DeSantis Sets New Bar for Pandering

By Glenn Sacks

Presidential candidates rhapsodizing to Iowans about the importance of ethanol. Hillary Clinton pretending to be a Yankee fan during her run for a New York Senate seat. Trump’s 2020 Spanish language ad “Progresivo” aimed at Florida Cuban-Americans, in which he likened Joe Biden’s policies to Fidel Castro’s. When I teach my Government students about pandering in American politics, there’s no shortage of material. 

But lately Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been a walking news hook. As he prepares for re-election in 2022 and a possible 2024 White House run, his pandering on a wide range of conservative backlash/wedge issues makes other politicians’ attempts look minor league by comparison.

Last week he signed the Church Carry bill into law, resolving the important issue of how well armed we can be during Sunday sermons. He has joined the Republicans’ political windfall over immigration and the “open” border by announcing he’ll send 50 Florida police officers to Texas to help control the US-Mexico border. 

He signed legislation barring businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccinations, boasting “No corporation is above the law.” Nearly a dozen major cruise lines are based in Florida, and this new law hamstrings their efforts to follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination recommendations. 

Two of them, Carnival and Norwegian, say they plan to impose proof-of-vaccination requirements anyway, risking the law’s $5,000 penalty per violation. Look for DeSantis photo-ops when the first fines are levied.

DeSantis signed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act into law, which requires anyone participating in women’s athletics at the secondary school or collegiate level to have an original birth certificate that states they are female. 

There’s a legitimate discussion to be had over how trans women can be included in sports in a manner fair and just to all athletes. However, DeSantis, who chose to sign the bill at a Christian school on June 1, the first day of Pride Month, has shown he is not interested in seriously addressing this issue, but is instead looking to score political points with Christian conservatives.

DeSantis signed a bill on civics education to stress instruction about communist and totalitarian governments, explaining that students need to be taught why “somebody [would] flee across shark infested waters” from Cuba to Florida. Fair enough. Yet DeSantis apparently doesn’t notice that the hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans he’s sent cops to Texas to try to keep out of the US--the ones enduring horrific conditions in a desperate effort to leave their countries--have never been within 500 miles of communism. They are instead fleeing countries with free-market economies and pro-American governments. 

DeSantis touts the bill he signed to prevent colleges and universities from shielding students from ideas and opinions that school leaders might feel are “uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.” 

Certainly, there is some over-the-top “woke” nonsense being taught on college campuses. However, the legislation’s many provisions, which include allowing students to record lectures without a professor’s knowledge, could lead to what Florida Atlantic University professor Deandre Poole calls a “political litmus test” deployed to intimidate professors and prevent open political debates.

Along the same lines, DeSantis has been a leader of the movement to ban Critical Race Theory from being taught in Florida public schools. However, so far he has not put forward any instances where Florida teachers have offered inaccurate history lessons, and CRT has never been part of Florida’s curriculum.

I’ve taught social studies in both Florida and California and have sat through decades of curriculum meetings, and I’d never heard of CRT until recently, when DeSantis and other conservatives seized on it as a political ploy.

Educational outsiders might not realize this, but trust me, no administrators are going to sit in classes for an appreciable amount of time to find out what is actually being taught. Instead, parents and college students aligned with conservative groups will take teachers’ words and opinions out of context and use this law and the media outlets that support it to bludgeon them. DeSantis actions won’t promote the airing of different views, it will be used to stifle them.

But I don’t want to sound ungrateful. When teaching about election campaigns, government teachers will no longer need to work to cobble together various examples of pandering--DeSantis has generously provided us with the complete set. He says he wants to change the Social Studies curriculum--perhaps this package of pandering will turn out to be his most important contribution.