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Farragut’s Duncan maintains ‘no war’ correct vote
First of a two-part converstion with U.S. Congressman John J. Duncan Jr.

Perhaps teenaged John J. Duncan Jr. sensed a special brand of conservatism he would later come to appreciate — stubborn in its consistency beyond popular party politics — within the heart and mind of 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.

Heading to the ’64 GOP convention as a teenager strongly behind the Arizona Senator, “I rode a train for seventy-seven hours out to San Francisco to be an honorary sergeant-at-arms,” U.S. Rep Duncan (R-Tenn.) said. “I’ve told people you can’t get any lower than being an honorary assistant, but it got me into the convention.”

Contributing his first paycheck to Goldwater — a little more than $19 earned at a local A&P grocery store between his junior and senior year in high school — Duncan said Goldwater’s perceived left turn politically in the latter years of his senatorial career stemmed from being pro-gay rights.

However, “He came at that from a conservative, or libertarian, position,” Duncan said. “In other words, he didn’t think the government should be involved in the bedroom, so to speak.”

Duncan, a Farragut resident who’s represented the Second District since first being elected in 1988, has faced a similar conservative wall of resentment with his anti-Iraq war positions and subsequent voting pattern.

“That position of mine is sort of similar to what happened to Barry Goldwater, in a way, on the gay issue,” the Congressman said. “Some people think that was a liberal, or left-wing, position. In my way of thinking, it wasn’t liberal at all. In fact, I think the war in Iraq went against every traditional conservative position I’ve ever known. … I felt the war in Iraq was going to mean massive foreign aid.”

That was more than $400 billion ago when Duncan casts his first anti-Iraq war vote in October 2002.

“At the time that I pushed the button to vote against the war back originally in October of two thousand two, I actually wondered if I was ending my political career at that time,” Duncan said of what has now become more than 10,000 votes cast since 1989. “And the first couple of years, it was very rough because I had some people who were very angry about it who were very mad at me. Actually, most of those people had been some of my strongest supporters.

“In fact, I was called to the White House, put in a very small room down there with Condoleezza Rice [Secretary of State] and George Tenant, who was head of the C-I-A, and John McLaughlin, the deputy director of the C-I-A, just or three days before we had that vote because they found out I was leaning against the war,” Duncan added.

But the Congressman said he went on the offensive, citing “traditional conservative positions” that would be violated by a war with Iraq: against massive foreign aid; against huge deficit spending; not wanting to put the entire burden of enforcing United Nations resolutions on taxpayers and the military, and not wanting the U.S. to be policeman of the world.

In addition, Duncan said he challenged the trio: “I asked them, ‘Do you have any evidence of any eminent threat?’ And they said, no they didn’t.”

The Congressman said Rice assured him that “a war with Iraq … it might be fifty- or sixty-billion [dollars], and that the Iraqis would be able to play for the most of that through their oil reserves.”

About four-and-a-half years later, “It’s well past four hundred billion …,” Duncan said. “And now with the associated medical and disability costs they’re going to have to pay, that you’re talking about two trillion dollars.

“Here we go to war against a country that had not threatened to attack us … and was not even capable of attacking us,” he added.

Duncan, 59, recalled receiving a letter from a former U.S. Army sergeant living in Seymour he characterized as “probably the most hateful letter I’ve every received.

“But more than four years later, I can tell you, it’s a big majority who agree with me now … particularly the veterans who have faced combat,” Duncan added.

Despite his anti-Iraq war votes the past four-and-a-half years, Duncan said he’s been treated well by President George W. Bush. “He’s been very nice to me all through this time,” the Congressman said.

Part two of farragutpress’ interview with U.S. Rep. Duncan in next week’s issue.


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