Ron DeSantis Doesn’t Know Whether He’s Coming or Going
"Gail Collins: Bret, about Ron DeSantis. Last week, I criticized him for weenie stuff like big book advances and questionable road repair materials. At the time, I definitely felt like I was carping.
Then his people shared an ad on L.G.B.T.Q. issues that … wow.
Bret Stephens: “Wow” just about covers it.
Gail: It began with a clip of Donald Trump defending gay rights in days of yore, which was very clearly supposed to make viewers … hate Trump. Followed by praise for Florida laws DeSantis signed that “literally threaten trans existence.” Followed by a super-duper weird montage showing men flexing muscles, Brad Pitt in Trojan-warrior garb and Governor Ron with lightning flashes coming out of his eyes.
Pete Buttigieg, who is President Biden’s secretary of transportation and one of the best-known gay figures in politics, rightly pointed out “the strangeness of trying to prove your manhood by putting up a video that splices images of you in between oiled-up, shirtless bodybuilders.”
Bret: I guess my main takeaway is that DeSantis isn’t going to be the next president. He makes Trump seem tolerant, Ted Cruz seem likable, Mitch McConnell seem moderate, Lauren Boebert seem mature and Rick Santorum seem cool. Not what I would have expected out of the Florida governor six months ago, but here’s where I confess: You were right about him, and I was wrong.
Gail: My other takeaway is that Republicans are focusing more on L.G.B.T.Q. issues now that they’ve come to understand that attacking abortion isn’t a national winner — or even a state winner in most places.
In the long run, stomping on gay rights isn’t going to do it either, because such a huge number of people — even conservative Republicans — have friends, family, colleagues who are gay. May take a while to come to grips with that, but once you realize someone you care about is gay, the idea of persecuting them presumably seems way less attractive.
Just recalling how my conservative Catholic mother wound up, in old age, riding on a float in Cincinnati’s Gay Pride parade …
Bret: As you mentioned last year in that wonderful column you wrote about Allen Ginsberg.
Gay bashing is morally intolerable as well as politically inept. But a lot of people — including many Democrats and independents — have honest and serious concerns about some aspects of the trans issue, especially as it concerns the integrity of women’s sports, the morality of drastic medical interventions in teenagers and the anti-scientific denial of basic biology when it comes to questions of sex. I also detest terms like “bodies with vaginas” as a substitute for “women.” It isn’t a sensitive or inclusive use of language; it’s misogynistic and Orwellian.
DeSantis could have addressed these issues in a sober and nuanced way. Instead, he went full Trojan, and I suspect his campaign will meet a similar fate to Troy’s.
Gail: Full Trojan? Just like Brad Pitt in that ad!
Bret: Switching topics, Gail, can we talk about homelessness? The problem just keeps getting worse, particularly out west, and it’s doing real damage to urban life. Your thoughts on what does and does not work?
Gail: What works is pretty simple: more housing and outreach for the mentally ill. Both are difficult, of course, ranging from pretty darned to stupendously.
Bret: What also works are ordinances forbidding “camping” on public lands so that homeless people are required to use shelter beds, which some liberal judges have blocked cities from doing. One of the problems of our public discussion of the issue is that we treat homelessness as a problem of the homeless only. It’s also a public safety issue and a quality-of-life issue. People ought to have a right to walk down urban sidewalks that haven’t been turned into tent cities and open-air toilets.
Gail: New York is still dealing with a flood of new migrants, mainly from Latin America, who have been coming in huge numbers for more than a year. Most of them are ambitious and hopeful, and they could be a great shot to our local economy — if they had permanent places to stay.
Bret: Completely agree. I also think the migrant problem is qualitatively different from the kind of homelessness issues that cities like San Francisco or Portland, Ore., are experiencing. Migrants are struggling with poverty but not, generally, mental health or drug-dependency issues. What migrants typically need is a room and a job.
Gail: Eric Adams, the mayor of New York, has talked about finding some of them homes in the suburbs, where there’s obviously more room and housing prices are sometimes a lot lower. Said suburbs rose up in rage to stop an incursion of needy people. It’s so irritating, although I have to admit that my liberal Manhattan neighborhood — which has plenty of programs for the homeless — consistently rebels against talk of any big new housing projects for any income group.
Your turn …
Bret: I’m skeptical of the theory that we could solve the crisis just by building a lot more housing. First, because we can’t build quickly and cheaply enough to keep up with the growing number of homeless people. Second, because even when the homeless are housed, they often fall back into the kinds of behaviors that ultimately lead them to return to the streets.
My own view is that people living on the street should be required to go into shelters, which can be built much more quickly and cheaply than regular housing, be required to get mental health screenings, and be required to be treated if they have drug or alcohol dependencies.
Gail: Well, if the mental health treatments were great, that might be an argument. But they often aren’t — just because there’s a terrific shortage of personnel.
And the shelters are no picnic either. A lot of the people you see on the street have been, at one time or another, threatened by a mentally troubled co-resident, gotten into a fight as a result of shared emotional problems or in some other way come to feel that living on the street is safer.
Bret: The other big story from last week, Gail, is the ruling by a federal judge that forbade the Biden administration to work with social media companies to remove content it didn’t like, mainly connected to alleged Covid misinformation. What the administration was doing seems to me like a serious infringement on people’s freedom of speech, but I’d like to know your view.
Gail: Gee, I was under the impression one of the jobs of the executive branch was to make sure people were getting the right information about health issues. And it’s not as if the Biden folks marched in and removed a bunch of posts themselves. Conferring with the social media companies seems like something they ought to do.
Bret: One good way of thinking about the issue is putting the shoe on the other foot. For instance, we now know that the Steele dossier was malicious partisan misinformation, secretly and illicitly paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and that some of its most salacious allegations, like the pee-tape stuff, were false. How would you react if you had learned that the Trump administration had been putting heavy pressure on executives at MSNBC to forbid Rachel Maddow from ever mentioning it back when she had her show?
Gail: Hey, it’s hot and humid outside. No fair trying to take me down the Hillary Clinton road. Look — the whole world changed with the advent of social media. If you’ve got influencers with millions of followers warning that, say, giving milk to babies is dangerous, you’ve got to do something more than issue a press release.
Bret: I’m pretty sure we could get the word out that milk is generally fine for babies or vaccines are generally safe, without setting a precedent that the federal government can work with Big Tech to censor individual speech.
Gail: Of course I agree with you about freedom of expression. But in the process of protecting it, it’s natural to argue about specific cases with particular details. We will pursue this again soon. Well, forever probably.
But let me be boring for a second and ask you about Congress. Just got through that deficit crisis, and another one will be coming around the bend this summer. What’s your long-term advice? Spend less? Tax more? Ignore the whole thing and figure it’ll work out somehow like it always does?
Bret: My advice: Talk less, smile more. Seriously, what we need from Congress and the president is to get through the next 18 months without another manufactured domestic crisis. Between the war in Ukraine, Iran’s creeping nuclearization and China’s saber-rattling over Taiwan, we have more than enough to worry about abroad.
Gail: Hmm. One writer’s manufactured domestic crisis is maybe another’s reasonable disagreement. And while Congress isn’t always fascinating, it’s at the top of the critical-if-possibly-boring ladder.
Bret: Before we go, Gail, I have to put in a word for Penelope Green’s funny, fabulous obituary in The Times of Sue Johanson, a Canadian sex educator who died last month at 92. It has the single most memorable paragraph to appear in the paper for at least a month, if not a year. I have to quote it in full:
Is it weird to put body glitter on your boyfriend’s testicles? Is it safe to have sex in a hot tub? Could a Ziploc baggie serve as a condom? If condoms are left in a car and they freeze, are they still good? Answers: No. No (chlorinated water is too harsh for genitals, particularly women’s). Definitely not. And yes, once they’ve been defrosted.
I mean, after that, what else is there to say?
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Bret Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. Facebook"