By Jonathon Van Maren
On March 11, the subject of discussion on Bill Maher’s HBO guest panel was the story that had progressives across America shrieking and rending their garments: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by LGBT activists and their media supporters. The law merely restricted teachers from discussing LGBT issues in kindergarten through Grade 3, but progressives insisted that this was an attack on the very existence of LGBT people. The guests obviously assumed that this was the narrative they would be adhering to. But as it turned out, Bill Maher had actually read the bill.
“I was reading about it today,” Maher said. “If people don’t know, this is something DeSantis is about to sign. I guess it’s a reaction to Republicans who feel there’s too much [sex] talk in lower grades. They’re [only] talking kindergarten to third grade, so we’re talking about very young kids who, you know, as always with this stuff, you know this. It’s not like there’s no kernel of truth in that maybe kids that young shouldn’t be thinking about sex at all. I don’t think it’s specific. It’s not like you’re not allowed to literally not say gay, but they just don’t want teachers talking about it. They think it’s the province of parents. What do you think?”
The audience applauded, and Frank Bruni—a gay rights activist who works for the New York Times—stumbled. “I mean, that sounds reasonable on the face of it. I mean, I’m not…I’m not…My main concern, as a gay man who advocates for gay rights, is not that second-graders know who Harvey Milk is. That is not the key to LGBTQ equality. But I mean, I also question, I mean, does this really need to be at the top of these politicians’ lists?” Surprisingly, however, Maher agreed—and then doubled down on his previous point. Reading aloud from a CNN report, he noted that LGBT activists were concerned about kids “being outed to their parents.”
He looked up. “See, that phrase struck me as odd. Outed to parents? Shouldn’t parents know everything anyway?” Again, Maher’s comment was met with applause. Bruni was profoundly uncomfortable at this point. Maher continued: “In California, the school has more rights than the parent.” Bruni, shifting: “Well, that’s not right. That’s not right.” Maher: “Okay, great. That’s not how everybody feels out here. ‘We need to protect the student from parents with the school.’” Bruni, shaking his head: “Yeah, that’s a political winner.” Maher: “Well you should live out here for awhile. You’ll see some crazy shit.”
When renowned atheist, hedonist, and liberal Bill Maher is defending parental rights on late-night TV to a gay rights activist columnist who works for the New York Times, it is a sign that maybe—just maybe—progressives have overplayed their hand. In their zeal to separate children from their parents and enforce LGBT indoctrination in every public school in America, they’ve forgotten that plenty of parents—and ordinary Americans—who don’t really care about the definition of marriage care very much about what their children are taught in school.
The numbers back this up. First, there’s a recent poll showing that Americans prefer the GOP to Democrats on the education file by a margin of 47% to 44%–a modest 3% advantage that promptly balloons to 9% for American parents and 10% with non-white voters (Hispanics generally aren’t enthused by Drag Queen Storytime). Prior to the pandemic, Democrats were beating the GOP by double digits. It turns out that as parents came face to face with what their children were learning, many of them were appalled. A nonstop drip of stories from activists like Christopher Rufo and Libs of TikTok ensures that progressives cannot simply dismiss these depravities as one-offs. Every time educators insist that they have no idea how a drag queen stripper ended up at the student event, four new videos of similar debaucheries are released. The Internet is everywhere.
Issues like these are transforming America’s political landscape. Traditional alliances—such as the fusionism that brought Big Business and social conservatives together—are collapsing, and new battle lines are being drawn in the culture wars. One of the best explanations for this was offered a couple of years ago by Matthew Schmitz in his essay “The Woke and the Un-Woke.” An excerpt:
An overlooked aspect in the now crowded conversation around the rise of “wokeness” is its potential to transform a decades old pattern of cultural and political divisions in America. As secular progressivism becomes more zealous and evangelical, trampling over traditional American notions of limited governance and tolerance, it may be drawing together common enemies.
Catholic traditionalists, Orthodox Jews, middle American small-business owners, and skeptical liberal atheists may not seem to have much in common, yet each group is threatened by the hegemonic power of progressive ideology. As a consequence, the defining fault line in American politics may no longer be between left and right. The relevant division now is between people who accept the binding, state-backed power of the new post-secular creed and the diverse coalition of groups—including traditional religious communities, left-wing materialists, and one-time liberals alienated by the creeping dominance of left-wing absolutism—who resist its authority.
Obviously, these new alliances are uncomfortable in many ways. Anti-woke Right-liberals such as Bari Weiss, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and even Jordan Peterson were largely silent when Roe v. Wade was overturned. Many people who oppose trans ideology, such as Andrew Sullivan and Douglas Murray, are passionate defenders of same-sex marriage. (Sullivan recently noted that “bullying and emotional blackmail” are a key reason that support for transgender policies is actually declining in the UK.) The only thing Bill Maher, Andrew Sullivan, and rock-ribbed social conservatives have in common is that they are all un-woke. Time will tell if that is enough to sustain a shaky alliance based on opposition to our emerging cultural totalitarianism rather than any shared values aside from free speech.
In the meantime, one thing is crystal clear: The parental rights movement has traction, and the GOP should go all in on supporting parents. If even Bill Maher gets it, you can bet the average voter does, too.