Watching Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis debate, there was one thought that kept crossing my mind: this was all a lot simpler when we just let politicians duel.
What everyone seems to know, but so few seem to actively discuss, is that political debates aren't about being right — they're about looking good. Luckily for Newsom, DeSantis is incapable of either, but the California governor's optics weren't always safe on a platform like Fox News.
I do have to give Newsom credit for accepting this debate. He did everything right: he remained levelheaded, his answers were direct, and he came armed with facts. But debates like this don't really care about facts.
If they did, DeSantis would've been laughed off the stage. Nevermind that Florida's gender-affirming care ban goes against medical consensus, or that the state's attempted drag ban is most certainly an infringement on the First Amendment — we're instead going to get hung up on "inappropriate" books in schools.
When DeSantis showcases a page from Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (the most banned book of 2022, mind you) deeming it "pornography," the knee-jerk reaction is to defend it by insisting it is not "sexual" material. While LGBTQ+ identities and lives are absolutely not inherently sexual, does sexual material not have value?
Gender Queer depicts oral sex, yes. There's also oral sex jokes in Hamlet. Stories that depict sexual situations can still have educational value. There's educational value in stories that focus on race, sexuality, identity, violence, sexual assault, war, and any other part of the human experience.
This isn't to say we should put Playboys in schools, but we should defend our right to learn. To determine what has "educational value" will always be subjective, but Republicans have clearly drawn their line — Democrats must also draw theirs.
By becoming hung up on the appropriateness of certain stories, we're already ceding that line to conservatives. Instead of falling for another Republican "culture war" debate, why can't Newsom draw that line?
The same lackluster defense came with other topics as well. When asked if he supports third-trimester abortion, Newsom correctly noted that the procedure is very rarely performed, typically only in medical emergencies. Then he moved on. Why not go the extra step and reaffirm its right to exist? Third-trimester abortions save lives.
Newsom could have made himself look a lot better during that debate. He also could have made DeSantis look a lot worse. It's really not hard to do — conservatives have been making themselves look bad all by themselves recently. Remember a few weeks ago when that Republican Senator tried to fist-fight a union leader during a congressional hearing?
You don't challenge a guy like DeSantis by just presenting him with facts — you challenge his beliefs. You challenge his character.
While Republicans continue to divulge in physical altercations (example two: the Kevin McCarthy elbowing scandal), Democrats are clinging to civility. DeSantis and Newsom slung a handful of tame insults at each other, but if debates are just meant to be political theater, the least they could do is give us a show.
This isn't to say that Newsom should've challenged DeSantis to a cage match (like other conservative figures we know...), but consistent principles — and some passion — could go a long way for advocacy.
Ryan Adamczeski is the Digital Director for The Advocate Channel. Views expressed in The Advocate Channel’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate Channel or our parent company, equalpride.