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Is Ron DeSantis the New George Wallace?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expected to announce presidential candidacy soon.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

For those old enough to remember, or those who studied the history of the Civil Rights Movement, George Wallace was an incredibly polarizing figure.

As Governor of Alabama, he was vehemently against integrating schools in his state. His infamous comment “…segregation today…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever” galvanized his supporters into defying orders to desegregate public schools and universities in Alabama. He stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to prevent two Black students from entering.

Wallace’s antics have an eerie similarity to the anti-woke campaign currently being waged by Florida’s Ron DeSantis. Wallace defied orders to desegregate the same as DeSantis ignored COVID precautions, spurned vaccines and ignored mask mandates, even threatening to punish school districts that adopted such precautions.

While Wallace was a bit of a one-trick-pony, choosing to combat racial equality, DeSantis is more of an equal opportunity offender, seeking to attack multiple groups in the misguided name of protecting our freedoms. COVID restrictions, schools, the LBGTQ community, Blacks and women’s health care have all been targeted as being woke.

Yes, DeSantis is the new George Wallace…on steroids!

Pandemic Pandemonium

When it came to the pandemic, DeSantis set his own agenda. He mocked the experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, ignored mask mandates, ridiculed COVID restrictions and belittled vaccines. He threatened legal consequences for schools and businesses that sought to institute safety measures aimed at reducing the spread of the virus and its multiple variants. He was accused of manipulating data to make the influence of the virus less noticeable.

DeSantis wasn’t alone in his refusal to accept the seriousness of the pandemic. He was joined by several other Republican governors who demanded restrictions be lifted and schools reopened even if it put children at risk. They reasoned that the virus didn’t infect children as easily based upon the low number of cases involving school aged children. They conveniently ignored the fact the reason the numbers were lower was because lockdowns had reduced the contact between them.

When Spring Break came, DeSantis ordered businesses to reopen without restrictions. Students predictably flocked to the beaches, eager to escape months of confinement. He then mocked the so-called experts when the predicted surge following Spring Break failed to materialize. Because he eschewed contact tracing, he was able to ignore that cases were surging again in other states, possibly due to spring breakers bringing the virus back to their campuses. As a result, we may never know how many needless deaths resulted from DeSantis’s lax response to the deadly virus.

DeSantis continues to tout his own policies, and not COVID restrictions and vaccines, as the reason his state weathered the pandemic as well as it did.

While Wallace didn’t have to deal with a pandemic, his state was not without its healthcare issues. Segregation resulted in inferior treatment, and the resulting higher mortality rates, for people of color. Like DeSantis, Wallace largely ignored these problems early in his tenure. Instead, he focused on making life more amenable for the White citizens who got him into office in the first place.

The Woke Mob

Ron DeSantis has described his state of Florida as the place where woke goes to die. His attacks on wokeness and all things woke is a daily battle. Yet, ask those who call themselves experts on all things woke, and they struggle to come up with an adequate definition. Instead, they appear to have settled on a meaning once used to describe pornography. They don’t know what it is, but they know it when they see it.

If they had done their homework, something that is obviously a foreign concept to those battling wokeness, they would know that the term actually originated in the Civil Rights era when Wallace was in power. In its original context, woke means to be aware of the social and economic inequities between the White and Black segments of society.

Like the controversy where players took to one knee to protest the unfair treatment of Blacks by members of law enforcement, the right took the term woke and turned it into something negative. Now, any time an individual, or even a company, has done something that antagonizes those on the right, they are said to have gone woke.

Women’s Rights

At the beginning of George Wallace’s time in office women’s rights were not an issue. Women could not own property, they couldn’t establish credit and abortion was illegal. Towards the end of his tenure, women were becoming a more powerful political force. This forced Wallace to alter his once prehistoric attitudes towards the fairer sex, even when it came to a woman’s right to choose if he were to survive politically.

Fast forward to today, and DeSantis, along with Republican leaders in other Red states, wants to revert to a time when a woman’s healthcare decisions were made by a room filled with old White men. As the religious right hijacks this issue, many women are being faced with difficult choices as their control over their own bodies is being robbed from them.

DeSantis is looking to appeal to evangelicals as he has signed a bill that would ban most abortions after six weeks. This is typically before a woman even is aware she is pregnant. The bill is currently on hold as the courts decide the legality of a previously enacted 15-week ban.

Like Wallace, DeSantis is looking to appeal to a specific segment of the population while alienating what could potentially be an even larger group.

Tackling the Teachers

Education was certainly an issue for Wallace. His infamous battles with the Federal Government over integration put him on the national spotlight in a time when media was limited to one and a half networks and print media. Despite this limited exposure, Wallace was able to gain national attention which inevitably spurred him on to seek the presidency, not once, not twice, but on three occasions.

DeSantis continued to bully teachers following his insistence on relaxed COVID policies. First, he attacked the LBGTQ community with his bill dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. This prohibited teachers from discussing sexual orientation with students in grades K-4. Elementary teachers pointed out that it wasn’t part of any curriculum, but wondered how they could hold discussions with a child who had gay parents such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

DeSantis later extended the ban to grades K-12, only making exceptions for Sex Education classes taught on the upper levels. Teachers still felt they would have restrictions on what they could and could not discuss in these state mandated classes.

The second issue involved the teaching of Black History. DeSantis had already passed a law, dubbed the Stop Woke Act, that prohibited the teaching of subject matter that might make students uncomfortable. He used this law to force changes in the AP Black History curriculum, which he claimed contained material designed to indoctrinate students with a woke ideology.

When paired together, these two actions caused many libraries to remove books from their shelves, and teachers from their classrooms, until they had been reviewed for appropriate content. So, censorship is alive and well in Florida.

Like many Republican governors, DeSantis has vowed to remove Critical Race Theory from public schools. But first, they will have to find where it exists since it doesn’t appear on any public school curriculum on any level. So, while they can boast that they have indeed eliminated it, this is an empty boast since it was never there in the first place. That won’t stop him from campaigning as a champion of defeating this controversial issue.

DeSantis vs the Mouse that Roared

When George Wallace saw the attention his segregationist policies were bringing him, he took it as a sign that it would play well on the national stage. It didn’t. He ran twice espousing the very notions the rest of the nation sought to undo. He did a complete 180 during his third attempt, embracing integration as if it was his own idea, depending upon a sort of national amnesia to buoy his support. This third run was cut short by an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed for the remainder of his days so we will never know if this about face would have been successful.

In similar fashion, DeSantis is likewise to become a victim of his own popularity in his home state. But, what plays in Florida may not be enough to garner him support on the national stage. While his culture wars may appeal to some, it’s difficult to imagine him getting the same backing nationally.

One of the issues souring his image nationally is his inexplicable choice to take on his home state’s biggest employer, Disney. He is trying to punish the House of Mouse for not supporting his “Don’t Say Gay” agenda. But he’s been outfoxed at every turn, making what is a little goofy having him look like Dumbo. This has his mega donors fading faster than a Cheshire Cat.

First, he is attempting to revoke the very tax breaks that lured Disney to Florida in the first place. This led one of his potential 2024 challengers, Nikki Haley, to offer her home state of South Carolina as an alternative. Also, the revocation could result in tremendous tax burdens for non-Disney properties residing in the same district.

Next, he tried to install his own board of cronies to oversee the day-to-day operations of Disney. Before the board could assume control, Disney established its own irrevocable board, negating the DeSantis appointees.

When DeSantis’s board declared the Disney delegation null and void, they sued him for using his office to advance a personal political agenda. It’s certainly a whole new world when it comes to politics in the Sunshine State.

If DeSantis’s board is allowed to take over, can you imagine what the “new” Disney World would be like? Donald Duck would be forced to wear pants. Mickey and Minnie would be legally married in a Christian ceremony. All roller coaster tracks would be straight. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad would be reopened with its racist Song of the South theme restored. Chip and Dale would be banned due to their alleged homosexuality, or perhaps the reason would be that when their names are combined it sounds like a male dance troupe, which shouldn’t be a problem for Conservatives provide they don’t dress in drag while performing. The chipmunk duo would be replaced by the minstrel blackbirds from Dumbo.

The possibilities are endless!

Yesterday is Today

There are many similarities between George Wallace and Ron DeSantis. However, there is one major difference. While Wallace was a Democrat; one of the aptly named Dixie-crats who would definitely oppose the party’s current Liberal agenda. DeSantis is a Republican, but one of the MAGA Republicans who are far different from their Conservative colleagues. So, in a way, even their differences are similar.

Wallace failed in his bids to become president. DeSantis’s fate is yet unknown. He has yet to announce his candidacy, but most expect it in the coming days. But perhaps he is only using his threat to run as political leverage? He may be withholding his announcement to get a promise of support from other potential nominees in the future.

Whatever the case, it remains to be seen how a return to the policies Wallace once supported will play if DeSantis does run in 2024.

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1 Comment

Mark M. Bello
Mark M. Bello
May 01, 2023

CJ: Interesting comparison with Wallace. With DeInsanetis and Humpty Trumpty, honest Abe Lincoln is rolling over in his grave!

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