Professor Cronon just started a new blog called Scholar as Citizen, and his initial post briefly traces the evolution of the conservative movement from the 1964 demoralizing loss of Barry Goldwater, through the beginning of the Heritage Foundation and the later establishment of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an advocacy group that serves as a "drafting arm" for many of the conservative legislation that has been introduced in states around the country. (He provides many links and references for more digging beyond his blog article.) His blog article is a very well written and thought-out piece and every Wisconsin citizen would be well served to consider taking ten minutes to read it.
Among the points Professor Cronon makes are the following:
"The governor clearly welcomes the national media attention he’s receiving as a spear-carrier for the movement. But he’s surely not the architect of that movement.
. . .
I don’t think there can be any question that the rise of modern conservatism is one of the great turnaround stories in twentieth-century American history. It’s quite a fascinating series of events, in which a deeply marginalized political movement–tainted by widespread public reaction against Senator Joe McCarthy, the John Birch Society, and the massively defeated Barry Goldwater campaign of 1964–managed quite brilliantly to remake itself (and American politics) in the decades that followed.
. . .
One key insight you should take from this history is that after the Goldwater defeat in 1964, visionary conservative leaders began to build a series of organizations and networks designed to promote their values and construct systematic strategies for sympathetic politicians. Some of these organizations are reasonably well known–for instance, the Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich, a Racine native and UW-Madison alumnus who also started the Moral Majority and whose importance to the movement is almost impossible to overestimate–but many of these groups remain largely invisible.
. . .
The most important group, I’m pretty sure, is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was founded in 1973 by Henry Hyde, Lou Barnett, and (surprise, surprise) Paul Weyrich. Its goal for the past forty years has been to draft “model bills” that conservative legislators can introduce in the 50 states. Its website claims that in each legislative cycle, its members introduce 1000 pieces of legislation based on its work, and claims that roughly 18% of these bills are enacted into law. (Among them was the controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law in Arizona.)
. . .
ALEC’s efforts to disenfranchise voters likely to vote Democratic, for instance, and its efforts to destroy public-sector unions because they also tend to favor Democrats, strike me as objectionable and anti-democratic (as opposed to anti-Democratic) on their face. As a pragmatic centrist in my own politics, I very strongly favor seeking the public good from both sides of the partisan aisle, and it’s not at all clear to me that recent legislation in Wisconsin or elsewhere can be defended as doing this. Shining a bright light on ALEC’s activities (and on other groups as well, across the political spectrum) thus seems to me a valuable thing to do whether or not one favors its political goals.
This is especially true when politicians at the state and local level promote legislation drafted at the national level that may not actually best serve the interests of their home districts and states. ALEC strategists may think they’re serving the national conservative cause by promoting legislation like the bills recently passed in Wisconsin–but I see my state being ripped apart by the resulting controversies, and it’s hard to believe that Wisconsin is better off as a result. This is not the way citizens or politicians have historically behaved toward each other in this state, and I for one am not happy with the changes in our political culture that seem to be unfolding right now. I’m hoping that many of my fellow Wisconsinites, whether they lean left or right, agree with me that it’s time to take a long hard look at what has been happening and try to find our bearings again.
I have always cherished Wisconsin for its neighborliness, and this is not the way neighbors treat each other.
One conclusion seems clear: what we’ve witnessed in Wisconsin during the opening months of 2011 did not originate in this state, even though we’ve been at the center of the political storm in terms of how it’s being implemented. This is a well-planned and well-coordinated national campaign, and it would be helpful to know a lot more about it."
To the extent that what has happened in the last month and a half in Wisconsin should be viewed as part of a national well-orchestrated effort to: (a) roll back voters rights (voter ID legislation in search of an actual problem), (b) damage public labor unions as a political force, (c) expand school choice, (d) curtail tort liability for large corporations, (e) roll back environmental laws, and (f) pass other hot button right wing agenda items, the claim that these changes were specifically needed in a rushed through special session for Wisconsin's "crisis" rings fairly hollow.
Here are the "Private Enterprise Board" members of the ALEC:
|Ms. Sano Blocker, Energy Future Holdings (Primarily a group of Texas Power and Transmission Companies)|
|Mr. Don Bohn, Johnson & Johnson (Pharmaceuticals)|
|Mr. Jeff Bond, PhRMA |
(Trade Association for pharmaceutical industry)
|Mr. Bill Carmichael, American Bail Coalition (Bail bond association)|
|Mr. Derek Crawford, Kraft Foods, Inc. (weiners)|
|Mr. John Del Giorno, GlaxoSmithKline|
|Mr. Matt Echols, Coca-Cola Company|
|Mr. Jim Epperson, Jr., AT&T Services, Inc.|
|Mr. Michael Hubert, Pfizer Inc|
|Ms. Teresa Jennings, Reed Elsevier, Inc.|
(Professional Businesses Publishing)
|Mr. Ken Lane, DIAGEO (Booze, including Seagrams and Guiness)|
|Mr. Kelly Mader, Peabody Energy (World's largest private coal company)|
|Mr. Bernie McKay, Intuit, Inc. (Small Business software)|
|Mr. Mike Morgan, Koch Industries, Inc. |
|Mr. Kevin Murphy, ExxonMobil Corp.|
|Mrs. Sandra Oliver, Bayer Corporation|
|Mr. David Powers, Reynolds American Inc. (Cigarettes)|
|Ms. Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.|
|Mr. Russell Smoldon, Salt River Project|
|Mr. Toby Spangler, Altria Client Services, Inc.|
(Tobacco and Booze - Miller)
|Mr. Roland Spies, State Farm Insurance Co.|
|Mr. Pat Thomas, United Parcel Service|
(Hat tip to my brother-in-law, Jeb, from Eau Claire, for alerting me to Professor Cronon's blog.)