Democrats And Republicans Used To Get Along Better

By John J. Duncan Jr.

A worker at Holston Hills Country Club a few weeks ago told me I was the only Republican he ever voted for. Many Democrats over the years have said similar things like that to both my father and me, and we always appreciated those kind words.

When someone would say that to my Dad, he would always thank them and say, “That counts double, because it means one less against me and one more for me.” That always seemed to really please the person who had spoken to him.

I am pleased that during my 30 years in Congress, Republicans and Democrats could still get along with each other.

I tried to be kind to all the Democrats both because it made my time in office more pleasant and also because the Democrats controlled the House for 16 of my 30 years there.

That meant that if I wanted to get something done for my district or for one of my constituents, I needed to try to get along with everyone.

Now, I can drive all around my old district and see probably at least 300 or more major projects that my staff and I were able to get into various bills. And the Democrats treated me about as well as the Republicans did.

During my first year in Congress, the late Knoxville lawyer, John Hogin, who loved golf, wanted to play at the famous Burning Tree Country Club where President Eisenhower often played, just outside of Washington.

I was able to get him on the course because my friend, John Corcoran, who grew up in Knoxville and went to UT, was a member there. John was the top Norfolk Southern executive in Washington.

It was a cold October day, and the only others we saw on the course that day were Tip O’Neill, the famous former speaker of the house, and another former congressman, Fred Rooney from Pennsylvania, whom I had never met.

When Mr. Rooney found out who I was, he said, “Your Dad was the only man I ever knew who never had an enemy in Washington.” I thought it was one of the finest compliments of the many I have heard about my father.

Daddy and I both tried just as hard to help Democrats as Republicans, and I believe the people knew that. We never asked anybody’s politics if they asked for our help.

Two other former leaders who always seemed to be kind to everyone in Washington were former Sen. Howard Baker and former Attorney General Ed Meese.

Sen. Baker was a great member of the Senate for 18 years, and I believe he would have been a very good president. But what impressed me even more than his time in the Senate were his two years as President Reagan’s chief of staff.

The chief of staff is often the one who has to say ‘no’ for the president. There is a mean way to say no, and a kind way to say it. Sen. Baker’s predecessor as chief left as a very unpopular man. Sen. Baker became even more popular after his two years at the White House.

In my first 10 or 15 years in the House, I used to do a 5-minute radio program each week and a 30-minute TV show once a month. I once had Ed Meese as my special guest on both shows and then took him to lunch at the Capitol Hill Club.

Mr. Meese treated everyone who wanted to speak to him that day, and there were many, with great kindness and respect. President Trump later gave Gen. Meese the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian award.

I had the privilege to serve with almost 1,500 other members of the House because there is so much turnover in elective office today.

Most of them – Democrat or Republican – were some of the finest men and women I have ever known. Unless you are a political junkie, you could probably not name 50 of them.

It is easier for a Senator to get publicity than it is for most members of the House. A typical hard-working congressman doesn’t get much publicity unless he becomes speaker of the house, chairman of a controversial committee, or gets involved in a scandal.

In fact, if a member of the House is frequently on national television, you can be sure that the member is a publicity hound who is working harder to get on TV than he or she is working for their constituents.