The Republican Party of Wisconsin has launched an all-out attack on William Cronon, arguably one of the most prominent and respected academics not just on the University of Wisconsin campus but nationally. 

Why the attack? Because Cronon, the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Rhodes Scholar and MacArthur Foundation fellow who has for decades been one of Wisconsin’s most well-regarded public intellectuals, dared to raise questions about whether national right-wing think tanks and interest groups might be influencing the choices made by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration to attack Wisconsin unions and initiate a power grab that even some Republicans worry will diminish democracy at the local level.

The Republicans are seeking to silence Cronon with threats, intimidation and insults. They are demanding copies of e-mails sent and received by Cronon and attacked him as “deplorable” and “appalling” for questioning the party’s tactics.

Remarkably, RPW executive director Mark Jefferson says “the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason” for demanding Cronon’s emails and attacking the professor publicly. In other words, the Republicans are simply engaging in character assassination.

Even more remarkably, the party mandarins could not even be bothered to check the spelling of the name of the professor they are attacking. A release sent from the RPW headquarters last Friday afternoon began: “In response to Professor William Cronin’s deplorable tactics in seeking to force the Republican Party of Wisconsin to withdraw a routine open records request, Executive Director Mark Jefferson released the following statement…”

The professor’s name is spelled “CRONON,” not “Cronin.”

These are intense times in Wisconsin, and everyone makes mistakes. But even after the error was pointed out to the RPW,  party appartchicks had not made an effort to correct it—thus renewing the confluence of ignorance and arrogance that characterized the career of the party’s darkest contribution to the national political stage, former Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy

Perhaps the next time the Republican Party of Wisconsin decides to try to intimidate a prominent Wisconsinite, it should get someone who knows something about the state and its great university to do the dirty work.

In the meantime, observers from afar will be reminded that this is the same Republican Party of Wisconsin that rejected responsible Republican candidates in order to endorse Joe McCarthy—who combined equal measures of cruelty, intimidation and factual disregard—for the US Senate in 1946 and 1952. Some things or, to be more precise, some parties, never change.

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