Why are Republicans desperate to see Bill Cronon's emails? Because ideas and history matter
March 25, 2011- I just bought two books by the University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon: "Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England" and "Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West."
A week ago, I had never heard of Cronon. This is embarrassing, since it doesn't take much digging around to discover that he is one of the most highly regarded historians in the United States (not to mention president-elect of the American Historical Association).
But that was before Cronon's fascinating opinion piece in Monday's New York Times detailing how Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's political agenda flies in the face of "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." A devastating new broadside in the battle for Wisconsin, Cronon's Op-Ed deservedly went viral.
But in today's political climate, there are consequences for taking a stand. As surely nearly everyone who has been following developments in Wisconsin already knows, the Republican Party of Wisconsin has filed an open records request demanding access to any emails Cronon has sent or received since Jan. 1 containing the search 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."
The obvious goal is to find something damaging or embarrassing to Cronon — although judging by Cronon's account, smoking guns seem unlikely to be lying around in plain sight. (Eight of the names referenced in the request belong to the eight Republican state senators targeted by Democrats for recall.)
I can't do a better, more eloquent or more profound job of summarizing the issues at stake than Cronon himself does in a lengthy blog post that the professor posted Thursday night. Everyone should read it. Nor do I want to get bogged down in a discussion of whether the Wisconsin GOP's tactics should be properly characterized as a McCarthyite attack on academic freedom. I believe they should be, but I want to make a larger point.