William Cronon is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and he recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that placed the recent labor troubles in Wisconsin in historical context — he explained how many of the progressive policies in that state were actually the product of Republican lawmakers, that the state has long been a battleground between the progressive and conservative wings of the Republican party, and that a good part of the liberalism in the state is due to a reaction against the autocratic hand of Joe McCarthy, who violated the traditions of the state and its people and basically inspired a lot of revulsion. And it concludes by pointing out that Governor Walker is making the same mistakes as McCarthy, forgetting the lessons of good government.
It’s a great essay, even-handed and informed, and reminded me that yes, once upon a time, Republicans weren’t the party of insane corporate tools who got their instructions direct from god, and that there are common principles of good government that liberals and conservatives could agree on.
The response has been interesting (in the sense of the Chinese curse) for Cronon. The Wisconsin Republican party is dunning him with an open records request demanding all emails that he has received mentioning any of the players in the recent labor conflicts in Wisconsin. Why? Because they’re planning a witch hunt with Cronon as the prey, and they want to find any damning connection that will allow them to claim that Cronon is an apparatchik and propagandist, rather than an independent historian with a serious scholarly focus. Cronon himself has put together an analysis of the request — it’s an effort to silence a critic with intimidation.
Well, hello there, Joe McCarthy! How nice of the Rethuglicans to confirm the comparison in his op-ed for him.
You should read Cronon’s own discussion, but also, Gary Farber has assembled a thorough discussion of the tangled path from history professor to stage-prop villain. His greatest crime may have been exposing to the light of day a quiet organization, ALEC, that has been drafting the most conservative legislation for our government in collaboration with the wealthiest corporations in the country.
You just knew there was going to be a connection to greed and big money in there, didn’t you?