Kaminer, a lawyer, social critic, and author of seven books, was from 1999-2006 a member of the ACLUâ€™s national board, and is still a member of the ACLU of Massachusetts board.
In a 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Kaminer recounted how the organization, whose reputation has long been based on its defenses of freedom of speech, had switched to supporting censorship, even of the legal variety, as long as it was imposed on conservative Christians, critics of homosexuality, and even critics of Islam. Kaminer quoted ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romeroâ€™s self-contradictory 2006 statement to the New York Times. "Take hate speech. While believing in free speech, we do not believe in or condone speech that attacks minorities."
The phrase â€?hate speechâ€? is part of civil rights speak. It refers to anyone who opposes the war on (non-leftist) white heterosexuals. Thus, anyone who says he is opposed to â€?hate speechâ€? is saying that he opposes free speech. Romero was simply too dishonest to admit it.
Instead of condemning Romeroâ€™s corruption of the organization, including his practice of censoring and ostracizing internal critics, ACLU President Nadine Strossen has served as his â€?amen corner.â€?
An odd organization, that. Founded in 1920 by communist Roger Nash Baldwin (1884-1981) to help bring about the revolution,
â€?Reflecting on his early years as the ACLU`s Executive Director, Baldwin candidly revealed his original motives and objectives: â€?I am for socialism, disarmament, and ultimately, for abolishing the state itself as an instrument of violence and compulsion. I seek social ownership of property, the abolition of the properties class, and sole control of those who produce wealth. Communism is the goal. It all sums up into one single purpose—the abolition of dog-eat-dog under which we live. I don`t regret being part of the communist tactic. I knew what I was doing. I was not an innocent liberal. I wanted what the communists wanted and I traveled the United Front road to get it.â€™â€?In spite of the circumstances of its founding, and the bad it has done the ACLU has in the past done some good. Over the past generation, however, its emphasis has increasingly belied its name, trading an emphasis on civil liberties for one on politically correct civil rights and the harassment of Christians in the public square, as the recently departed Richard John Neuhaus might have put it.
[Roger Baldwin, Discover the Networks, undated (Accessed on May 2, 2009)]
While some writers, such as Nat Hentoff, have tried to square the circle and reconcile the one thrust with the other, no can do. Civil liberties are about freedom from government coercion. Conversely, the civil rights movement was and is a blend of black racism and communism. Thereâ€™s no room for liberty at that particular inn.
Thus, the organizationâ€™s latter-day stress on civil rights is a coming home of sorts. And yet, there remains the problem of its name, which advertises support of civil liberties, and thus over the years has naturally drawn civil libertarians, albeit increasingly as moths to a flame.
Kaminer is one left libertarian who got burned. Her cri de coeur is the book Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU, published by the radical left Beacon Pressâ€”good for you, Beacon!â€”and which was released on May 1.
In John Leoâ€™s Wall Street Journal review, he writes,
â€?It is a short, vehement book. Even the cover photo is vehement: It shows a densely packed herd of sheep — stand-ins for the â€?easily herdedâ€™ board members and donors who, Ms. Kaminer says, have allowed the ACLU to unravel under the leadership of Anthony Romero. The board and donors, she says, have willfully overlooked the â€?skullduggeryâ€™ that has beset the national office since Mr. Romero`s installation as executive director in 2002â€¦.
[Romero] is dishonest and secretive, she says; he withholds crucial information from the board of directors and misuses the organization`s now vast wealth, which was largely built on anti-Bush donations and handouts to encourage â€?diversityâ€™ work. Mr. Romero`s management style, she claims, is to reward personal loyalty, deter internal dissent and tighten control over the ACLU affiliates around the countryâ€¦.
The criticism by Ms. Kaminer and Mr. Myers failed to gain traction, partly because the money kept rolling in, partly because other board members imagined that the ACLU was so besieged by the Bush administration that it couldn`t tolerate internal squabbling. Another factor in the futility of protest: Mr. Romero is gay and Latino, an irrelevancy to most of us but on a diversity-minded board a useful inoculation against criticism or removalâ€¦.
In 2006, the ACLU descended into self-satire by drawing up a gag order to cover its own board members — no public criticism of policies or personnel, because speaking out might hurt fund raising. When word got out, a storm of ridicule forced the withdrawal of the plan. But Ms. Kaminer notes that only six of the 53 ACLU affiliates protested the no-dissent policy; the ACLU apparently couldn`t be bothered to defend its own right to free speechâ€¦.
â€¦the many troubling decisions and strange moves undertaken during Mr. Romero`s tenure actually reflect a decisive shift in the ACLU`s sense of mission. â€?The ACLU,â€™ she writes, â€?began describing itself as a â€?social justice organization,â€? and its non-partisan commitment to civil liberty shrank — especially its commitment to free speech — while its vision of equality expanded.â€™
New organizations with a stronger commitment to free speech and freedom of assembly now do the jobs that the ACLU declines to do. These groups include the Alliance Defense Fund and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. [Kaminer sits on FIREâ€™s board.] Ms. Kaminer sums it up: "The ACLU is becoming just anther liberal human-rights, social- justice advocate that reliably defends the rights of liberal speakers." The trajectory is a common one, affecting once-neutral organizations, including the Sierra Club, the Ford and MacArthur Foundations, the Modern Language Association, Amnesty International and, now, the ACLU.â€?
A tip â€?o the hat to Paul Nachman.