FSG: NO PRESSURE HERE
New York City
Farrar, Straus & Giroux appreciates Alexander Cockburn’s and The Nation‘s support of our forthcoming publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy [“Beat the Devil,” Feb. 5]. We would like to clarify one point, however. While individuals have expressed unhappiness about our decision to publish this work, to our knowledge there has been no campaign to pressure the house “to abandon its publication,” as Cockburn seems to suggest. Indeed, we made this clear to The Nation‘s fact-checker when asked specifically about the issue.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
With figures as prominent as Alan Dershowitz and ADL national director Abe Foxman publicly criticizing FSG for signing the book, and since FSG acknowledged having received calls urging them to drop it, Alexander Cockburn’s comment that “pressure is now being exerted” on FSG passed muster with us. –The Editors
ACLU’s HOUSE DIVIDED
As one of the longest-serving members of the ACLU national board (thirty-seven years), I appreciate Scott Sherman’s comprehensive review of recent internal friction [“ACLU v. ACLU,” Feb. 5]. He accurately describes the phenomenal growth and success of the organization over the past five years, thus implicitly acknowledging the extraordinary leadership of executive director Anthony Romero and president Nadine Strossen, as well as the hard work and dedication of hundreds of national and affiliate ACLU employees. Also implicit is the fact that some people do not deal well with institutional renewal, clinging to the past and criticizing the agents of change. I believe that dynamic is at work here.
Certainly Romero, who came to the ACLU from the foundation world, has made a few missteps. Initially, he did not fully comprehend the culture of the ACLU and the eighty-three-member national board’s stubborn insistence on organizational oversight. But he is a fast learner and now has won the overwhelming support of this often fractious board. Still, for reasons hard to fathom, the handful of remaining oppositionists refuse to forgive his past trespasses and continue to exaggerate them.
One of the most outrageous canards spread by the so-called dissidents is the claim that Romero and his closest advisers attempted to purge the ACLU of opponents and muzzle dissent within the organization. I can testify to the falsity of that charge from personal experience. I have served as an ACLU general counsel for thirty-one years, and during most of that tenure I have been very vocal about my strong opposition to ACLU policy on political campaign-finance regulation. Indeed, during my very first meeting with Romero, I told him that it was one of my main goals to overthrow that policy, which he strongly supported. Never has Romero or anyone on the board attempted to muzzle me, and indeed, I have been re-elected each year as general counsel.
The ACLU executive committee and national board have logged many, many hours debating and discussing the internal issues Sherman reviews. These matters have all been resolved in ways that reflect the values and priorities of the ACLU, which remains primarily focused on the extraordinarily serious threats to civil liberties that exist today.
New York City
I write concerning the controversy surrounding Anthony Romero, particularly his acceptance of foundation funds on the condition that the ACLU not “promote…violence, terrorism, bigotry or the destruction of any state.”
When I came to the NYCLU as a staff lawyer in 1965, it was just beginning to confront its ignoble record of the McCarthy years. It no longer appended to its briefs a statement involving the Communist Party, assuring the court that the ACLU did not favor violent overthrow of the government; it quietly withdrew its prohibition against hiring Communists; it was on its way to recognizing the injustice of its removal from the board of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn because she was a CP member; and it was engaging in some soul searching about its cooperation with J. Edgar Hoover.
Anyone who remembers those times and understands how seriously they compromised the ACLU’s work would be horrified at the idea that it would allow a foundation to condition funds on the ACLU’s pledge not to do anything to “promote” terrorism. In making that pledge, Romero displayed more than ignorance of ACLU history; he legitimized the “war on terror” the same way the ACLU legitimized McCarthyism fifty years ago.
The ACLU is challenging the “war on terror” with uncompromising vigor, as it challenged the government during the McCarthy era. But in the political battle during that era, the ACLU was fatally compromised, becoming something of a collaborator in the government witch hunt, endorsing its goals if not its methods. Today, by agreeing to screen out terrorists, Romero has tacitly acknowledged the legitimacy of the “war on terror,” even while vigorously challenging many of its weapons.
Before the McCarthy era’s loyalty programs, hearings and Smith Act prosecutions, there were already means of rooting out and prosecuting those who meant to do the nation harm, just as there were before the Patriot Act. The “war on terror,” like the McCarthy-era loyalty programs, is motivated not by national security ends but by political ones–ends that by design are antidemocratic. To cooperate, even slightly, as Romero did, is to concede that the government’s intentions, if not its methods, are legitimate.
Issues of money and principle will arise again. Given how Romero came out the first time, I think his detractors rightly worry how he will come out the next time.
While the ACLU board has, as Scott Sherman reports, spoken in favor of Anthony Romero, it continues to fail in its fiduciary duty. Instead of establishing governance mechanisms to assure that transgressions against ACLU policy will not be repeated, the board, as member Vivian Berger tellingly admits, sought to rally around management. Worse, the board undertook to rid itself of internal critics. Thus, ACLU’s unhealed wounds can reopen at any moment. Berger’s attack on critic and former ACLU board member Wendy Kaminer–referring to her “sort of Madame Defarge quality”–is an example of the circle-the-wagons mentality that prevents the board from exercising independent judgment and authority.
Sherman reports that “Kaminer didn’t have enough support to keep her seat” as the Massachusetts affiliate’s representative to the national board and that Massachusetts is “solidly behind Romero.” Kaminer did not run for re-election because I agreed to run in her stead, as someone who agreed with her criticisms but would approach the issues with less heat. I lost 17 to 15, hardly indicating the affiliate’s “solid” support for the ACLU leadership. Further, I disagreed with Kaminer and former executive director Ira Glasser that Romero and ACLU president Nadine Strossen had to go, which is why I did not sign the Save the ACLU website policy statement. But I added a statement of my own decrying the effort, now quite advanced, to cleanse the ACLU leadership of dissidents. This is not how the board of the nation’s premier civil liberties organization exercises good governance.
HARVEY A. SILVERGLATE
What angers me about the attacks on Anthony Romero and the ACLU is that those pages in The Nation or those stories in the New York Times could have been devoted to alerting the public to how the Bush Administration is violating civil liberties at home and human rights abroad. Those precious column inches could have reported on all the things the ACLU is doing in the courts, through public education and in grassroots organizing to protect the Constitution. And think of the thousands of hours spent by national and local ACLU board members dealing with the critics that could have been spent defending civil liberties.
Has Anthony Romero made mistakes? Of course he has. Should his actions be reviewed by those to whom he reports? Sure they should. Has he learned to consult sooner and more broadly with ACLU leadership when dealing with tough decisions? I bet he has. Has he been an effective, visionary and dynamic executive director at one of the most critical times in ACLU history? You bet he has.
When President Lincoln’s advisers complained about General Grant’s drinking, Lincoln reportedly replied, “Find out what he’s drinking and send a case of it to all my generals.” Despite Romero’s past mistakes (and drinking isn’t one of them), he’s doing a superb job and deserves the support of everyone who cares about the future of our constitutional democracy.
STEPHEN F. ROHDE
Re Harvey Silverglate’s letter: Days before my piece went to press, I asked Wendy Kaminer, “My understanding is that you didn’t have enough support to keep your seat on the Massachusetts affiliate board. Is that true?” Kaminer replied: “I can’t deny that.”
‘SURGE’ SAVES SUNNIS, SHIITES
Port Orange, Fla.
Re Gary Younge’s “The Illogic of Empire” [“Beneath the Radar,” Feb. 5]: It seems to me that the “surge” in Iraq to prevent Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other is more akin to Britain’s use of its army in Northern Ireland for coming between Catholics and Protestants than to Churchill’s attempt to hang on to the subcontinent. If one takes an antireligious position (a plague on all their houses), it is not important if Muslims kill each other (Iraq), if Christians kill each other (Northern Ireland), if Jews and Muslims kill each other (Israel/Palestine/Lebanon) or if Christians and Muslims kill each other (the former Yugoslavia).
But if one comes from the morality-based secular humanist position, as I presume a lot of Nation readers do, an effort to stop the 100-a-day Sunni/Shiite deaths can only be commended, particularly when one looks at our responsibility for same. It is a form of penance. I believe this position is consistent with being an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning, as I have been.
RALPH D. SMITH
Lakshmi Chaudhry’s January 29 “Mirror, Mirror On the Web” laments the low standard that has become, well, standard in this great nation. No argument there. But she is mistaken in suggesting that the desire to be noticed is new, much less confined to our species. Wolves, social creatures who live in packs, roll in things like dead squirrels in order to obtain a bad smell. It is not to mask their own smell (after all, a wolf that rolls in dead squirrel remains smells like a wolf that has rolled in dead squirrel remains). It is to be noticed. It is a strategy for getting attention. Simply put, it is their way of saying, “Hey, look at me! I stink!” For those of us without access to dead squirrels, there’s YouTube.
ANN & MOLLY, W. & DICK
We’ve lost Ann Richards and Molly Ivins, Texas’s sharpest wits. We’re stuck with Bush/Cheney, Texas’s dullest twits.