Sunday, February 7, 2016

The ACLU's Blind Spot

One of the things that have struck me as I was looking into the ACLU was that it does frame itself as the “guardian of liberty,” protecting constitutional rights, the organization is often perceived as a left-wing organization. One of my earliest political memories was the election of 1988, where the Democratic Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, was running for president against the sitting vice president, George Bush in a time where you did not have to specify which George Bush anyone was talking about. Now, aside from the visual rhetoric of Dukakis looking silly in his tank commander helmet and the Willie Horton soft on crime advertisements, one of the attacks that stuck was that Dukakis was a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" (qtd in “Election”). In this exchange, it was the affiliation with the ACLU that was supposed to show Dukakis’s liberalness, and even his un-Americanness, but I did not really understand what was going on. I ended up growing up to be very liberal, but at the time I was young, and living in a military household in a military community, so much of what I heard was supportive of conservatism and militarism in a late- cold war atmosphere. Even then, I never understood just how these two ideas were related – that the ACLU was a liberal organization. 

            The organization is cognizant of this critique. In their own material, they point out three things to know about the ACLU, they put it like this: “We protect American values. In many ways, the ACLU is the nation's most conservative organization. Our job is to conserve America's original civic values - the Constitution and the Bill of Rights - and defend the rights of every man, woman and child in this country.” (Guardians of Freedom). In the same section, they strive to point out that “We're not anti-anything. The only things we fight are attempts to take away or limit your civil liberties[.]” (ibid).  In their works, they strive towards the same sort of balance, highlighting their advocacy for the Kul Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis to have the rights accorded to them in the first amendment for freedoms of speech and freedoms to peaceably assemble. The problem here, and what makes the ACLU seem a liberal organization is that it has worked to expand the umbrella of rights to a greater amount of people. The status quo has many staunch defenders, so any challenge to that brings those defenders out of the woodwork or wherever else they were hiding.
         This means that my proposal may be controversial because even though the ACLU strives to show itself as nonpartisan, in fact many of the big defenders are liberals – George Soros is a well know backer. My proposal is that the ACLU expand its donor base by not just keeping its focus on the five freedoms of the first amendment and instead look further afield in the bill of rights and muscle into a niche held by other organizations. Specifically, I am proposing that the ACLU target for its advocacy and fundraising supporters of the second amendment. There are as many guns in this country as there are people, and gun owners are a large plurality of the population. Looking around at the material the ACLU has, I found nothing where they speak of defending gun rights. This is important because the whole ground has been ceded to the NRA who currently takes an absolutist stance supporting a freedom that in its wording is ambiguous at best: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (Archives).  By ceding this space it gives ground to the rigid stance of the NRA and allows itself to be painted as a liberal organization which closes off the potential donor base. There is a huge caveat that such advocacy might degrade the donor base if this route is taken, but for me this is a huge blind spot for the organization.

ACLU. “Guardians of Freedom” (n.d.) American Civil Liberties Union. Accessed at
The Bill of Rights: A Transcription. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2016, from
United States presidential election, 1988. (n.d.). Retrieved February 07, 2016, from,_1988