Blues for Jimmy Duncan

by | Dec 16, 2021


Were Pulitzer Prize-winning “author” John F. Kennedy — I mean Ted Sorensen — to write Profiles in Courage today, taking his subjects from the contemporary political world, his pickings would be mighty slim. I suppose he might produce one of those comically brief novelty books, à la Steve Miller’s Higher Poetics or Hot Stuff by Mamie Eisenhower.

For my part, I can’t think of a sharper modern political profile in courage than that cut by Tennessee Republican John J.“Jimmy” Duncan, Jr., who represented Knoxville in the US House of Representatives for thirty years before his retirement in 2019.

Jimmy — full disclosure: I am a friend and admirer — was one of the six brave and prescient House Republicans who resisted intense lobbying by George W. Bush and his lying courtiers and the braying of jingoes to vote against the US invasion of Iraq in October 2002.

Given that the architects of this catastrophe paid no price whatsoever — that will have to wait for the afterlife — and the Republican politicians who gutlessly caved to Bush went right on being reelected, and the talking heads who squealed with delight over the rockets’ red glare experienced none of the discomforts of life during wartime, the least we can do for that noble sextet is to say their names: Jimmy Duncan, John Hostettler, Amory Houghton, Jim Leach, Connie Morella, Ron Paul.

Like Fighting Bob La Follette dissenting from that sanctimonious prig Woodrow Wilson’s “War to End All Wars,” they risked obloquy and worse for advancing two propositions. 1: The United States should not be the world’s policeman, and 2: Thou shalt not kill.

You might think Proposition Two would find favor among Decalogue devotees, but a church in Lenoir City, Tennessee, revoked Duncan’s invitation to deliver a lay sermon when its biggest contributor threatened to quit and take his pieces of silver with him if this peacenik in Republican clothing were permitted to profane the pulpit.

Jimmy Duncan has just published a charming memoir, From Batboy to Congressman, which is brought out, fittingly, by his hometown University of Tennessee Press. The book, organized as a series of vignettes, stories and character sketches, wonderfully demonstrates why this thoughtful and self-effacing man cruised to victory every biennium — even after he’d been sternly warned that his anti-Iraq War vote was a political suicide note.

Jimmy Duncan is a man who knows his place, which is one of the highest compliments I can give. That place is Knoxville in East Tennessee, the traditional Republican outpost of the Upper South, for which he has a fully requited love.

Fair use excerpt. Read the whole article here.