John Duncan’s ‘Told You So’ Moment

Representative John Duncan of Tennessee can still remember being hauled into the George W. Bush White House when “they found out I was leaning against it.”

The day before, the Washington Post had run a story on the front page estimating the cost of war in Iraq at $200-300 billion, Duncan recalls, but Condeleeza Rice assured him it would only cost $50-60 billion, and that most of that would be recouped as allies paid their share.

Rice and George Tenet also played up the threats, just like he remembered from the first Gulf War, during which he was also in Congress. Then, top military brass had gravely warned about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s “elite troops.”

“Then I saw those same elite troops surrendering to CNN camera crews and empty tanks,” Duncan says. Despite the browbeating at the White House, Duncan stuck to his guns and voted “no.” Six House Republicans and one GOP senator voted no, but Duncan is the only one still in Congress.

It wasn’t popular back home – at all. Two years after the vote, Duncan was slated to deliver a sermon at a Baptist church in his district. But the Monday before the service, an embarrassed minister called to cancel, explaining that his main deacon had threatened to leave the church.

But a funny thing happened as “$50-60 billion” turned slowly into trillions and the wars dragged on. “For three or four years it very unpopular but then slowly, slowly, it turned into one of the most popular votes I ever cast,” Duncan says.

Now, with a debate over whether to intervene in Syria underway, Dunacn is inundated with pleas from his constituents to vote no. Over about two days, he received 720 phone calls and e-mails, of which exactly six were in support of intervening. Dunan’s chief of staff said that in the cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building, he overheard a conversation between two staffers who had been completely blindsided by the uproar they were hearing from constituents. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” one of the aides said.

“There’s a real strong feeling in the country that these wars have just cost us so much money that we don’t have. I think the newer people – you know, 42 percent of the House is new just in the last two elections – so you’ve got people who have been out there campaigning and I think they have a pretty good idea of how upset the people have been about the trillions that have been spent and will be spent on Iraq and Afghanistan. People are just fed up with it. There’s a strong feeling that we need to start taking care of our own country and our own people,” Duncan says.

But despite all the signs that the Syria push is faltering, Duncan thinks Obama will prevail.

“Most of the top leadership, they want to be seen as world statesmen, and most of the national media is strongly in favor of an interventionist foreign policy and certainly all of your foreign-policy elitists are in favor of an interventionist foreign policy. So if you go against that, the first thing they say is that you’re an ‘isolationist’ and nobody wants to be called an ‘isolationist.’ I always tell people I’m for trade and tourism and cultural-education exchanges and to help out in humanitarian crises but we just shouldn’t be so eager to go to war,” he says.  

Most Popular

Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More