No, I don’t care if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis shows up to a disaster wearing white boots evocative of the go-go dancer footwear I adored in junior high school, now sold online as a Halloween costume.
To be sure, knee-high boots over tight jeans was a weird choice of attire for a homophobic-talking man who has gone drag queen-hunting in Miami.
But, hey, at least DeSantis’ tacky Florida man fashion sense, while on a Monday visit to DeSoto County, brought a rare moment of comic relief to the devastation left along Hurricane Ian’s path.
We needed the LOLs and quickly-assembled memes on social media.
No, here’s what I strongly object to: DeSantis’ ill-conceived choice of words — before the hurricane made landfall and now during his daily press conferences and photo-ops — that are more like a campaign than they are informational.
‘Freedom’ over safety
Of course, when it became clear that the hurricane was headed to Florida, he advised people in low-lying areas to evacuate.
But then, he couched the advice with politics. He emphasized that Floridians had the “freedom” not to evacuate, echoing his culture wars and the “Keep Florida Free” campaign signs people have on their lawns.
He would not, he said, mandate anything in the “free” state of Florida.
God knows how many lives that may have cost.
As of this writing, the death toll attributed to Ian stood at 100 across 10 Florida counties, more than half of them in decimated Lee County and its barrier islands.
DeSantis’ penchant for politicizing a disaster when he should be the people’s protector — not the instigator of doubt for personal benefit — is as disgusting as when he did it during the pandemic, urging “freedom” over masks amid a surge in COVID cases that led the nation.
He sows defiance among people who look to him for leadership. He played politics when he should have shown urgency. He played the protagonist and failed to deliver a strong enough message to do the right thing. He should have let the state’s top emergency managers be the voice of authority.
Those who drank his Kool-Aid may have paid with their lives.
And, how foolish does he look now when we sure could use all those “unauthorized aliens” he demonized and shipped to Martha’s Vineyard to help rebuild Southwest Florida?
Every day, this tragedy, too, is another installment of the DeSantis Daily Show, during which he gives little information about damages and lives lost.
Florida newspapers are asking valid questions about evacuation orders in Lee County, where people were given a scant 24 hours to flee before Ian made landfall at 3:05 p.m. in Cayo Costa.
But instead of holding himself and others in charge accountable, the governor resorts to his favorite pastime: bashing the media.
Hurricanes wobble and shift track — and this was a mammoth hurricane aiming right at us for days. As I wrote in my column on Sanibel, when people were leaving late Tuesday night after securing their homes, ocean waters were already rising into low-lying streets and the causeway.
And now we’re not supposed to ask the governor leading the operation or his surrogate local officials questions?
DeSantis tours the damage first, delivers the soundbite that there was “biblical storm surge” in beloved Sanibel, but doesn’t want to give details. He gives the “not now” excuse to avoid answering valid questions — and conveniently criticizes the media for asking them.
As usual, it’s a sign that he’s hiding something and/or covering up for an ally. Eventually, we’ll dig them up ourselves, as we did during COVID.
Leading in crisis
There’s a big difference between leading a state through a crisis and doing what DeSantis does best: playing the cheerleader by paying lip service to the helpers and first responders — the easy stuff, and we all should thank them profusely.
And then there’s the advantageous stuff: using the hurricane to promote himself.
If he weren’t on the campaign trail, he would be visiting DeSoto County to accomplish something other than hand-shaking with his wife in tow. He would have been wearing the jacket with the state logo — as governors do while on official state business — instead of the one he has been sporting Monday with his “DESANTIS” campaign logo.
Small stuff, but it says a lot about DeSantis, who doesn’t need the hijinks as polls consistently show him winning reelection and, thanks to Donald Trump’s fall from grace, he’s an early GOP favorite in the 2024 presidential race.
But this is the self-serving tunnel vision with which he leads Florida.
Hurricane Ian exposed how unreliable our state’s government is. Voters shouldn’t confuse shiny white boots with high performance.