Walker-McCarthy comparison too slick

William Cronon should add the Republican operative who went after his emails to his Christmas list.

Cronon is an esteemed professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, but before the unwarranted penetration of his correspondence, he was a virtual unknown outside of professional and academic circles. Now he’s a poster boy for academic freedom. His blog site has been inundated. Other bloggers dream of such action.

Lost in the uproar over the heavy-handed and unproductive intrusion was the weakness of his attack on Gov. Walker in a think piece in the New York Times.

I have two problems with his rationale:

  • His concern with process over substance
  • His way-too-clever guilt by association of Gov. Scott Walker with former Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy.

Professor Cronon, an independent centrist, does a nice job of summarizing the Progressive traditions of Wisconsin and the bipartisanship that generally prevailed in the state until wedge politics emerged over the last couple of decades.

He decries the current level of divisiveness and partisan hostility. Who in the under-represented center of American politics would disagree?

But then he cites the Republicans’ “radical break” from the State’s exemplary record of open government.

The fact is that the Republican bill to short-circuit public union power and dues collections had three weeks of extraordinary dissection while the 14 Democrats in the State Senate were decamped in Illinois.

Yes, only short notice was given by the Republican legislative leaders for the conference committee that got the controversial bill moving in the absence of the Democrats. The Republicans, however, argue that legislative prerogatives trump state law on meetings notices.

Whoever is right, everyone had ample opportunity to understand the legislation and to express an opinion on its content. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated at the Capitol. The objective of open government was clearly met, even though technically correct due process went out the window when the Democrats boycotted the normal process.

Cronon is mum on the Union and Democratic role in the turmoil. He fails to mention, for example, that the Democrats rammed through an anti-business tax package on extremely short notice just a year earlier. In contrast to Walker’s union-busting bill, there was almost no time for comment on former Gov. Doyle’s tax legislation.

Prof. Cronon uses the rhetorical device of saying: “Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy.” Then he goes on to describe how the Republican governor is a lot like the former Republican senator. He closes by saying: “Joe McCarthy forgot the lessons of good government, and so, I fear, has Mr. Walker.”

That slippery comparison no doubt angered the Walker camp, party because Scott Walker almost never indulges in personal political attack. On that score, he is exceptional.

That said, Walker was opaque during his campaign about his union strategies, for which he has been justly criticized. He ran on job creation and fiscal discipline.

The critical portrayal of Walker’s place in Wisconsin history by Cronon, a public employee, resides well within the boundaries of political rhetoric. His piece would have gone mostly unnoticed had not the GOP bozo kicked the hornet’s nest of academic freedom. That blunder made Cronon’s day.


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