PUSH convention challenges candidates

CHICAGO – Delegates to the 32nd Annual Conference of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition grilled seven of the nine candidates seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination and called for a change in the nation’s foreign and domestic priorities. Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) took advantage of the occasion to announce that he had launched an inquiry into the possibility of impeachment of President Bush.

In an interview with the Chicago Defender, Conyers said more and more people are asking if Bush lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He added that constitutional lawyers “have already drafted the articles [of impeachment]. We’re examining them to see if they are substantial and credible.”

Conyers was the first member of Congress to call for impeachment of Richard Nixon.

In his keynote speech given before the forum, Rainbow/PUSH President Jesse Jackson Sr. urged Democrats not to abandon the South to the GOP as he said they did in 2000. “We must not write the South off,” he said. “It is the key to the emancipation of the whole country and the preservation of the Union.” Jackson said PUSH will conduct a “massive” voter registration drive for 2004.

During the two-hour presidential forum, the candidates took turns blasting the administration of George W. Bush while seeking to convince members of the audience they deserved the nomination. Senators John Edwards of North Carolina and Bob Graham of Florida were unable to participate because of previous commitments.

Given concern over the pending Supreme Court ruling on the affirmative action program at the University of Michigan Law School, candidates faced sharp questions on affirmative action. Although every candidate said they supported affirmative action, Reps. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) said if elected they would issue executive orders reversing any Supreme Court ruling that might jeopardize affirmative action. Gephardt added he had filed a friend-of-the-court brief when the Bush administration challenged the program at the Michigan Law School.

Kerry reminded his listeners that the 2004 election will not be a “normal election between Republicans and Democrats because these folks are not normal Republicans.”

Sharpton agreed: “There’s more than an election at stake, this very Union is at stake. We must next year make it clear that we will not be mugged by those who mugged us in Florida,” he said, in a reference to the 2000 presidential vote count.

Dean and Sharpton reserved some of their sharpest criticisms for the Democratic Party. “We are not going to defeat George Bush with Bush Lite,” Dean warned, while Sharpton said, “The donkey has been asleep. I intend to make him kick until we have kicked George Bush out of the White House.”

Kucinich challenged Bush to join him in a visit to Cleveland, Ohio, where the congressman had once been mayor. “That’s where we’ll find weapons of mass destruction: homelessness, inadequate health care, poor educational opportunity, unemployment.”

In his criticism of Bush’s economic policy, Kerry, who subtly played the “war veteran” card, said people are getting tired of being trickled on.

Kucinich was the most forceful in opposition to Pentagon spending where, he said, “Money spent on missiles that fail denies money for children who are failing in school.”

During an exchange on Pentagon spending, Dean distanced himself from Kucinich, saying: “I do not support cutting the military budget when we are at war with terrorism.”

Former Senator Carol Moseley Braun said the Iraqi War was “a war of choice, not necessity. Bush took advantage of 9/11 to push an extreme agenda in an effort to cover up a failed presidency.” Braun said she would continue to speak truth to power, “although my voice will not be as high as some of the fellows.”

Although no polls were taken and while the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. says he will not make an endorsement “anytime soon,” the audience showed a clear preference for candidates who made the sharpest criticisms of Bush and brought forward the most specific solutions to issues such as education, unemployment, taxes, health care, military spending and the Iraq war.

There were no dissenting votes when Braun said, “Whatever our differences, we are united on the need to get rid of Bush.”

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