If you like irony, think about this. Sixty years ago, the president of General Motors was nominated to be Secretary of Defense.
Today, we remember only one thing about “Engine Charlie” Wilson – his famous quote: “I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” Today, that would almost certainly have sunk his nomination.
Back then, it caused scarcely a ripple. Wilson died in 1961, and I wonder what he would say if he came back to life and learned that Chrysler was owned by the Italians, Ford was about to have a Jewish CEO and his beloved GM had not only gone bankrupt, it was now a much smaller company run by a woman. Oh yes, and by the way – the president of the United States is black.
But something almost as unbelievable may be about to happen. It seems more and more likely that John Conyers, the longest-serving African-American in Congressional history, will not be on the August primary ballot. Any candidate for Congress has to file at least 1,000 valid signatures from registered voters in the district in order to get on the ballot. Conyers filed 2,000.
That’s pretty standard practice, since some signatures are always invalid. People don’t always remember where they live or they are registered to vote. But what is clear is that the people circulating the petitions have to be registered themselves.
And at least two of Conyers’ petition circulators plainly were not. Now, one Detroit TV station is reporting that a third signature gatherer may not have been registered, either. Any signatures these folks collected are automatically null and void.
That may in itself be enough to knock John Conyers off the Democratic primary ballot. Now, he could still mount a write-in campaign in the primary. Write-in efforts usually fail, though everybody remembers that last year, Mike Duggan won the Detroit primary for mayor as a write-in after he was kicked off the ballot.
But there are reasons to think that was different. There was a great sense that Duggan had been unfairly denied. There was also a strong feeling that he was the only candidate who might have the ability to maybe pull Detroit out if its current mess.
Duggan was well-funded, and is a political mastermind who knows how to run a field campaign. John Conyers will be 85 years old this month. The chaotic nature of his office is legendary in Detroit, though the media has mostly avoided discussing it.
And the worst-kept secret in politics is that John Conyers is no longer the man he was when he was the young firebrand on the committee that voted to impeach Richard Nixon 40 years ago.
Fifty years in Congress is an incredible career.
John Conyers will go down in history as the man who made Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday, who helped create the Congressional Black Caucus and fought to see that jazz music gets the national reputation it has long deserved.
If this forces him to gracefully leave now, with dignity, it might, be a blessing in disguise.