After Disney’s attempt to pressure Florida’s legislature into stopping an anti-pedophilia law resulted in the legislature re-examining Disney’s legal privileges, some pundits on the right complained. Charles Cooke and Jason Lee Steorts of National Review argued Florida’s energy in protecting children from state-sponsored grooming constituted “misguided” “retribution.”
Steorts even called it a “soft-authoritarian temper-tantrum.” “This was a use of state power to punish private speech,” Steorts claimed.
Erstwhile Donald Trump lawyer (and sometime Federalist author) Jenna Ellis joined the critics on social media into this week, also taking the free-speech absolutist angle. Of course, so did David French. Daily Wire Co-CEO Jeremy Boreing voiced some hesitancy as well.
These commentators argued that while it’s fine to reconsider Disney’s crony capitalist carveouts, it is not fine to do so right after Disney attempted to apply maximum political pressure against the authorities who control those carveouts. That, they claimed, would be “retaliation” against Disney’s “right to free speech.”
In other words, Disney can play hardball, but that game must remain one-sided. Because procedures and norms must always only be applied in one direction: left.
This is a gross misunderstanding of not only what’s at stake in this episode, which is really about a reorientation of the right’s political power to serve the right’s voters and values. It is also a gross misunderstanding of the Founders’ view of free speech, of the purposes of political power, and of the use of the virtue of prudence in political affairs.
The point of government is justice. And it is not just to allow the powerful to openly advocate for child mutilation and soul rape. So any political philosophy that claims we must simply allow this to happen is at best incomplete and at worst evil.
I am not arguing that these commentators support child grooming, of course; only that their political philosophy is warped if it cannot find a way to justly restrain public encouragement for child mutilation. The Founders’ view of free speech never would have allowed for such a clear abuse of that right. There are indeed proper limits on free speech; and they include using it to openly advocate atrocities against children. Some public sanction is certainly appropriate in this case, and it is not a violation of free speech rights to provide it.
Even if one were to concede that the most important value at stake here is free speech instead of forcing taxpayers to assist groomers in recruiting children to mutilate, Florida’s response to Disney was not retaliation. It was a proportionate, even mild, response to significant political pressure exerted by a private special interest.
Cooke even responded to those pointing out that Disney’s carveouts violate even the barebones, “free-market” kind of conservatism by calling that argument “an extreme form of gaslighting.” What’s actually gaslighting is telling people on the right that we have to be more concerned about a view of free speech that the people who wrote the Constitution would abhor instead of the fact that the political left, backed by the globe’s biggest and most powerful economic actors, will fight tooth and nail to ensure that creepers can talk to little kids about sex without their parents knowing.
Let’s be clear here. DeSantis has not banned Disney from Twitter, nor from Facebook, nor from any platform whatsoever. He hasn’t banned them from talking with lawmakers, nor from testifying on bills. Every Floridian employed by Disney who is a U.S. citizen remains free to equally access both the polls and his elected representatives.
Disney remains completely free to use all legal public and private forums it wishes to promote sex talk with children. Its access to free speech and the public square remains unfettered (unlike the only president of the United States alive to not have started a foreign war).
What’s “gaslighting” is to suggest that revoking legal privileges — not constitutional or natural rights, mind you, but special and exclusive legal privileges not available to others on an equal basis — is anything but the mildest of responses to Disney’s reprehensible use of its speech to protect and promote child mutilation.
It is not Florida that has broken its deal with Disney, it’s Disney that has broken its deal with the people of Florida. Corporations get special economic privileges because they claim to provide the public some good in exchange. There’s plenty more to the public good than bringing in revenue.
One extremely important public good is not talking to first graders about cutting off their breasts and penises, or psychologically damaging them with lies about what it means to be a man or woman. If one wanted to get technical, one’s right to life supercedes one’s right to speech; and children’s rights matter more than adults’ precisely because they cannot defend themselves either with speech or with force.
Disney chose to make it public that they support ravaging children, against the human rights and the interests of all Floridians and all human beings everywhere. They had a deal with Floridians to benefit children, and they broke that deal, disgustingly and proudly, in full daylight. Let it be upon their own heads, and let Florida’s legislature see that it is so.
In addition: A corporation is comprised of citizens, and it is not legally appointed to speak for anyone politically. We speak for ourselves, through the ballot box and our own speech and assembly. It is not up to a corporation to seize its employees’ or shareholders’ free speech rights. Rights are individual, not collective. They belong equally and individually to citizens, not to special interests that falsely claim to speak for others.
Like anyone else, Disney’s managers also may not use their speech or economic position as coercion: to effectively silence the political speech of their employees, customers, and shareholders. Disney didn’t merely attempt to speak, it attempted to coerce. It attempted to outvote the voters of Florida with a big name and a lot of money.
The state of Florida rejected that unilateral and disproportionate control of their public affairs by one private institution. Bully for them. The rest of us would hate Republicans a lot less if they all acted like this.
Besides a lack of understanding of the philosophy of the Founders who wrote our Constitution that ensures free speech in the context of its employment on behalf of the public good, what these commentators and the Republicans who use their sad arguments as fig leaves for cowardice so sadly misunderstand is the critical political virtue of prudence. Prudence means wisely applying one’s principles to the matter at hand, and judiciously deciding which principles to prioritize and in what order.
Obviously, the principle to apply here is the one that says sexually manipulating children is a gross evil, and no argument or law can be legitimately made in its defense. If the way you apply your principles results in forcing taxpayers to pay people to tell six-year-olds it’s glorious to mutilate their bodies, you need to get your philosophical house in order right quick.
Prudence is the essence of that New-Right phrase, “What time is it?” This phrase calls for applying our enduring constitutional principles in ways that befit the needs and threats of the moment and that seem likely to succeed in restoring a more constitutional public order. A clear tell for lacking prudence is sticking to inflexible and abstract free speech theories that allow for encouraging children to be mind-raped at public expense.
The people who vote to preserve what’s left of our constitutional rights and the natural order are not second-class citizens. We have a right to use legitimately acquired power for the truly understood good of the people.
In fact, we have more of a right to use power than do those who use it to erase our natural rights. We also rightly expect public officials to fight fiercely to preserve a just society, which includes not publicly subsidizing the advocacy of child mutilation.
Just as in foreign policy, we get peace in the culture war through strength, through imposing costs for attacks on the constitutionally understood social order. Not through inaction, cowardice, or appeasement. Taking away public subsidies from a company that openly fights on behalf of child mutilation is a very low bar to clear, and it’s not at all “principled” to oppose that.