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Gov. Ron DeSantis Is Trying To Clean Up His Book-Banning History

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a South Carolina event while holding his own book, “The Courage to Be Free,” which isn’t on the banned list.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a South Carolina event while holding his own book, “The Courage to Be Free,” which isn’t on the banned list. Sean Rayford via Getty Images

Tempting as it is to want to completely ignore the charmless curmudgeon that is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, we should not ignore his slight omission that his “book ban” campaign has gone too far.

DeSantis, at a Feb. 15 news conference, supported a state House proposal designed to limit what he called “bad-faith objections” to various school library books and instructional materials. He said these objections were an abuse of the process, performed to “score cheap political points.”

“We obviously have to give parents the ability to be able to ensure that this smut doesn’t get into their schools,” the Republican governor said.

But he noted: “Although we like people wanting to be involved in what’s going on, to just show up and object to every single book under the sun, that is not an appropriate situation here, and we have seen that occasionally.”

Florida reportedly logged 1,218 book objections during the 2022-2023 fiscal year, resulting in the removal of 386 books ― often titles that are very Black, hella gay, pro-trans, and/or anti-slavery and anti-segregation. 

Despite his call for the Florida Legislature to “fine-tune the process” to prevent what he described as activists saddling school districts with unnecessary work, he continued to argue that the mashup of bills and state education department policy that effectively allowed for the banning of books was not a book ban bill ― saying that was a “false narrative.”

“A lot of the things that people say in the media that were, quote, ‘objected to’ were actually on the summer reading list of the Florida Department of Education, so this is all a big fraud,” DeSantis claimed at the news conference.

He added, “No district in Florida has removed any dictionaries or thesauruses.”

That’s not true, though.

It is unsurprising that a man who launched a 2024 presidential campaign built on the theme that God directly called on him to run can’t admit fault, but nonetheless, these comments are an acknowledgment that his bill, HB 1069, in its original form is not working.

This tacit admission from DeSantis is likely rooted in his ongoing delusions of one day becoming president. 

As reported by ABC News days before DeSantis spoke out, a source close to him confirmed that he had privately expressed interest in running for president again as early as 2028.

And multiple other people close to him added that he plans to keep a small political team around him.

How much money will DeSantis waste on consultants to lie to him that he still has a shot at becoming president of the United States someday before he ultimately accepts that the only DeSantis in his house with any shot at moving into the White House to launch their white Christian nationalist remix of the Kennedy dynasty is his wife?

Who knows, but while I’m not often in the habit of saving boring bigots money, I have some free game for the failed presidential contender: You cannot run away from your own policies that easily.

After all, it was only in 2022 when DeSantis, along with his political adviser Christopher Rufo, best known for launching a campaign against the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools (spoiler: it never has been), were already exploiting LGBTQ biases when they decided to pivot and exploit racial animus for political gain next with legislation like the “Stop WOKE Act.”

Much like the made-up beef about critical race theory to limit discussion of racial history and identity in schools and workplaces, DeSantis, Rufo and other conservative activists like them stoked fear about queer and trans people under the false pretense of parental control.

As The New Yorker’sBenjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in “The Political Strategy of Ron DeSantis’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill” at the time: “In American politics, ideology is often a smoke screen for individual ambition.” 

DeSantis wanted to usurp former President Donald Trump as the leader of the Republican Party and used Black history and LGBTQ people as his answer to Trump’s racist ramblings about Mexicans coming across the border to be predators. 

With DeSantis, queer and trans people were the predators — purposely maligning them as “groomers” and repeatedly arguing that parents “should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old.” 

In the small minds of men like Ron DeSantis, you can’t discuss a non-heterosexual person without immediately thinking of their sexual acts.

But let him tell it, and anyone who didn’t support his homophobic and transphobic legislation based on that dumb, creepy premise were alleged to be complicit in pedophilia. 

It’s exactly how he maligned Disney over its objections to all of his anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation before then punishing them from the Governor’s Mansion. 

His campaign was pretty homophobic in tone at times, too.

None of these stunts resulted in the same level of success for DeSantis as Trump achieved in 2016, but while DeSantis may want to forget a lot about the last two years of his life ― chasing what proved to be a humiliating defeat in the GOP primary, dropping out on Jan. 21 ― the rest of us should not let him. 

Whereas DeSantis failed in the primary, he succeeded in inspiring the entire Republican Party to not only target minority authors but also teachers, librarians and others who promote literacy without biased restrictions.

Take West Virginia, where the House of Delegates just votedon a bill to allow the prosecution of librarians.

But now, as he apparently considers another presidential run, Ron DeSantis wants to act like the level-headed man behind the mess he’s responsible for making. 

It doesn’t work that way, Meatball.

His book ban bill is not a “false narrative” but an accurate description of a despicable policy that should hang around his neck for the rest of his life.