Wisconsin GOP channels Joe McCarthy
There's this history professor back at the University of Wisconsin, ensconced in an endowed chair at the Madison campus. He decided it would be nice to start a modest little blog. He even had a catchy title: “Scholar as Citizen.” You can already see that it was a fail-safe proposition. Soon the hit-meter would be recording Internet traffic on a gargantuan scale. No doubt.
He posted his first blog entry on March 15, not even a couple of weeks ago. Its title was as irresistible as the name of his blog: Who's Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere?
(I've probably lost you now; the title is so seductive you've certainly already clicked on the link.) The inevitable happened: over half a million hits in a handful of days.
I am so
But I don't envy what happened next. The Wisconsin Republican Party decided that UW Madison's Bill Cronon, the Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies, is a dangerous radical
who must immediately be stifled into silence—even, ideally, hounded from academia. The state GOP filed an open-records request with UW demanding access to Professor Cronon's e-mail, hoping to find something embarrassing if allowed to root through his archives. (Remember, a handful of words in a private e-mail can be inflated into an international scandal if ideologues are willing to clutch their pearls and shriek in affected outrage; the ginned-up “Climategate
” furor proved that.)
Cronon has published his own detailed commentary
on the Republican fishing expedition, correctly pointing out its McCarthyist antecedents and winkling out the purely political motivations of the GOP's incipient smear campaign by closely reading the text of the Republicans' open-records request. He declines to be intimidated.
Cronon's greatest sin appears to have been his discussion of the American Legislative Exchange Council. What, you've never heard of ALEC? As Cronon pointed out in his original post
, ALEC much prefers to lurk in the background. Its on-line archive of “model legislation” is not open to the public and membership in ALEC is strictly controlled. (Are you a right-wing elected official or a deep-pockets teabagger with money to contribute? Come on down!)
ALEC drafts legislation which Republicans are wont to introduce in their various state legislatures, pulling ready-made extremist boilerplate off the ALEC shelf to add to their bill drafts. It's like “writing” a term paper by downloading an Internet document, except that technically it's not plagiarism. ALEC is eager for legislators to attempt to enact the components of its political program.
While ALEC tries to hide in the shadows, its influence on public policy is potentially revealed whenever its model legislation is actually published as a legislator's introduced bill. Cronon was rude enough to connect the dots and expose ALEC's influence in recent Republican legislation, especially in Wisconsin. But ALEC's close-mouthed membership and blocked website prevent the average citizen from peeking at the man behind the curtain. What else might these right-wing ideologues have in store for us? How can we find out? Must we wait till the legislation actually appears?
I may be able to help a little. You see, I have a copy of ALEC's Source Book of American State Legislation
. It's in the form of a small paperback that I glommed onto while working as a legislative aide in Sacramento, where some ALEC-friendly Republicans were pushing draconian tax-cutting measures like the infamous Proposition 13
and the subsequent (and lesser-known because it failed) Proposition 9
. I no longer recall precisely how I acquired it (my boss was hardly likely to have been one of ALEC's favorites), but I suspect I picked it up out of curiosity from the discard pile outside a Republican legislator's office and decided to keep it.
The book begins by offering a bogus quote from Abraham Lincoln, the long-since refuted litany
that begins, “You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.” Perhaps it's significant that ALEC's book opens with a hoax, especially given the hollow-shell justifications of Republican politicians who claim that collective bargaining must die if workers are to prosper. I presume they will soon introduce measures to establish more prisons and workhouses to manage the poor.
Is the old ALEC paperback out-of-date and of little use to us today? I think not. Although it carries a publication date of 1980, the 92-page booklet is oracular in its contents. The nutcase wet-dreams of yesteryear are the standard policy planks of today's teabagger politicians. Here, for your edification, is a sampler of the Source Book
's list of model legislation. The headings are from the booklet and the descriptions are excerpted from the actual text. A few may seem like motherhood and apple pie (both of which, come to think of it, are now more controversial than they used to be), but there are some real nuggets of crazy in here. The first item is especially pertinent (complete with Wisconsin reference!).
Controlling the Bureaucracy
Public Services Protection Act.
The suggested Public Services Protection Act prohibits contractual agreements between all governmental subdivisions of the state and any public employee union or association. This prohibition safeguards against the incidence of public employee strikes which are inseparable from the collective bargaining process and present a danger to the health, safety and general well-being of all state residents. Since 1959, when the first compulsory public sector bargaining legislation was enacted in Wisconsin, there has been a dramatic increase in public employee unionization and in the incidence of public employee strikes.
Enterprise Zone Act.
The suggested Enterprise Zone Act establishes a mechanism for the establishment of enterprise zones—areas of inadequate population and limited economic activity which have been released from most government controls and regulations in order to promote economic and population revitalization.
Tax Limitation—State Constitutional Amendment.
. To prevent taxes from increasing year after year, a state constitutional amendment has been suggested that would limit the total amount of taxes that can be imposed by the state. The tax revenue limit would be an appropriate percentage of total annual personal income in the state, and has ranged between 6 per cent and 14 per cent in those states where the amendment has been proposed.
Spending and Debt Limitation Amendment.
The suggested Spending and Debt Limitation Constitutional Amendment would limit the growth of state spending to the estimated growth of the state economy as established by law.
Death Tax Reform Act.
The suggested Death Tax Reform Act remodels the state estate tax computation system. Reform of this system is necessary in order to ease some of the financial burden imposed on a decedent's estate, thus providing that more of the value of the estate be passed on to family and other heirs. [Various thresholds on estate taxes protect families and small businesses, but these are deemed inadequate by those who want to protect inherited wealth by completely eliminating what they insist on calling the “death tax.”
The Right to Work Act.
The suggested Right to Work Act establishes public policy with respect to compulsory or “closed shop” unionism. The Right to Work Act protects the right of each person to join or decline to join any labor union or association without fear of penalty or reprisal.
Sagebrush Rebellion Act.
The suggested Sagebrush Rebellion
Act establishes a mechanism for the transfer of ownership of millions of acres of unappropriated public lands from the federal government to the states.
Student Freedom of Choice Act.
The suggested Student Freedom of Choice Act would prohibit the collection of mandatory student activity fees in state-operated colleges and universities.
Crime Victims Compensation Act.
The suggested Crime Victims Compensation Act enables the creation of District Crime Victims Compensation Boards to hear claims and to make monetary awards to innocent persons who suffer catastrophic loss as as result of violent criminal victimization.
Textbook Content Standards Act.
The suggested Textbook Content Standards Act establishes the requirement that textbooks and teaching materials adopted for use in public schools accurately portray American history, tradition and values. Abraham Lincoln said, “The philosophy of the classroom today is the philosophy of the government tomorrow.” [There's no citation, of course. Is this another bogus Lincoln quote? If so, how nice to find it in an item about accuracy in textbooks!
Honor America Act.
The suggested Honor America Act requires that all public elementary and secondary school students recite the Pledge of Allegiance during each school day.
Washington, D.C. Amendment Rejection Resolution.
The suggested Washington, D.C. Amendment Rejection Resolution provides legislatures with a formal method of detailing their reasons for opposition and rejection of the proposed Washington, D.C. Constitutional Amendment. [In other words, the black citizens of D.C. are disenfranchised and we want to keep it that way.
More American Energy Program.
Tight supplies of crude oil and refined petroleum products have stirred a great deal of interest in the increased production of domestic conventional fuels and the development of alternate fuels and renewal energy resources. [This entry starts off well, outlining a seemingly reasonable program of tax incentives for solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy projects. It includes elimination of redundant bureaucratic regulation—sounds good, but could mean deregulation in practice—and one-stop permit processes. Then comes the next “reform,” which is the poison pill in the mix.
] Requirement that state departments of energy regulations and standards meet, but not exceed in restrictiveness, those required by the Federal Clean Air Act of 1977. [ALEC loves states' rights except when California enacts stricter air standards than those promulgated by the feds. Right.
Voluntary School Prayer Resolution.
Resolved, by the Legislature of [name of state], each house concurring, that this legislature respectfully urges the Congress of the United States to propose a constitutional amendment authorizing the several states to enact legislation permitting voluntary, non-denominational prayer in their public schools.
Plus ça change
As you can see from the above compendium, ALEC's 1980 legislative program is not only alive and well, much of it is already embodied in measures introduced or enacted across the country. It was impolitic of Prof. Cronon to point this out. He dared teach us some contemporary history. By the terms of ALEC's accuracy-in-education standards, he would have been well advised to concentrate on adumbrating our nation's Christian heritage and the anti-union convictions of the Founding Fathers.
Let us all be grateful that he didn't!