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Editorial cartoon 1/28/18

Have Wisconsin voters, for the second time in roughly 65 years, sent another demagogue from the Fox River Valley to represent them in the U.S. Senate?

Could be, because there he was Wednesday, Wisconsin's U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson standing before TV cameras in the nation's Capitol insisting that there's a "secret society" operating in the ranks of the FBI.

The only thing missing was a redo of Joe McCarthy's famous pronouncement, while holding a letter-size piece of paper, that “I have here in my hand a list of 205 (State Department employees) that were known to the secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”

It wasn't hard to imagine Johnson, not exactly known as one of the Senate's bright lights, claiming that he has a list of 205 FBI agents who are secretly meeting to destroy Donald Trump's presidency.

But, like McCarthy, he couldn't name any of these alleged members of the so-called secret society, but an informant had told him about it. After his accusations, first made on Fox News (where else?), caused a sensation, he dodged questions from legitimate news people for an inkling of proof that such a thing or even the so-called informant exists.

When asked if he was discrediting the FBI, the Wisconsin senator appeared aghast.

"Certainly not," he said and then revealed under questioning that, well, maybe there is no informant, but it's what he gleaned from an email exchange between two FBI employees — agent Peter Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page — right after the 2016 election.

What's so disconcerting is that Johnson has jumped with both feet into the Republican-led campaign to discredit the FBI in any way they can to blunt the investigation into Russian ties to the 2016 election. It's an outrageous strategy, sacrificing the reputation of the agency that has been at the forefront of guarding U.S. security since the 9/11 disaster at the World Trade Center.

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But it seems that every generation or two we Wisconsinites fall for unprincipled candidates who put themselves and politics ahead of the country's interests.

Someday we'll be living down Ron Johnson just as we have had to do with Joe McCarthy these past several decades.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. Zweifel is the co-author, along with John Nichols, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.