Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is now the political face of populist conservative opposition to U.S. COVID-19 policies.
Notably, he signed legislation to prohibit (1) private employer COVID-19 vaccination mandates, (2) government entities from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees, (3) educational institutions from requiring students to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, (4) school districts from requiring face masks for students and teachers, and (5) school districts from quarantining healthy students.
DeSantis has also spoken against the COVID-19 regime on numerous occasions, stating of the above legislation:
I’m signing up for protecting your freedom and making sure we have a society in Florida where people can make the best decisions for themselves and their families. And that’s what we’re doing by protecting against these mandates and making sure that’s done based on what people believe is best for them and their family, not something that is imposed either by government or in some instances by very powerful private entities.
Although some libertarians could quibble, inter alia, with DeSantis’ private employer vaccine prohibition, he has likely achieved more to shield his constituents from the COVID-19 regime than almost any other American politician. For that he deserves praise.
But, like any politician, his record is not without its blemishes. Lest we forget, DeSantis did lock Florida down.
On March 1, 2020, DeSantis declared a so-called “public health emergency” after just two cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Florida. Like other seemingly identical orders across the nation, DeSantis’ Order granted supreme government authority to the Florida State Health Officer to “take any action necessary to protect the public health.” The order directed the Florida Health Department to “actively monitor [read surveill and contact trace] at a minimum, all persons” meeting the CDC’s “Person Under Investigation” definition for a period of at least 14 days. It also permitted the Health Department to forcibly quarantine these individuals.
On March 17, 2020, DeSantis shut down all Florida bars and nightclubs for 30 days and extended school shutdowns. On March 24 and March 27, he issued orders requiring that travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut quarantine for 14 days. The March orders also directed the Florida Department of Transportation to establish highway checkpoints. These checkpoints were enforced by the Florida Highway Patrol in conjunction with the checkpoints’ respective county sheriff’s departments. Violators faced criminal penalties up to and including a $500 fine, no more than 60 days in jail, or both.
On April 29, 2020, DeSantis issued a “Safer At Home” Order, which directed at-risk individuals to stay at home. It also directed “all persons” in Florida to “limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home” to so-called “essential activities.” In commanding its citizens, the order used the obligatory directive “shall.”
Although DeSantis recently lamented his decision to lock Florida down, he nonetheless did. It is not enough to be correct in hindsight, one must be right in the critical moment.
DeSantis does deserve some credit for not locking down Florida as hard as other states, and for, at least rhetorically, deferring to localities in their respective COVID-19 responses. He is equally deserving of praise for his broader pushback against the COVID-19 regime.
The above aside, the danger of government-by-emergency should be noted as the principle tool of excoriating liberty. A willingness to lock Florida down in the first place is not emblematic of a principled stance against these so-called emergency powers.
Given the frightening global lock-step reaction to COVID-19, it admittedly may not be the most prudent time to critique Ron DeSantis. Conversely, he deserves praise for the positive steps he has taken to protect his constituents from the COVID-19 regime.
That said, DeSantis has already demonstrated his course of action in the fog of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. By his actions, he does not fundamentally disagree with the government’s ability to unilaterally seize emergency powers. It is more likely that resisting the COVID-19 regime became the most expedient avenue toward his political goals.
Indeed, neither is DeSantis fundamentally against the government’s power to surveil its subjects’ private medical information. In 2019, he signed into law a requirement that Florida doctors and nurses log all children’s vaccinations into a statewide database.
Like fellow populist Donald Trump, DeSantis also proselytizes the primary COVID-19 ritual. Since their availability, DeSantis has worked hard to market the COVID-19 vaccines to Floridians. In early 2021, he embarked on a vaccine crusade, speaking at vaccination sites across Florida. By April, he was celebrating the state’s success in selling the experimental pharmaceutical products to 7 million residents.
DeSantis is currently heralded as a clear Republican alternative to Donald Trump. In many aspects, he appears primed for a 2024 presidential bid. In this dire political climate, should advocates of liberty actively support DeSantis?
The answer lies in his real reasons for opposing the COVID-19 orthodoxy. Is he convinced by the data? Did he read the populist tea leaves? Either answer is simply not good enough.
As commander-in-chief, would DeSantis maintain his newfound, politically convenient stance against lockdowns? What if a new, more deadly virus emerged?
Further, how would DeSantis respond if a terrorist group released a deadly toxin in a major US city? What would his response be if a “Chinese cyber attack” knocked out the nation’s power grid? What would he do if Black Lives Matter began targeted assassinations across the country?
Would he continue to stand on the side of liberty? Or will voters be treated to more of the same?
As a word of caution, a certain legal doctrine comes to mind.
Caveat emptor. Buyer beware.