In remarks to a Democratic National Committee fundraiser on Wednesday, Biden took aim at “MAGA Republicans,” as he and other Democrats try to shift the focus on the extreme wing of the rival party.
The president cited Florida’s new parental rights law – which opponents have dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill – which prohibits K-3 teachers from classroom instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity. After The Walt Disney Co. announced its opposition to the legislation, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis led an effort to strip Walt Disney World of a special tax district that has allowed the company self-governance over things like land use and infrastructure.
Biden, though, put the targeting of Disney in context with other efforts in states to ban certain books from school libraries.
“Did you ever think we’d be in a position in the year 2022 – we’d be talking about banning books in schools? …What’s going to happen to a gay child, an L[G]BTQ child in school? I mean, this thing. It’s one thing to take on Disney World. They’re going to storm Cinderella’s castle before this is over.”
Biden added, “If I told you these things, I think you’d think I was crazy.” He then deadpanned, “You may think I’m crazy anyway, but…”
Disney has not commented on the GOP attacks and, as perhaps a measure of their impact (or lack of impact) on the company’s bottom line, no Wall Street analysts raised questions about them on the corporate earnings call on Wednesday afternoon.
But as midterm campaigns heat up, and Republican contenders look to the 2024 presidential race, a focus on Disney can draw attention. That’s what happened this week when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced legislation that would reverse Disney’s copyright protections.
Unlike DeSantis’ effort to sanction Disney in Florida, Hawley’s bill stands little chance of passage and likely would raise constitutional challenges, but Hawley’s focus was on punishing Disney for, in his words, going “woke,” even if it is an attack on the private sector. Hawley wrote in a FoxNews.com op ed, “As Disney doubles down on its hostility to American values, it’s time to start paring those protections back.”
That’s a contrast to how the company was viewed by Ronald Reagan. A year after leaving office, Reagan appeared at the 35th anniversary of Disneyland and praised the theme park for exemplifying “the essence of the American spirit.” Even Hawley acknowledged that Republicans were “ostensibly business friendly.”
The attacks on Disney come as corporations in general, often with pressure from employees, have been more willing to weigh in on divisive social issues. When it comes to LGBTQ rights, the threat of corporate boycotts helped stop a more onerous religious freedom bill from implementation in Indiana in 2015 and helped convince the Republican governor of Georgia to veto a religious liberty bill in 2016.
With the Supreme Court potentially poised to overturn Roe V. Wade, the pressure may be even greater on companies to speak out or take mitigating action as waves of states implement or pass bans on abortion. Hawley’s message, and that of a number of other Republicans, is that corporations should stay quiet.