A morality tale in three acts. Act One.
Godwin's Law states that a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis is inevitable the larger in size or longer in duration a protest or debate continues.
May I offer its corollary? Blaska's Law states that the greater the enmity toward a conservative cause or politician, the absolute certainty a comparison will be made to Joe McCarthy -- particularly in Wisconsin.
The sad case of Professor William J. Cronon is the latest proof of this hypothesis. The UW-Madison professor of history, geography, and "environmental studies" assured that the liberal New York Times would publish his piece ("Wisconsin's radical break," 3-21-11) by likening Gov. Scott Walker to the infamous junior senator from Wisconsin.
Well, certainly, both are or were Republicans. So, for that matter, was Fighting Bob La Follette. I could argue that like Old Bob, young Scott is a reformer; wonder if the N.Y. Times would publish that? (We do know that the Times would not publish Governor Walker's piece making that case.)
I debated Professor Cronon about a month ago on campus and it was quite civil. No one resorted to calling anyone a McCarthyite or other name calling.
But in his Times piece, Professor Cronon could not resist an old debating trick, one employed often by Dick Nixon, since the subject is history and smear campaigns. Cronon writes:
Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But ...
Ah yes, that pregnant "but" from which Cronon quickly pivots and does just what he promised not to do: compare Walker with McCarthy.
... there is something about the style of the two men - their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views - that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered. McCarthy ... cultivat(ed) an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him.
One could argue that Cronon himself is doing the very thing of which he accuses Walker. Walker won't channel Cronon's politics therefore he must be evil.
Cronon recycles that that old Joseph Welch chestnut delivered at the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? ..."
This isn't history, it is propaganda -- and cliched, at that.
Now, for Act Two.
For some reason, the Republican party was not thrilled with Cronon's comparison. It filed an open records request for the professor's e-mails to determine how and with whom he performed this partisan hit job.
The Capital Times is in high dudgeon that the Republican party would use "intimidation tactics."
"There is a word that describes so crude and blatant an attempt to intimidate a dissenter," thundered John Nichols. "McCarthyism." (McCarthy's party revisits his tactics: 3-30-11)
That is, of course, a prime example of the new McCarthyism itself -- more chilling than calling someone, say, an actual communist. "McCarthy's party!"
Nichols quotes Cronon as finding it "simply outrageous" that the Republican party would use the state's open records law "for the nakedly political purpose of trying to embarrass, harass or silence a university professor who has asked legitimate questions."
Who knew that Tailgunner Joe was an open records requester? Who knew that Wisconsin's junior senator was a master of the Freedom of Information Act?
Act the Third.
Who knew that The Capital Times was so sensitive to such "intimidation tactics?" Especially when the CT is a noted practitioner of those arts itself?
Because mum was its word when UW political science professor Kenneth Goldstein was subjected to open records requests in January 2010. Perhaps Dane County's Progressive Voice went hoarse because that "intimidation technique" was lodged by the Democrat(ic) party's stalking horse, One Wisconsin Now, run by the "shadowy" Scot Ross.
(That episode is recounted here.)
Professor Goldstein's offense was to ask legitimate questions as part of a scientific public opinion survey done at the behest of Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a free market organization for which your Squire sometimes scribbles.
Is WPRI partisan? Is the New York Times editorial page?
The UW professoriate and journalist Nichols are not shy about slinging the McCarthy epithet against those with whom they disagree.
UW history professor Jeremi Suri beat Cronon to the punch when he wrote on his blog:
In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker has gone farther than any other elected politician since Joseph McCarthy in applying this agenda. It is not a coincidence that he and McCarthy come from similar Wisconsin circumstances. [The New McCarthyism: 3-13-11]
Christian Schneider writes on National Review Online:
Although [Cronon] concedes the tautology that Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy, he goes on to compare the two, simply to be able to shoehorn the two names together into the same paragraph.
Isn't there a word for unfairly smearing your political opponents by connecting them to unpopular political figures?
That word is "McCarthyism."
Will she recuse?
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson received over $100,000 in labor union cash during her 2009 re-election campaign. The State Republican Party is asking, "With the Court positioned to take up the decision that has blocked the Governor's budget repair bill from being enacted, many citizens will no doubt be asking if the judge will practice what she preaches, and step down from the case."
Report any recall dirty tricks to the Recall Integrity Center.
Finally, two big spending liberals: Joe Parisi and Scott McDonell, have no business saying they're the ones to lead Dane County through rough fiscal waters. I understand why the State Journal nonetheless endorsed Parisi today: he is far and away the frontrunner. The State Journal for several years now has decided it is important that it pick a few winners than to be consistent.