Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU

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When an organization committed to free speech succumbs to pressure to suppress internal criticism and disregard or "spin" the truth, it offers important lessons for other associations, corporations, and governments. Wendy Kaminer, a renowned advocate of civil liberties, calls on her experience as a dissident member of the American Civil Liberties Union national board to tell an inside story of dramatic ethical declines that has much to teach us about the land mines of ...

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Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU

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Overview

When an organization committed to free speech succumbs to pressure to suppress internal criticism and disregard or "spin" the truth, it offers important lessons for other associations, corporations, and governments. Wendy Kaminer, a renowned advocate of civil liberties, calls on her experience as a dissident member of the American Civil Liberties Union national board to tell an inside story of dramatic ethical declines that has much to teach us about the land mines of groupthink.

Materials cited in this book, including records of ACLU meetings, memos, and correspondence from board and staff members, are available in the Beacon Press archive at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Kaminer . . . weighs in on her disillusionment with the ACLU after serving on the national board in post-9/11 America. . . . Her depiction of how group members not only follow the herd but also ostracize the 'troublemaker' is compelling, and her book is brave and informative.—Publishers Weekly

"Standing up to your political enemies is easy, fun, and often profitable. Taking public issue with your friends and allies on a matter of great principle is none of these, but it is a far more important service to others. I am enormously grateful to Wendy Kaminer for the intellectual integrity and moral courage this book represents."—Congressman Barney Frank

"Witty, trenchant, devastating, Worst Instincts is a study of institutional decay, of how good organizations, blinded by the righteousness of their mission, do bad things."—Jack Beatty, author of Age of Betrayal and On Point news analyst

"The willingness to criticize your own based on principles you would apply to others is a measure of integrity. Kaminer's important book about her beloved ACLU has that integrity. She tells a startling, sad, and exceptionally well-documented story."—Ira Glasser, former executive director, ACLU

Publishers Weekly

Kaminer (Free for All) weighs in on her disillusionment with the ACLU after serving on the national board in post-9/11 America. She contends that under the stewardship of Anthony Romero, who stepped into the executive director position one week before the September 11 attacks, the ACLU has become increasingly partisan, personalized and focused on fund-raising at the expense of its core beliefs. Kaminer describes herself as a "dissident member" of the board, and revisits her many battles with Romero and his supporters as she fought their refusal to challenge the government's terrorist watch lists or aid Guantánamo Bay detainees-as less financially stable groups spearheaded the cause. Kaminer admits that she "can't claim objectivity," and she is least effective when she allows herself too much leeway on this point, for example, psychoanalyzing those she disagrees with or peppering her writing with references to Branch Davidians and "the Kool-Aid." However, her depiction of how group members not only follow the herd but also ostracize the "troublemaker" is compelling, and her book is brave and informative. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807044360
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Pages: 149
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Wendy Kaminer is the author of many books, including Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today; I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions; and Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety. She lives in Boston.
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Table of Contents

1 Mob Scenes 1

2 The Problem with Partisanship 11

3 Not the Crime but the Cover-up 18

4 The Political Shouldn't Be Personal 32

5 Facts Don't Matter 48

6 Money Changes Everything 64

7 Potemkin Villages 88

8 Gag Rules 105

9 Going It Alone 130

Acknowledgments 139

Notes 140

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