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Opinion ‘Cocaine Bear’ and ‘The Courage to Be Free’ by Ron DeSantis: A review

At left, a scene from "Cocaine Bear," directed by Elizabeth Banks. At right, the cover of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's book, "The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.” (Universal Pictures/AP; Joe Raedle/Getty images)
5 min

This past week has brought the debut of both “Cocaine Bear,” a movie about a bear that does cocaine, and “The Courage to Be Free,” a book by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Readers, I understand that your time is valuable. You no doubt want to know what both of these are about and whether they are worth your effort. Well, I will tell you — side by side, for your maximum convenience.

What is the plot?

“Cocaine Bear”: A bear does cocaine, and a group of people have to fight that bear.

“The Courage to Be Free”: God only knows. Here are some chapter titles, to give you an idea of the reading experience: “The Magic Kingdom of Woke Corporatism.” “The Liberal Elite’s Praetorian Guard.” “Power in a Post-Constitutional Order.”

After a few stories about Little League, DeSantis’s time at Yale, meeting his future wife, and his years in Congress, any glimmer of a human through-line vanishes. DeSantis is elected governor and tells his last Humanizing Anecdote: a confusing story about having obtained bottles of water from the Sea of Galilee with which to baptize his children, then having them thrown away by cleaning staff at the governor’s mansion, then being sent more Sea of Galilee water, which he kept on his desk until it was time to baptize his third child. (This story makes Ted Cruz’s anecdote about buying his wife 100 unwanted cans of soup as a post-wedding gift seem almost relatable!) But odd and off-putting as that anecdote is, in the dozens of pages that follow you begin to long for anything resembling it, anything that would indicate that the book was written by a human being. Instead, you get sentences like “In Florida, we recognized the implications of the ESG movement on both policy and constitutional accountability by prohibiting the state’s pension fund managers from using ESG criteria when making investment decisions.”

Post review of 'Cocaine Bear': Does a bear snort in the woods?

Who are the characters?

“Cocaine Bear”: “Cocaine Bear” is full of wonderful, easy-to-grasp characters! I loved them all. Actress Margo Martindale has a scene-stealing turn as a flirty park ranger who is a very bad shot. The late Ray Liotta is great as a drug kingpin, ringleader of the Bluegrass Conspiracy! Alden Ehrenreich delighted me as Liotta’s grieving son! Isiah Whitlock Jr. was a treat! Of course, it is sad when the bear gets the characters, but they are very fun to watch. I rooted for them or against them and for the bear exactly as the movie demanded.

“The Courage to Be Free”: The only character is Ron DeSantis. He has a wife and children and some other acquaintances whom he describes as having shown up to give speeches on his behalf to thunderous applause (there is something strange about describing how much applause people got for complimenting you at your own campaign rallies). DeSantis gives little indication of his personality, other than that he feels he invariably knows the right thing to do in all situations, though he does include the self-deprecating aside that “for me, I rejected the idea that I would strike a balance between academic achievement and athletic success, because I was not willing to give less than 100 percent to either baseball or my academics.”

Post review of 'The Courage to Be Free': Ron DeSantis's scorn-filled book sets the tone for a potential campaign

Is the writing good?

“Cocaine Bear” includes such lines as “An apex predator ... high on cocaine ... and you’re headed right towards it” and “The bear! It f---ing did cocaine.”

“The Courage to Be Free” includes such lines as “The failure to robustly wield authority permits the unaccountable leviathan to metastasize.” (This is a description of the federal government.)

Is it scary?

“Cocaine Bear”: I would say it is more gory than scary. I laughed often.

“The Courage to Be Free”: It is terrifying! The writing almost lulls you to sleep. (“At the end of the day, the re-mooring of the constitutional ship of state will provide the needed foundation for the reinvigoration of a society rooted in freedom, justice, and the rule of law.”) But then you jerk awake realizing that Ron DeSantis has just said, in the most convoluted way possible, that the Constitution has already lapsed and he is thus justified in imposing his will on the people because he is right and they will thank him for it! Not to mention how blithely he suggests that his state’s response to covid-19 was an unqualified success.

Who does it want us to root against?

“Cocaine Bear”: I guess we are supposed to be rooting for the people? The bear bites a guy’s leg off! But it is hard not to root for Cocaine Bear, a bear who has done cocaine.

“The Courage to Be Free”: Ron DeSantis has two enemies: anyone who disagrees with him (this includes the Elite, the media, Disney, the federal government and countless others) and the word “was.” He hunts down all instances of the verb “to be” and replaces them, mercilessly, with the verb “represent.” (“Yale represented such a serious culture shock for me,” “the people there represented the salt of the earth,” “this leftism also represented a morality play,” “as communities in the Navy go, the SEALs represented the top of the heap,” “The victory represented a vindication for the idea that hard work pays off,” “passing major legislation without majority support in the majority party represented political malpractice.”) This is not even ALL of them. I genuinely think this could be a replace-all situation.

What kind of things would you text your friends while you consumed it?

“Cocaine Bear”: “cocaine bear is phenomenal”

“The Courage to Be Free”: “This book will never end. Yet is somehow only 262 pages long.”

“It’s no cocaine bear.”