The conflict in Florida between the Walt Disney Company and Governor DeSantis appears to have ended. After two years of rhetorical and legal skirmishing, a settlement agreement between Disney and DeSantis’s allies was struck in late March 2024 to end the litigation.1

The dispute started with DeSantis’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, HB 1557, signed into law in March 2022.2 The bill was highly controversial for prohibiting certain “classroom instruction” on “sexual orientation” in tax-funded schools and became widely known by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill (despite never using the word “gay” and, thus, being just as accurately describable as a “don’t say straight” bill).3

According to the New York Times, the following sentence led critics to produce the “don’t say gay” nickname: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”4 Widespread unsubstantiated claims that the bill prohibited such things as family photos on teachers’ desks and casual discussions of teachers’ romantic partnerships seems to have contributed to the broader adoption of the “don’t say gay” label.5

When the Walt Disney Company began publicly criticizing the bill as harmful to LGBTQ+ people, DeSantis sought retaliation. Since 1967, when it made a special deal with Florida’s state legislature, Disney had enjoyed relative self-governance in a special tax district called the Reedy Creek Improvement. This was DeSantis’s attack vector. Under the guise of giving corporations equal treatment, he sought to dissolve the special district so that a floodgate of taxes and regulations would be opened on Disney.

As interesting as are the questions of the legitimacy of DeSantis’s bill and of Disney’s response to it, these are not our focus here. These details are merely the background of the conflict that was about to erupt, one that would reveal something important about today’s conservative thought leaders.

Many of America’s most popular conservatives have defended DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney and supported his opposition to the company’s “woke” messaging. In doing so, they have demonstrated their willingness to invoke the leftist doctrine of egalitarianism.

The Self-Governance of Disney

The Walt Disney Company’s 1967 deal with Florida’s state legislature created a special district of about twenty-five thousand acres, all of which was reportedly swamp land at the time.6 It was in an area of Orange and Osceola counties so remote and secluded that the nearest power and water lines were ten to fifteen miles away. The deal empowered Disney to govern the district—legally called The Reedy Creek Improvement District—with substantial autonomy. . . .

There is no free-market defense of @RonDeSantis’s assault on @Disney. The idea that he and other conservatives are crusading in defense of freedom and capitalism is a fairy tale on the order of a Disney classic.
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1. “Disney and DeSantis Allies End Legal Dispute over Control of Theme Park,” BBC, March 27, 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-68675795.

2. Jaclyn Diaz, “Florida’s Governor Signs Controversial Law Opponents Dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay,’” NPR, March 28, 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/03/28/1089221657/dont-say-gay-florida-desantis; “CS/CS/HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education,” Florida Senate, July 1, 2022, https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557/?Tab=BillHistory.

3. Valerie Strauss, “Florida Law Limiting LGBTQ Discussions Takes Effect—and Rocks Schools,” Washington Post, July 1, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/07/01/dont-say-gay-florida-law/.

4. Amelia Nierenberg, “What Does ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Actually Say?,” New York Times, March 23, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/us/what-does-dont-say-gay-actually-say.html.

5. Strauss, “Florida Law Limiting LGBTQ Discussions Takes Effect.”

6. Jason Garcia, “Disney’s Reedy Creek Government Has Rare Board Vacancy, But Don’t Bother Running,” Orlando Sentinel, August 6, 2021, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2011/05/09/disneys-reedy-creek-government-has-rare-board-vacancy-but-dont-bother-running/.

7. Michelle Marchante and Howard Cohen, “Florida’s Disney World Has Its Own Government? How Reedy Creek Works, and What’s Next,” Miami Herald, April 21, 2022, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article260547127.html.

8. Garcia, “Disney’s Reedy Creek Government Has Rare Board Vacancy.”

9. “What Is the Special District at the Heart of Disney’s Feud with Ron DeSantis?,” The Economist, May 1, 2023, https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2023/05/01/what-is-the-special-district-at-the-heart-of-disneys-feud-with-ron-desantis.

10. Alison Durkee, “DeSantis Now Controls Disney World’s Special District—Here’s What That Means,” Forbes, February 28, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2023/02/27/desantis-now-controls-disney-worlds-special-district-heres-what-that-means/?sh=786d79fc3e37; Sandra Pedicini, “Walt Disney World’s City Residents Help Keep Resort Running,” Orlando Sentinel, April 24, 2019, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2015/05/23/walt-disney-worlds-city-residents-help-keep-resort-running/.

11. Marchante and Cohen, “Florida’s Disney World Has Its Own Government?”

12. Tim Craig, “DeSantis Stirs Up Opposition in Florida Town Built by Disney,” Washington Post, April 29, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/04/29/desantis-disney-lawsuit-celebration-florida/.

13. Pedicini, “Walt Disney World’s City Residents Help Keep Resort Running.”

14. Robert Iger (@RobertIger), “I’m with the President on This! If Passed, This Bill Will Put Vulnerable, Young LGBTQ People in Jeopardy,” Twitter, February 24, 2022, https://twitter.com/RobertIger/status/1497064238145171458.

15. Aaron Gregg, “A Timeline of the DeSantis-Disney Feud,” Washington Post, September 8, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/04/30/disney-desantis-feud-timeline/.

16. “Statement from the Walt Disney Company on Signing of Florida Legislation,” Walt Disney Company, March 28, 2022, https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/statement-from-the-walt-disney-company-on-signing-of-florida-legislation/.

17. Lori Rozsa, Tim Craig, and Hannah Sampson, “Florida Legislature Passes Bill Repealing Disney Special Tax Status,” Washington Post, April 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/04/21/florida-legislature-passes-bill-repealing-disneys-special-tax-status/.

18. Lori Rozsa, “Florida Lawmakers Greenlight DeSantis Takeover of Disney’s Special Tax District,” Washington Post, February 10, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/02/10/florida-desantis-disney-takeover-migrants/.

19. Robin Burks, “UPDATE: What We Know about Disney World’s Reedy Creek Dissolution,” Disney Food Blog, July 17, 2022, https://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2022/07/17/everything-we-know-about-disney-worlds-reedy-creek-dissolution/.

20. Rozsa, “Florida Lawmakers Greenlight DeSantis Takeover of Disney’s Special Tax District”; Gregg, “A Timeline of the DeSantis-Disney Feud.”

21. Rozsa, “Florida Lawmakers Greenlight DeSantis Takeover of Disney’s Special Tax District.”

22. Aaron Gregg, Lori Rozsa and Bryan Pietsch, “Disney Quietly Dodged DeSantis’s Oversight Board, Appointees Realize,” Washington Post, March 30, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/03/30/desantis-disney-world-board-loophole/.

23. Sarah Whitten, “Disney Blocks Ron DeSantis’ Florida Power Play with a Royal Family Clause,” CNBC, March 30, 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/03/30/disney-ron-desantis-royal-lives-clause.html.

24. Gregg, “A Timeline of the DeSantis-Disney feud.”

25. Todd C. Frankel and Lori Rozsa, “DeSantis Might Have Met His Match in Disney’s Iger as Both Sides Dig In,” Washington Post, May 15, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/05/15/desantis-disney-iger-power/; Aaron Gregg and Lori Rozsa, “Disney Sues Gov. Ron DeSantis, Alleging Political Retaliation,” Washington Post, April 26, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/04/26/desantis-disney-lawsuit/.

26. Lori Rozsa, “DeSantis’s Board Countersues Disney, Accusing Company of ‘Backroom Deal,’” Washington Post, May 1, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/05/01/disney-lawsuit-desantis/.

27. Rob Wile, “Disney Files Appeal after Federal Judge Dismissed Its Lawsuit against DeSantis,” CNBC, January 31, 2024, https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/disney-lawsuit-against-desantis-dismissed-why-explainer-rcna136622.

28. Gary Fineout, “Federal Judge Throws Out Disney’s Lawsuit against DeSantis,” Politico, January 31, 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/01/31/federal-judge-throws-out-disneys-lawsuit-against-desantis-00138852.

29. “Disney and DeSantis Allies End Legal Dispute over Control of Theme Park.”

30. Kimberly Leonard, “The Disney-DeSantis Détente Is Here,” Politico, March 27, 2024, https://www.politico.com/news/2024/03/27/disney-world-desantis-fight-00149320.

31. Lori Rozsa, “DeSantis’s Controversial Disney Board Tries to Move Past Its Bumpy Start,” Washington Post, September 28, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/09/28/disney-florida-desantis-feud-lawsuits/.

32. “Egalitarianism,” Merriam-Webster, accessed April 17, 2024, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/egalitarianism.

33. Adam Hayes, “Laffer Curve: History and Critique,” Investopedia, February 16, 2023, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/laffercurve.asp#.

34. Gerald Prante, “Obama and Gibson Capital Gains Tax Exchange,” Tax Foundation, April 17, 2008, https://taxfoundation.org/blog/obama-and-gibson-capital-gains-tax-exchange/.

35. Lauren F. Landsburg, “Comparative Advantage,” Econlib, accessed April 17, 2024, https://www.econlib.org/library/Topics/Details/comparativeadvantage.html.

36. Anne Applebaum, “Holodomor,” Britannica, March 29, 2024, https://www.britannica.com/event/Holodomor; Mao Yushi, “Lessons from China’s Great Famine,” Cato Journal 34, no. 3 (Fall 2014): 483–90, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/2014/9/cj34n3-2.pdf.

37. Ben Shapiro, “Ben Shapiro Answers Popular Internet Questions about Him!,” YouTube, April 3, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRrvoOSJZ-U&ab_channel=BenShapiro; Ben Shapiro, “Ben Shapiro LIVE Q&A,” YouTube, November 29, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzXfg1sMiA0&t=1585s&ab_channel=BenShapiro.

38. Ben Shapiro, “Ep. 171—The Most Vomit-Inducing Event of the Year,” Ben Shapiro Show (Daily Wire, May 1, 2023), https://www.dailywire.com/episode/ep-1717-the-most-vomit-inducing-event-of-the-year; Ben Shapiro, “Ep. 1731—The Woke Disney Empire Strikes Back,” Ben Shapiro Show (Daily Wire, May 19, 2023), https://www.dailywire.com/episode/ep-1731-the-woke-disney-empire-strikes-back; Ben Shapiro, “Ep. 1735—The Debt Ceiling Bill Explained,” Ben Shapiro Show (Daily Wire, May 30, 2023), https://www.dailywire.com/episode/ep-1735-the-debt-ceiling-bill-explained8.

39. Trip Gabriel, “He Fuels the Right’s Cultural Fires (and Spreads Them to Florida),” Washington Post, April 24, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/24/us/politics/christopher-rufo-crt-lgbtq-florida.html; Ben Shapiro, “Ep. 141—Chris Rufo,” Sunday Special (Daily Wire, September 2, 2023), https://www.dailywire.com/episode/ep-141-chris-rufo.

40. Fox News, “Tucker: This Will Cost the Disney Corporation a Ton of Money,” YouTube, April 22, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fr1JdUXLWUo&ab_channel=FoxNews.

41. Fox News, “DeSantis Responds to Critics after Signing Bill Ending Disney Autonomy,” YouTube, April 22, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-ZgrIt2KUs&ab_channel=FoxNews.

42. Fox News, “Ron DeSantis: Florida Has Become the Focus Point of Freedom,” YouTube, February 27, 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RGFjEYVPJY&ab_channel=FoxNews.

43. Frankel and Rozsa, “DeSantis Might Have Met His Match in Disney’s Iger as Both Sides Dig In.”

44. Josh Christenson, “DeSantis-Picked Board Slams Disney’s Tax Perks: ‘Corporate Cronyism,’” New York Post, December 4, 2023, https://nypost.com/2023/12/04/news/desantis-board-slams-disneys-tax-perks-corporate-cronyism/.

45. Florida’s Voice (@FLVoiceNews), “WATCH: FL State Rep. Spencer Roach (@SpencerRoachFL), a Pioneer of Dismantling Disney’s Self-Governing Powers, Says Disney’s Special Privileges Violate the Free Market,” Twitter, April 19, 2022, https://twitter.com/RobertIger/status/1497064238145171458.

46. William McGurn, “For Obama, Taxes Are About Fairness,” Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2008, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB121910117767951201; Richard W. Rahn, “Obama’s Odd Sense of Fairness,” Cato Institute, January 30, 2012, https://www.cato.org/commentary/obamas-odd-sense-fairness.

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