Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project and editor of the www.BanksterUSA.org site for bank busting activists.
William Cronon is a professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the prize winning author of many books such as Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, which revolutionized the study of environmental history. He is known as a guy with such a deep and abiding love of the Wisconsin and its traditions that he leads the "get to know us" bus tour of the state offered to new faculty each year. Glaciers, rocks and history are on his agenda; politics and cheese he leaves to fellow-Wisconsinite and Capital Times editor John Nichols.
But this mild-mannered professor kicked a hornet's nest this week with an op-ed in the New York Times this week on Governor Scott Walker, and the push back was immediate. The Wisconsin GOP is now demanding his emails.
Facts Will Not be Tolerated
Professor Cronon is not known as a raging leftie. To the contrary, his recent support for Chancellor Biddy Martin and, by extension, her controversial plan to partially privatize the University of Wisconsin system, put him firmly in the more conservative camp of the debate raging on campus over the proposal.
Because Cronon is not considered particularly political, his Times piece this week, titled "Wisconsin's Radical Break", took many by surprise. In it, he makes the case that "Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well." Cronon points out that collective bargaining rights were extended to state workers by a Republican governor in 1967.
But the larger point of his piece involves the destruction of Wisconsin's long-held traditions of civility, open government and open records:
The turmoil in Wisconsin is not only about bargaining rights or the pension payments of public employees. It is about transparency and openness. It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect. Joe McCarthy forgot these lessons of good government, and so, I fear, has Mr. Walker. Wisconsin's citizens have not.
Polling shows that Cronon speaks the truth when he writes: "Mr. Walker's conduct has provoked a level of divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of which have not been seen in this state since at least the Vietnam War." The accompanying graphic emphasis the famous phrase, "Have you no sense of decency?", that was the beginning of the end for Wisconsin Republican Joe McCarthy.
All this truth telling was a bit to much for the WI GOP.
The Only Tradition the Wisconsin GOP Understands Is McCarthyism
Shortly after the publication of the Times piece, the state GOP filed an open records request for Professor Cronon's emails. The request includes key words that suggest that the GOP believes that Cronon is conspiring with the unions or is behind the protests and the recalls. The notion is laughable. But the request is not. Cronon nails it in his "first blog post ever," when he suggests that it is nothing but a bully tactic to intimidate critics and stifle dissent.
From the post:
My most important observation is that I find it simply outrageous that the Wisconsin Republican Party would seek to employ the state's Open Records Law for the nakedly political purpose of trying to embarrass, harass, or silence a university professor (and a citizen) who has asked legitimate questions and identified potentially legitimate criticisms concerning the influence of a national organization on state legislative activity. I'm offended by this not just because it's yet another abuse of law and procedure that has seemingly become standard operating procedure for the state's Republican Party under Governor Walker, but because it's such an obvious assault on academic freedom at a great research university that helped invent the concept of academic freedom way back in 1894.
The "legitimate questions" over the influence of a national organization involves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which Cronon speculated might be behind the Wisconsin proposal to rid the state of collective bargaining rights for workers in an earlier article, which apparently generated millions of hits to his previously little-known blog.
Cronon makes clear that he supports the open records law as a "precious guardian of our democratic liberties," but notes that it can be abused in a way that "discourages dissent and undermines democracy." In a gentlemanly fashion, Cronon asks the state GOP to withdraw its open records request. Now the issue is squarely in Walker's hands. Which tradition will he adhere to? The tradition of open government and civil debate that has characterized Wisconsin since its founding, or the tradition of unfounded accusations and witch hunts that were the hallmark of the McCarthy era?
January 28th, 2014
In the State of the Union address tonight, President Obama is going to call for a national minimum wage of $10.10. Then in their response ...
January 21st, 2014
My New Year's Day op-ed in the New York Times seems to have kickstarted a discussion about how to make Obamacare better. I hope you ...
December 18th, 2013
This morning it was announced by the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board that my first film, 'Roger & Me', has been ...
December 14th, 2013
[View the story "Michael Moore Tweets on Eve of Newtown Anniversay" on Storify]
November 9th, 2013
Click here for this week's full schedule for the State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay in Traverse City, Michigan. The day has arrived. For ...
September 10th, 2013
[View the story "John Kerry's Accidental Diplomacy" on Storify]
July 30th, 2013
Today Bradley Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 counts, including violating the Espionage Act, releasing classified information and disobeying orders. That's the bad news. ...
September 11th, 2010
OpenMike 9/11/10 Michael Moore's daily blog I am opposed to the building of the "mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero. I want it built on ...
December 14th, 2010
Yesterday, in the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, the lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange presented to the judge a document from me stating that ...
May 12th, 2011
"The Nazis killed tens of MILLIONS. They got a trial. Why? Because we're not like them. We're Americans. We roll different." – Michael Moore in ...
November 22nd, 2011
This past weekend I participated in a four-hour meeting of Occupy Wall Street activists whose job it is to come up with the vision and ...
September 22nd, 2011
I encourage everyone I know to never travel to Georgia, never buy anything made in Georgia, to never do business in Georgia. I will ask ...
December 16th, 2010
Dear Swedish Government: Hi there -- or as you all say, Hallå! You know, all of us here in the U.S. love your country. Your ...
November 2nd, 2010
This letter contains (almost) no criticisms of how the Democrats have brought this day of reckoning upon themselves. That -- and where to go from ...