Dear Gov. DeSantis,
Let’s talk about principles. Since you studied at Yale and Harvard Law, it’s probably a safe bet that you’re well acquainted with the teachings of some of the world’s greatest thinkers and scholars on the subject.
So tell me, Gov. DeSantis, which principles of freedom and government are guiding you as Florida’s chief executive? I can’t tell.
In your wisdom, you have blocked an African American studies course, bashed free speech and taken aim at a longstanding legal protection for journalists. These steps alone would be enough to rattle the Founding Fathers.
But in another assault, you stepped in to dictate how private corporations and universities handle the topic of diversity, inclusion and equity. Now, following your lead, a Republican legislator has filed a bill that would dramatically gut the teaching of race and gender in higher education.
There is an old saying about politics that you may know. It goes like this: “In politics, there are times to rise above principles.” I was reminded of that tongue-in-cheek expression when I started to tally your unprincipled attacks.
As one who has long been involved in politics and public policy, I have a good understanding of your very shrewd political gamesmanship. Take your gubernatorial primary run against Adam Putnam. Being a darling of Fox News, you sought and secured the endorsement of Donald Trump. You went “Make America Great Again” on the issues to shamelessly appeal to those very right of center.
After winning the primary and then the general election, you inched toward the middle on more moderate issues like the environment. In fact, after your first few months in office, making both Democrats and Republicans nervous, I publicly said you earned praise for your agenda on the environment, the opioid crisis and better funding for public school teachers, foster care and neglected and abused children.
Unfortunately, those days are long gone, and there’s little reason to believe they’ll return. As the iconic poet and writer Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Well, Governor, we know who you really are. From your primary to your recent rather radical diatribe against individual rights, you’ve shown your hand.
Many people have publicly opposed your attacks, calling you out for cold, calculated political moves. Still, you haven’t budged. I propose a different approach, one that may remind you of your school days in New Haven, Connecticut, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I ask you to view these assaults — your assaults — on personal freedom from a principled viewpoint. Consider some of the thinkers you no doubt encountered in your studies and beyond.
Spend your days with Hayes
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Surely, you examined the teachings of 19th-century writer Henry David Thoreau, who famously put forth in “Civil Disobedience” the motto, “That government is best which governs least.”
Or how about Thomas Jefferson, who favored a wise and frugal government. Would Jefferson, a staunch believer in free speech, be OK with what amounts to government censorship?
Looking at more contemporary figures, there’s the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser, author and academician. In fact, you two share a Harvard connection.
Brzezinski’s personal story as the son of a World War II-era Polish diplomat gave him a front-row seat to the dangers and abuse of governmental power. As recently as the George W. Bush administration, Brzezinski warned of the risks of creating a culture of fear.
“Fear,” he wrote, “obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.”
You, Gov. DeSantis, have stoked the fears of your legislative colleagues. With your unremitting attacks on the constitutionally guaranteed personal rights of the governed, you are leading the way to dangerous territory.
Many now implore you to focus on the basic roles of government — to govern the least, to use your bully pulpit for the good of the citizenry, to not invoke the police powers of the state to casually take away our rights.
We further implore you to go back and study those who led the way for such freedoms and cast aside those who would diminish them.
Remember, you are the governor. Not a despot. Not a king. Not the leader of a cabal. Real power, Gov. DeSantis, rests with the people.
Dick Batchelor is an Orlando business consultant and former Florida legislator. He is a Democrat.