Wisconsin Republicans Seek Return to McCarthy EraPosted: March 25, 2011
What has happened to Wisconsin? The Republicans there seem to be modeling themselves after Joseph McCarthy, Senator from Wisconsin from 1947-57.
McCarthy was obsessed with rooting out “communist infiltration,” and became the public face of the obsessive hunt for “reds” in government, the military, academia, the media, and the entertainment industry that took place during the ’50s. The smear tactics, demagoguery, and abuses of civil liberties used during those awful days have come to be referred to as “McCarthyism.”
Today’s Wisconsin Republicans, not satisfied with destroying the public employee unions in their state have now begun to persecute those who supported the cause of the schoolteachers, janitors, and social workers of Wisconsin. First up, Professor William Cronon, a historian at the University of Wisconsin.
James Fallows wrote about it at the Atlantic today.
Because Cronon dared write an op-ed piece in the New York Times* pointing to Wisconsin’s long tradition of bi-partisan, “good government”-minded support of collective bargaining rights, and criticizing Gov. Scott Walker for his campaign against organized labor and collective bargaining, the Wisconsin Republican Party is launching a legal effort to look through his email archives to see if he has been involved in the recent protests in the state. The putative rationale is that Cronon’s messages were sent on the University of Wisconsin’s email system and therefore are covered by the state’s open-records law.
Fallows later learned that the attack on Cronon began even before the op-ed, and instead was a reaction to this post on Cronon’s personal blog.
In the post Cronon writes that he doesn’t believe the Koch Brothers funding of Walker provides a full explanation of what is happening in the Republican Party and the wave of reactionary legislation Republicans are proposing in so many states. Follow me below the fold….
So who is behind it? Much of what Cronon writes is similar to what Dakinikat has been regularly writing about here at Sky Dancing (She also mentioned this story in a comment yesterday, but I thought it deserved a front-page post.)
I can’t fully answer that question in a short note, but I can sketch its outline and offer advice for those who want to fill in more of the details.
I’ll start by saying–a professorial impulse I just can’t resist–that it’s well worth taking some time to familiarize yourself with the history of the conservative movement in the United States since the 1950s if you haven’t already studied the subject. Whatever you think of its politics, I don’t think there can be any question that the rise of modern conservatism is one of the great turnaround stories in twentieth-century American history. It’s quite a fascinating series of events, in which a deeply marginalized political movement–tainted by widespread public reaction against Senator Joe McCarthy, the John Birch Society, and the massively defeated Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964–managed quite brilliantly to remake itself (and American politics) in the decades that followed….
One key insight you should take from this history is that after the Goldwater defeat in 1964, visionary conservative leaders began to build a series of organizations and networks designed to promote their values and construct systematic strategies for sympathetic politicians. Some of these organizations are reasonably well known–for instance, the Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, a Racine native and UW-Madison alumnus who also started the Moral Majority and whose importance to the movement is almost impossible to overestimate–but many of these groups remain largely invisible.
That’s why events like the ones we’ve just experienced in Wisconsin can seem to come out of nowhere. Few outside the conservative movement have been paying much attention, and that is ill-advised.
Cronon then provides suggested readings for those who want to investigate what the conservative movement has been up to and what they want to do to this country. The “most important” group he highlights is The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was initiated by Henry Hyde, Paul Weyrich, and Lou Barnett. This group drafts “model bills” that can be used by state legislators.
Are you starting to get why so many states, are suddenly introducing draconian anti-union and anti-women law? This is something we really need to keep our eye on, and I’m vary grateful to Professor Cronon for providing a resource list. I for one will be following his blog daily from now on.
In this blog post published yesterday, Cronon responds to the Republican attacks on him.
Here’s the headline: the Wisconsin Republican Party has issued an Open Records Law request for access to my emails since January 1 in response to a blog entry I posted on March 15 concerning the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in influencing recent legislation in this state and across the country. I find this a disturbing development…
He goes on to explain what has happened and reprints the letter from the head of the Wisconsin Republican Party to the U. of Wis. legal department requesting access to Cronon’s e-mails:
From: Stephan Thompson [mailto:SThompson@wisgop.org]
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 2:37 PM
To: Dowling, John
Subject: Open Records Request
Dear Mr. Dowling,
Under Wisconsin open records law, we are requesting copies of the following items:
Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon’s state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.
We are making this request under Chapter 19.32 of the Wisconsin state statutes, through the Open Records law. Specifically, we would like to cite the following section of Wis. Stat. 19.32 (2) that defines a public record as “anything recorded or preserved that has been created or is being kept by the agency. This includes tapes, films, charts, photographs, computer printouts, etc.”
Thank you for your prompt attention, and please make us aware of any costs in advance of preparation of this request.
Republican Party of Wisconsin
This is an outrageous attack on freedom of speech and association, and on academic freedom specifically. As Cronon writes, it’s an attempt to intimidate him into silence.
I’d be willing to bet quite a lot of money that Mr. Thompson and the State Republican Party are hoping that I’ve been violating this policy so they can use my own emails to prove that I’m a liberal activist who is using my state email account to engage in illegal lobbying and efforts to influence elections. By releasing emails to demonstrate this, they’re hoping they can embarrass me enough to silence me as a critic.
Cronon is a distinguished Historian. John Nichols of The Nation summarizes Cronon’s impressive resume:
The Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he obtained a doctor of philosophy degree from Jesus College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. He’s also holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an M.A., MPhil and PhD from Yale.
Cronon has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and written books, such as Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (Hill and Wang), which have been broadly recognized as paradigm shifting studies of American history and ecosystems.
In the best “Wisconsin Idea” tradition, and old progressive principle that said University of Wisconsin professors should share their knowledge with the people of the state, Cronon has been a public intellectual of the highest order.
In his latest post, Cronon details the Republican response to his criticism of their attempt to access his personal e-mails.
Here are some other responses to the vicious smear attack on Professor Cronon:
Josh Marshall: My Worlds Collide
Paul Krugman: Academic Intimidation
Prairie Weather: A very scary Wisconsin