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Opinion The real reason Lauren Boebert wants to cancel Mickey Mouse

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). (Rod Lamkey/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) (Rod Lamkey/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Everyone is mocking Rep. Lauren Boebert’s buffoonish tweet about Mickey Mouse. On Monday night, the Colorado Republican fired off an implicit threat at Disney, suggesting a GOP-controlled House will block efforts by “woke Disney lobbyists” to “ask Congress to extend Micky Mouse’s trademark.”

Many people quickly pointed out that Boebert misspelled “Mickey,” and misstated how copyright protections get extended. As Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) asked: “Why do Republicans want to cancel Mickey Mouse?”

As it happens, there is a real answer to this question. Embedded in Boebert’s buffoonery is a genuine argument — one that envisions the use of economic policy to realize culture-war ends — and engaging it will better expose the right’s deeper political project and its weaknesses than superficial mockery will.

J.D. Vance recently sent out a similar tweet, railing that “Disney has declared war on America’s children.” In retaliation, Vance argued, we should end “copyright extensions” and other “government handouts” that Disney enjoys.

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Boebert, Vance and others are angry that Disney has come out against Florida’s new law restricting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. They are upset about a leaked video that showed a Disney executive talking about inserting pro-gay material into Disney content. Some have lobbed the vile charge of “grooming” at the Florida law’s critics, Disney included.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill on March 28 that would limit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for many young students. (Video: Reuters)

In response, the culture warriors want the government to rescind all policies that economically privilege Disney. Laura Ingraham insists that for woke companies such as Disney, “everything will be on the table” if Republicans take power.

In a previous piece, I argued that Disney is correct to oppose the law, as it could easily be abused to target LGBT kids and families, and that deploying state power to punish companies for speaking out this way is indefensible. But, on reflection, I think there may be an additional way to engage the right-wing argument.

There is a sympathetic interpretation of their case, as Samuel Hammond of the Niskanen Center points out. I reached out to Hammond because he’s a good interpreter of right-wing populism and also co-author of a comprehensive policy blueprint that argues for an end to various types of corporate rent-seeking.

And “corporate rent-seeking” is what’s at issue here. When the culture warriors call for the nixing of copyright protections and other punitive responses, what they mean is that a company that poisons the minds of the young with “wokeness” should not reap wealth created by government privileges such as copyright protections — that is, from “rents.”

In their view, these government privileges themselves enable corporate “wokeness.” As Hammond points out, the deeper claim here is that, precisely because Disney profits extensively from rents — such as long copyright protections or the government creation of a special district all its own — they are insulated from real-world market pressures and can be “woke” with “impunity.”

“They have a huge moat around them,” Hammond told me.

In the right-wing populist imagination, this enabled Disney to oppose a law that most parents support, and insert pro-gay material into content — while remaining insulated from punishment at the hands of the market via, say, customer boycotts.

And so, these right-wingers see ending such privileges as key to exposing Disney to the harsh realities of actual public opinion about its wokeness. As Hammond put it, this is really an effort to weaken Disney’s economic shield in “the culture war,” making them more vulnerable to customer backlash.

This is what Boebert is really up to in attempting to cancel Mickey Mouse.

There are serious arguments for cutting back on corporate rent-seeking. As that Niskanen blueprint argues, government protections for too-long copyrights and other rents fuel monopoly power, cramp innovation and exacerbate inequality. This idea is also a hallmark of progressive economics.

But, at the same time, this understanding reveals deep flaws in the right-wing argument. If we take Boebert and Vance at face value, they envision ending such protections as an instrumental means to accomplish targeted culture-war ends — aimed at punishing corporations for excessive wokeness — rather than as good economic policy across the board.

Right-wing populists should clarify what they’re calling for. As Hammond framed the question: “Is it a general change in the law, or is it a targeted retaliation at a specific company?”

Of course, Boebert, Vance and other Republicans in their space really do want to weaponize government policies to punish specific offenders. They have threatened punishment against telecom companies that cooperate with the House investigation of the insurrection and against companies in Georgia that condemned the GOP voter suppression law.

So these are often targeted threats and not across-the-board policy. In fact, as my Post colleague Catherine Rampell details, this use of government policy as culture war weapon is spreading to many other areas.

There are other reasons to oppose Boebert and Vance here. They’re wrong about the Florida law. Whatever pro-gay materials are being inserted into Disney content seem unobjectionable.

And, as a separate matter, Disney’s opposition to the law may be driven in part by deep cultural shifts. It may have little to do with insulation due to rents and more to do with the power of social change.

But we should be clearer on what Boebert and her ilk are really arguing for. That’s the way to expose the deeper weaknesses in their case.