which some estimate amount to around $300 million per year.

Florida agreed to this unusual arrangement — which DeSantis calls “a sweetheart deal,” in order to lure Disney and its jobs (77,000+ now) to the state. But now Disney honcho Chapek has declared that he doesn’t care what the peasants in Florida want. He knows better. And he and his powerful corporation will try to throw a spanner in the spokes of the will of Floridians if their tastes in policy aren’t as woke as his. In this case, he and Disney have come down on the side of Comrade Teacher over parents in a sensitive area that is none of a giant corporation’s business. Chapek cannot credibly complain that the Florida government is interfering in his company’s business as he has declared his company’s intention to attempt to thwart a legitimate state government process.

DeSantis will have none of this woke pixie dust: “As Governor, I was elected to put the people of Florida first, and I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state. Disney has gotten away with special deals from the State of Florida for way too long. It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.… Now parents see Disney for what it is. Now is the time to put the power back into the hands of Floridians and out of the pocket of woke executives.”

It’s hard to say how much this new law will pinch Disney. Orange and Osceola counties would have to begin providing services that Disney has taken care of to this point. These include water, electric power, and road repair and maintenance. Then there’s the business of almost a billion dollars in municipal bonds Reedy Creek has taken on for various projects. Who now has to pay for these? Who will do and pay for what, and who comes out ahead financially is not at all clear now. Though, it is certain that Disney would lose autonomy if the new law survives the legal challenges that are sure to come. Disney hasn’t said much about the new law save to claim that it’s not legal. If the law survives its trip through the courts, and if it’s not overturned or modified by the state legislature before then, it would take effect June 1, 2023.

Of course, Democrats have had a lot to say about both the parental rights law and the Reedy Creek dissolution law, largely hysterical non sequiturs. Most run along the lines of “Homophobia, don’t say gay, yadda, yadda,” which is cynical misdirection as there’s nothing anti-gay about the bill. What Floridians get up to at night and with whom will still be their business with these laws on the books.

Some Democrats complain the new law is a “distraction” from other more important “real world issues,” as if the question of whether children belong to their parents or to the state is a trivial matter. Still, others charge that it’s political theater on the part of DeSantis and Republican legislators. These people remain agnostic as to whether Chapek’s febrile remarks about the parental rights law were theater or a principled cri de coeur. Those who gripe that this is politics interfering with business seem to be fine and dandy with businesses interfering with legitimate government functions.

However the Reedy Creek law works out, it will play into Florida and possibly national politics. DeSantis looks strong for reelection this November, both because he has taken strong stands a majority of Floridians like, and that it appears he will be opposed this fall by former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, perhaps the most vacuous politician in the lower 48. Punching back at Disney will only help DeSantis, who may well have a political future beyond Florida.

Democrats, on the other hand, have a difficult balancing act on this one. They can’t ham it up too much without appearing to be opposed to parents having control over their children’s lives. It will be tricky for Disney as well because the company has already taken serious hits — much remarked upon recently in this space — because of their increasingly woke approach to children’s entertainment, going so far as to cancel some of their previously beloved characters who don’t fit the current progressive mold. The company’s hard turn to the left has not only been a PR disaster but has had economic costs as well. Disney’s stock has taken a tumble, losing about a third of its value over the past year.

Chapek has handled all of this so ham-handedly that there’s talk of former executive chairman Bob Iger taking the reins of the company again. Chapek may have to walk the plank along with Tinker Bell and Captain Hook. Who would miss him?

We’ll soon know what message Florida voters send DeSantis and the Florida Legislature over this matter. We already know what the message is to Disney: Don’t bring a corporate mission statement to a knife fight. It’s a new day in Florida, and, with any luck, in other states as well. Jubilee.

Larry Thornberry
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Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.
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