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The problem with the congressional GOP’s antagonism toward Disney

It’s not just Florida Republicans who are ready to punish Disney for daring to make politically inconvenient criticisms: The congressional GOP agrees.


Rep. Lauren Boebert tried to send a rhetorical shot across Disney’s bow this week, though she struggled a bit with the details. “Next year, the woke Disney lobbyists will ask Congress to extend Micky Mouse’s trademark,” the Colorado Republican wrote on Twitter. “I think not.”

Boebert misspelled the character’s name — it’s Mickey Mouse, not Micky Mouse — and Disney’s interest relates to copyrights, not trademarks, but details aside, the far-right congresswoman was referencing a looming political fight that’s likely to be quite contentious.

National Review, a leading conservative magazine, published this report yesterday.

Disney’s copyright on its signature Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse — from the 1928 short film of the same name — is set to expire on January 1, 2024.... In the past, both the company and legislature have sprung into action to keep the depiction out of the public domain. This time, it might be more difficult to secure such an extension.

The article noted that in recent decades, Disney lobbyists have successfully secured a couple of copyrights extensions, including an 1998 effort that was so uncontroversial on Capitol Hill that it cleared both chambers of the Republican-led Congress on voice votes, and was signed into law by a Democratic president.

But, the report added, “There is little chance that a third extension will pass so smoothly, as several prominent Republicans, who will in all likelihood find themselves in the majority in both houses of Congress after the midterms, tell National Review that they would oppose such a measure.”

It is not because GOP lawmakers have suddenly discovered deeply held concerns over copyright extensions as they relate to intellectual property law. On the contrary, the resistance is the result of the Republicans’ culture war — and the degree to which they see Disney as an opponent in the larger social conflict.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, for example, told National Review that Disney “seems to now have given in to the woke mob.”

There’s no great mystery as to how congressional conservatives have arrived at such a conclusion. Florida Republicans approved what some have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” policy, and Disney — a major force in the Sunshine State — eventually criticized the GOP’s anti-LGBTQ measure.

As MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones explained, Florida Republicans and their allies wasted no time making plans to retaliate against the company for daring to say something uncomplimentary. In fact, as GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said the company’s criticism “crossed the line,” Republican policymakers in the state announced plans to re-evaluate Disney’s special corporate benefits in Florida.

Now, evidently, such attitudes have spread from Tallahassee to Washington, D.C. Even Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — who’d be ordinarily expected to side with one of his home state’s biggest companies — condemned Disney’s leadership for engaging in “radical activism.”

To the extent that reality matters, that’s not what Disney did. The so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law is a regressive policy that’s tough to defend on the merits. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explained as the measure worked its way through the GOP-led state legislature, the proposal “uses intentionally vague language to outlaw a huge amount of speech about LGBTQ people, families, and issues — not just sex — in every grade. And it relies upon a vigilante enforcement mechanism to chill an even broader amount of speech by subjecting violators to humiliating investigations and ruinous lawsuits.”

If anyone is guilty of “radical activism,” it’s the measure’s proponents, not its critics.

But for Republicans, Disney has an obligation not to criticize anything the GOP does — and because the corporate giant fell out of line, it must now be punished.

In case this isn’t obvious, there’s ample room for a spirited debate over how policymakers approach copyright extensions and special corporate benefits. To have concerns about how Republicans are approaching these issues is not to say that Disney or any other private-sector giant somehow deserves lucrative breaks from politicians.

What matters in this instance, however, is the brazen perversion of the GOP’s free-market principles. This is a case in which a political party wants to selectively punish a specific business because it had the audacity to say something unflattering about anti-LGBTQ politicians. Republicans would’ve been perfectly content giving Disney what it wanted, but after the corporation hurt GOP officials’ feelings, it’s apparently time for retaliatory measures — in part to punish Disney, and in part to send a message to other corporations that might be tempted to say things Republicans don’t like.

The larger significance of such a posture is important shift in the party’s tactics. As The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell explained in a recent column, “The GOP no longer argues that free markets, rather than government, should choose ‘winners and losers.’ In today’s Republican Party, the primary economic role of the state is not to get out of the way. It is, instead, to reward friends and crush political enemies.”

Quite right. As we’ve discussed, what we’re witnessing isn’t a change in Republican Party orthodoxy related to the free market, but rather, a corruption of that orthodoxy. Prominent GOP officials want corporate partners, so long as they’re silent partners.

Those who fall out of line, and dare to express societal opinions that Republicans find inconvenient, should expect adverse governmental consequences.

There is no subtlety to any of this. A prime-time Fox News host told viewers last week that the next time the GOP is in the majority, companies such as Disney should expect the government to retaliate against them.

The power of the state will serve as an extension of the Republican Party’s cultural grievances, and businesses whose opinions are deemed unacceptable will be punished accordingly. Corporate giants that appear “woke” should expect to be bullied into submission by those controlling the levers of governmental power.

The significance has little to do with Disney and everything to with the party’s embrace of authoritarian tactics.