By Rich Lowry
Just like that, tyranny has descended on Florida.
The state legislature, with the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, voted to repeal the “special independent district” enjoyed by Disney for half a century.
This is a sign, we are told, of the advent of an American authoritarianism that brooks no dissent — Disney criticizes a measure supported by the Florida GOP, the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, and immediately gets targeted.
There’s a reason this fight escalated to this point, though. Disney was the aggressor in the battle over the education bill, lied about it, and pledged to work to repeal it.
Even though the bill had nothing to do with Disney whatsoever — nothing to do with its product, its business model, or its employees. The company got pushed into its stance based on pressure from a woke segment of its employees and from progressives on the outside.
Disney’s case against the bill relied on the smear that the legislation somehow threatened gay or trans people. In fact, the law merely seeks to exclude inappropriate material from being taught to young children in the classroom — an objective that once would have been considered utterly banal.
“Classroom instruction,” the law says, “by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Based on that, Disney went to the mattresses. And it did so, not to serve its shareholders, enhance its profitability, protect its intellectual property, or align itself with its vast and politically diverse customer base.
This was, shockingly, an iconic American brand making itself into a free-floating weapon of woke cultural politics in response to the social and political influence of a small number of vocal progressives.
Like so many companies before, Disney calculated the risk/reward of gratuitously taking up a left-wing political and cultural fight and considered it all reward, no risk. The Florida legislature decided to convince it that it was wrong.
Republicans have fantasized about exacting revenge on woke corporations before, but to no effect. Disney’s problem is that it had a glaring vulnerability in the form of an arrangement that can easily be portrayed as a special favor.
The provisions allowing Disney to govern itself in its special independent district are so extensive that one analyst refers to the so-called Reedy Creek Improvement District as “the Vatican with mouse ears.”
“Never before or since has such outlandish dominion been given to a private corporation,” Florida writer Carl Hiaasen notes in his book “Team Rodent.” “Disney owns its own utilities. It administers its own planning and zoning. It composes its own building codes and employs its own inspectors. It maintains its own fire department. It even has the authority to levy taxes.”
For good measure, it can build its own airport and nuclear power plant.
Now, that’s all scheduled to go away in a year’s time. Obviously, it is not a good practice for government to retaliate against a business, even a business enjoying a special status.
This fight could have welcome effects, though, if it convinces Disney that it made a mistake by allowing itself to get bullied and cajoled into becoming a combatant in the culture war, or if it convinces other corporations that there’s a potential price to be paid for joining woke mobs.
Republicans don’t want corporations to become tools in advancing their agenda; they just want them to exit the culture wars and focus, once again, on their business, an outcome that would lower the temperature in the country’s cultural fights at least a little.
Ideally, Disney and the Florida legislature work out a renewal of the company’s special district before it is set to expire, and the house of mouse — and other corporations seduced into making themselves de facto left-wing pressure groups — resolves to stick to its core competency and mission.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.(c) 2020 by King Features Synd., Inc.