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Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU Hardcover – May 1, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 œdissident 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 œcan'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 œthe Kool-Aid. However, her depiction of how group members not only follow the herd but also ostracize the œtroublemaker is compelling, and her book is brave and informative. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

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


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080704430X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807044308
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,806,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Wendy Kaminer was a member of the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts from the early 1990s to 2009. She was a national board member of the ACLU from 1999 to 2006. In this book she "focuses on the story, or cautionary tale, of what I regard a a dramatic ethical decline at the ACLU, involving the institutionalization of deceit and abandonment of core civil-liberties principles by staff and leadership--enabled by the use of social pressure to silence dissent." Kaminer shows how the ACLU has changed from an organization whose primary mission was defending civil rights to one that promotes a political agenda. Kaminer laments what happens when "loyalty to the institution prevails over loyalty to the institution's ideals." In well-documented detail Kaminer shows how the ACLU, to raise funding and promote its political goals, accepted money under the same circumstances that it criticized others for doing so, instituted gag rules on its own members, disseminated misinformation and lies, and tried to discredit those who disagreed with leadership. Kaminer also examines cases in which the ACLU defended liberals but did not defend conservatives even though the basic principles at stake were the same. (Note that Kaminer is NOT a conservative and the book is published by a liberal press.) Using her experiences with ACLU as an example, Kaminer shows how all social organizations or groups face the conflict of supporting its leaders even when those leaders take them down wrong paths. While reading this book, it is easy to apply these lessons to other groups (political and social) who circle the wagons in the face of criticism, forget or ignore basic principles of honesty and respect, engage in ad hominem attacks, and justify any means because its goals are deemed so critical. This is an excellent book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first joined the ACLU in 1960 as a college student and have been a member 90% of the time since then. Nevertheless, the organization has wandered from its principled early devotion to freedom of expression, due process and the rights of individuals.

To some extent the group has been taken over by its clients: feminists, racial interests, gays, pornographers and religion haters. The people who used to be coming to us for help and now running the show, and mostly looking after people just like themselves to the exclusion of bona fide enduring First Amendment principles. I've about had enough and am now supporting groups like FIRE and EEF, who are in many respects like the ACLU used to be.

Kaminer's book details the groupthink mentality that has taken hold of our major civil liberties lobby. "Human" rights, i.e., the rights of collectives such as ethnic minorities against individual critics and dissenters, have taken precedent and the very people the ACLU should be defending are getting hounded out of the group. There's been a coup at the ACLU, with the rights of individual critics and nonconformist getting the short end of the stick, sometimes even expelled.

Ms. Kaminer is to be congratulated for her courage in writing this book. I loved the ACLU of the 60's and 70's, began to feel uncomfortable in the 80's and 90's, and am totally out of place today. There are many more like me, I'm sure.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a book well worth reading, if a little short. Worst Instincts basically had two parts: an inside account of the decline of the ACLU under the leadership of Anthony Romero, its executive director, and a critique of left-wing attacks on free speech, particularly on college campuses. Both parts were well worth reading. I actually liked the second part better. Kaminer is an eloquent champion of liberty. I advise the reader to pick up her other books, such as Defending Liberty.
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Format: Hardcover
Wendy Kaminer's book strikes me more as a defense of the ACLU and its principles rather than an attack. Her argument is with those who appear to have taken over the physical structure without understanding the critical importance of the foundation. It is a well-argued book and one where she appears to present thoughtfully both sides of the issues in question, even though the other side appear at best arguments of expediency rather than principle.
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