William Cronon, CNU 19 Opening Plenary Speaker, Shapes the News

Alongside works such as Donald L. Miller's City of the Century and Bessie Louise Pierce's voluminous A History of Chicago, University of Wisconsin–Madison professor William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis is one of the definitive texts about the historical and natural forces behind the shaping of Chicago, and as a result, modern America. Recently, Cronon has used his encyclopedic grasp of history to evaluate the still-unfolding political drama that is playing out in Wisconsin, and in the heart of his city, Madison.

Writing earlier this week in an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Cronon examines the contradictions and confusions that have arisen since Gov. Scott Walker's open assault on the collective bargaining rights of public unions. "The demonizing of government at all levels that has become such a reflexive impulse for conservatives in the early 21st century would have mystified most elected officials in Wisconsin just a few decades ago," writes Cronon. Highlighting the inverted machinations taken on by Walker and his supporters, Cronon scribes "Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse 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." And most forcefully, he questions "Perhaps that is why — as a centrist and a lifelong independent — I have found myself returning over the past few weeks to the question posed by the lawyer Joseph N. Welch during the hearings that finally helped bring down another Wisconsin Republican, Joe McCarthy, in 1954: 'Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?'"

Milwaukee Magazine's "News Buzz" blog has noticed an uptick in allusions to McCarthy as Walker continues his aggressive march. While Cronon is careful to point out the very large differences between McCarthy and Walker, he does draw attention to the capacity of each man to provoke strident reactions to the rather bullish ways in which they both present the core of their arguments. Cronon's stature and opinion on the matter have resonated loudly, as within 24 hours of his op-ed piece appearing, it was the most widely circulated and emailed link from the NYT website the day it appeared.

For those already in the know, Madison is also the locale of this year's CNU 19: Growing Local, and William Cronon will be delivering the Opening Plenary on Wed., June 1st at 5:30pm. Stay ahead of the conversation by registering to attend now, and get ready to engage and participate in the ongoing dialogue CNU creates with today's top thought-leaders.

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