Tuesday, March 29, 2011

American Thought Police

NYTimes OpEd by Paul Krugman: Recently William Cronon, a historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, decided to weigh in on his state’s political turmoil.

He started a blog, “Scholar as Citizen,” devoting his first post to the role of the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council in pushing hard-line conservative legislation at the state level. Then he published an opinion piece in The Times, suggesting that Wisconsin’s Republican governor has turned his back on the state’s long tradition of “neighborliness, decency and mutual respect.”

So what was the G.O.P.’s response? The Republican Party of Wisconsin filed an open records request demanding access to any e-mails Cronon sent or received since Jan. 1 containing the search terms “Republican,” “collective bargaining,” “rally,” “union” or the names of eight Republicans targeted for recall by liberal activists. That seems to be legal under the state’s version of the federal Freedom of Information Act.


The Nation: Some commentators have suggested Cronon became a target because he wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times, suggesting that Wisconsin’s Republicans were reviving McCarthyism. But the demand for Cronon’s e-mail came a couple of days before his column appeared.

What provoked the Republicans was Cronon’s first-ever blog post, published at his new website, “Scholar as Citizen.” The demand for his e-mail was filed right after that appeared; thus that blog post provides the key to understanding why the Republicans want to stop Bill Cronon. It was titled “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere?” Cronon’s post didn’t make a complex argument, the way his books do.

Instead it presented a simple fact, pointing to a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model laws which are then introduced by Republicans in state legislatures—for example, laws eliminating collective bargaining with state employee unions.

[The Texas Public Policy Foundation is affiliated with ALEC, according to this ALEC watch report.]

[The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) presents itself as a bipartisan membership association of state legislators seeking to “develop policy solutions to the challenges facing the nation.”

It all sounds fairly harmless and above board until you dig a little deeper and discover that ALEC is, in fact, the keystone of the right-wing’s strategy to implement its political agenda in the states. ALEC serves as the clearinghouse for the radical, conservative ideas of national and state “think tanks.”

ALEC has been in operation since the seventies and claims its members introduce 1,000 pieces of legislation every year in all fifty states. ALEC’s legislative models reflect the interests of corporate sponsors who “pay to play” as voting task force representatives. Edwin Feulner, President of the Heritage Foundation, acknowledges ALEC’s critical role in advancing free markets and limited government:
“ALEC and the Heritage Foundation have long been allies in promoting the principles of federalism. In that fight, there is nothing more important than building and maintaining a network of state legislators.”]

The power of the simple truth that ALEC is behind the G.O.P's legislative push in Wisconsin [and Texas] disrupts the Republicans’ explanation of what they are doing. They say the new law there ending collective bargaining with public employee unions [and deeply cutting education in Texas] is an emergency response to this year’s fiscal crisis.

[In Texas the explanation for deep cuts to education is that the state had to continually cut tax over ten years to foster business development and now the state must simply live within its means.]

They say it’s a response crafted by local state representatives to help their neighbors who are facing big new tax burdens.

Cronon suggested [in his blog post, “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere?”] that none of this is true: the law is not a response to the current fiscal crisis, it’s been a Republican priority for decades; it’s not a Wisconsin [or Texas] idea, it comes from a national Republican think tank. And the goal is not to protect the little guy in Wisconsin [or Texas] but rather to help the big corporations that fund Republican operations.

Of course the open records request for Cronon's emails filed by the Republican Party of Wisconsin is a fishing expedition in search of something embarrassing. And of course there’s a big difference between an individual using Freedom of Information legislation to expose government misconduct, and the party in power using it to harass and intimidate a critic of the government.

If this action strikes you as no big deal, you’re missing the point. The hard right — which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party — has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes...


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