Public Comment

Commentary: Tired Liberal Defense of Conyers is Beneath Contempt

By Dave Lindorff
Tuesday July 31, 2007

What a cheap shot by columnist Becky O’Malley, backhandedly saying that my criticism of Rep. John Conyers for having 45 people who came to demand that he act on the impeachment bill for Dick Cheney that he has let sit in his committee for three months arrested was “not quite racism.” Why does the white Becky mention the race word? Because the chair of the Judiciary Committee is black? 

Sorry, I would have said exactly the same thing if Conyers was white. But besides that, Becky deceptively fails to note that one of the three people who went in to speak with Conyers, and who came out to say that he was really disturbed at the chairman’s attitude—including the decision not to let protesters stay in his office, but to call in the Capital Cops immediately and have the petitioners all hauled out in cuffs—was Lennox Yearwood, the black Air Force chaplin who is head of HipHop Caucus. He expressed genuine sadness at Conyers’ handling of the whole affair. My reference to Rosa Parks was appropriate because Conyers has chosen to eulogize her and highlight his having hired her as a staffer in his office. He has called her—appropriately—the mother of the Civil Rights movement. But by ejecting people from his office, and having them cuffed, hauled out of Congress, jailed and fined, he has shamed himself, for Parks certainly would not have endorsed that action. 

Becky O’Malley says we can’t criticize Conyers firstly because he has a formidable history as a civil rights hero. That is surely true, but his history doesn’t immunize him against criticism, any more than John Kerry’s heroic stance against the Vietnam War immunizes him against criticism for his later unconscionable Iraq War position. O’Malley then says that Conyers can’t be criticized because when Sheehan, Yearwood, Ray McGovern and 300 other people marched from Arlington Cemetery to Conyers’ office, they wanted to be arrested. 


What they said was that they wanted Conyers to stop stalling, and to stop buckling under to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opposition to impeachment. Conyers, O’Malley failed to mention, in 2005-6 was calling for impeachment hearings. He even wrote a book, “Constitution in Crisis,” which made an eloquent case for impeaching the president. Then he suddenly backed down. Caved. What the marchers were hoping for was a return of the old Conyers. They were not hoping to be, or even expecting to be arrested. They were willing to be arrested, and prepared to be arrested, but that is not the same thing. I don’t think anyone thought it would play out the way it did. 

And it’s not correct to say people who climbed onto the front of segregated busses, or pushed their way into segregated schools, or sat in segregated restaurants expecting to be arrested are the same as those who go and sit in a progressive congressman’s office. You don’t expect the black and progressive chair of the House Judiciary Committee to act like a 1960s deep south mayor. 

And saying Conyers should be ashamed of himself for buckling under to Pelosi, and for arresting people coming to petition him for action is in no way racism. What garbage! 

In response to my article, I received a letter from former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, a representative who never buckled under to conservative leadership. She said she couldn’t believe the arrests had happened, and that she had called to check and confirm the arrests. Her conclusion, “You know, Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon and Leutisha Stills of the, formerly all of the have consistently written about the loss of consciousness by the “Conscience of the Congress.” Thanks so much for putting out that call-to-arms. Another sad day in the life of our democracy. “ 

So Becky, spare me your condescending comments. By the way, I’m happy you knew Allard Lowenstein “when I was in high school.” I at least know that he wouldn’t have carried water for the kind of gutless Democratic Congressional leaders we have today, which is why I thought he was such a great guy when I was watching him “back in highschool,” whatever that dig was supposed to mean. 

Your tired, liberal defense of Conyers and your back-handed charge of racism are both beneath contempt. 


Dave Lindorff is the author of The Case for Impeachment.