DeSantis Weathers a ‘Spasm’ of the Woke

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Photo:

James Taranto

New York

‘Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays Back 50 Years,” read a 2001 headline in the Onion. “The event confirmed the worst fears of thousands of non-gay spectators,” the satire said, “cementing in their minds a debauched and distorted image of gay life straight out of the most virulent right-wing hate literature.”

I thought of this Sunday morning as I arrived for the Tikvah Fund’s Jewish Leadership Conference. Outside, a crowd numbering perhaps two dozen had gathered to protest a planned appearance by Florida’s Gov.

Ron DeSantis.

I snapped photos of them from the back seat of my cab, and they shouted insults at me, some printable (“You’re complicit!”), some not. “You’re a good German,” said a guy holding a preprinted sign reading DeSANTIS IS A TYRANT.

The trigger for their rage was the Sunshine State’s Parental Rights in Education Act—inevitably termed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in propagandistic media reports—which Mr. DeSantis signed in March. The law prohibits “classroom instruction . . . on sexual orientation or gender identity” before the fourth grade and requires that any such teaching of older children be “age-appropriate.”

That made the governor persona non grata at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where Tikvah had planned to hold its event.

Elliott Abrams

and

Eric Cohen

wrote in these pages last month that museum staff told organizers Mr. DeSantis didn’t “align with the museum’s values and its message of inclusivity” and therefore had to be excluded. (In a later statement to the press, the museum said that “no one was banned or cancelled” because “no contract with the Tikvah Fund was ever signed.” The statement also claimed the article “contains many factual inaccuracies” but didn’t specify what they were.)

Tikvah instead rented Pier 60 at the Hudson River waterfront’s Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex. The Chelsea Piers organization came under pressure to cancel too, including from House Judiciary Committee Chairman

Jerrold Nadler,

who tweeted that “it is disgraceful” Mr. DeSantis would be allowed to speak at the venue “during the month in which we celebrate the diversity and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The organization responded in a way guaranteed to make nobody happy: by kowtowing without knuckling under. On Friday it issued a statement both denouncing Mr. DeSantis’s unspecified “abhorrent behavior” and disclaiming the ability to control “the content, program, or speakers” at events organized by its rental customers.

In his wide-ranging 40-minute speech, Mr. DeSantis took the kerfuffle in stride: “When the left’s having a spasm, that just tells you that in Florida, we are winning on the issues that matter.” His knack for bringing out the worst in his political enemies is reminiscent of

Donald Trump,

but with the advantage that the governor doesn’t take it personally.

Chelsea Piers said in its statement that in light of the “enormous stress” Mr. DeSantis had caused in the company and “the LGBTQ+ community,” Chelsea Piers would donate all proceeds from the Tikvah rental to “groups that protect LGBTQ+ communities, and foster and amplify productive debates about LGBTQ+ issues.” That should—but surely won’t—leave out any organization that demanded Mr. DeSantis’s cancellation. Prohibiting one side from defending its views—especially when those views are official policy—makes nonsense of the idea of constructive debate.

Not that there was much appetite for debate among the protesters outside. Walking along the sidewalk after the conference wrapped up, I saw two sexagenarians—a man with a sprawling beard and a woman in a black SILENCE=DEATH T-shirt—following an older conference attendee and screaming at the top of their lungs: “Shame!” “Fascist” “Nazi!” “You spit on the six million!”

It all made the Onion’s “debauched and distorted” gay-pride stereotype seem quaint. A nasty mob targeting a Jewish conference as a Nazi front—a reality in 2022 New York—was beyond a satirist’s imagination two decades ago.

Mr. Taranto is the Journal’s editorial features editor.

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