Cohen, Conyers Click Together at Town Meeting 

If the turnout and response at his Thursday night "town meeting" at the National Civil Rights Museum with Michigan congressman John Conyers was any indication of Steve Cohen's future fortunes, the 9th District congressman might as well start looking into long-term living arrangements in the District of Columbia.

Conyers isn't your ordinary visiting congressman, for starters. The longtime congressman from Detroit is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on which freshman Cohen sits. Not only that, he was on Judiciary in 1974 when the committee voted articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, hastening that errant president's departure from office. Not only that, as Conyers reminded this reporter afterwards, he wrote the first articles of impeachment against Nixon.

In short the man is a congressional legend, and Conyers' very presence here was a tribute to Cohen's standing this early in his congressional tenure. And, since Conyers takes a back seat to no one on economics and civil rights issues, it was also the best assurance imaginable to the African Americans in the audience (who were numerous and enthusiastic and who conferred frequent praise on both congressmen) that Cohen has their interests at heart.

The two congressmen fielded an abundance of questions and concurred on such matters as impeachment (justifiable but not practical with other priorities facing the nation), health care (a scandal and a scam as proposed by Bush), Iraq (should be ended now by cutting off funds), Iran (containable without military adventurism by Bush, a specter which should be stopped at all costs), civil liberties (severely menaced at present), getting out the vote (election procedures need amending and rights need to be safeguarded), and much more..

Conyers and Cohen dilated, when asked, on everything from inadequate traffic lights at 3rd at Holmes to the continuing shameful conditions in New Orleans after Katrina. They spoke without hesitation and with no roundabout dodges. People were still lined up to ask questions when Cohen aide Willie Henry was forced to call time, advising the crowd (which filled up both the Museum's auditorium and an overflow room with a TV monitor) that written questions could be submitted with assurances they would be answered later, presumably by mail..

The crowd, mixed with equal parts Everyman and Who's Who types, seemed satisfied. So did the two congressmen. Cohen, whose verbal nimbleness was on a par with that of his illustrious guest, will no doubt make a habit of these affairs. He would be well advised to.

Or so thought such attendees as maverick blogger Thaddeus Matthews, who boldly proclaimed afterward: "This is the first time in decades this district has gotten straight answers."

Among those "straight answers”:

  • Conyers on the Bush budget:: “The president of the United States through his budget has reversed …domestic programs that are absolutely necessary….We’ve got a list of more than two dozen programs that are either being drastically cut or eliminated in their entirety. The man is heartless. The man is ruthless….We want our tax money going for our needs, not for more mindless war….This president doesn’t care about these programs, and he’s shown in his budget. We’ve got to change that, and I don’t say that just because he’s a lousy, no-good Republican. We’ve got to make sure that Democrats keep their word, too.”

  • Cohen on the admiistration’s health-care proposals: “President Bush is suggesting giving people some kind of tax benefit. If you have a lot of money and pay a lot of taxes that’s fine. If you don’t have money…that’s not any good at all. It’s a sham policy.”

  • Conyers on impeachment vs. other priorities: “Let’s get a grip on this, folks. We’ve got a timeline. This is February 22nd. The elections are in November of next year. It’s nice to say let’s get rid of him [Bush], we want to get rid of him sooner than he’s going out. But you can’t do it. We have a plurality of one [in the Senate]. It takes two-thirds to convict….Let’s take over the government. I’d rather put in a president. And let me tell you, I like Obama, I like John Edwards from North Carolina, and I also like our colleague, Dennis Kucinich.”.

  • Cohen on the two parties in Congress: “There’s a stark difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in Washington. There isn’t necessarily that stark a difference here in Memphis, [where] there are some good Republicans. But in Washington there aren’t too many of them. Moderate Republicans do not exist. There are very few of them. They’re mostly right wing; they are reactionaries….”

  • Conyers on Katrina: “[It’s} one of the greatest scandals of this administration. There’s some. $9 million missing….There’s nothing to come back to in New Orleans. Government negligence has been more harmful than the natural disaster.”

  • Cohen on Iraq: “This is Bush’s war. It’s like Rosemary’s baby. It’s named….My hands are not tainted by a vote for this war, and I don't intend to get my hands tainted.”

  • Conyers on election irregularities: “Voting integrity is critrical. There was some fraud in the election of 2004. There was some fraud in the election of 2000. There were some questions about the elections of 2006. We have a system where the computers are now becoming our enemy because they are subject to manipulation that can not be detected, and they can make massive changes in the outcome. And so we’re insisting that there be paper trails on every federal election…..

    "We’ve got to get some people voting….We’ve got to get them to believe that there are people like Cohen and Conyers and Maxine Waters and lots of people coming into this Congress that are going to be doing something..”

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