Voters who are weary of endless war may have no choice at the presidential level next November. This is a very large group to be denied a vote on a key issue.
A CNN/ORC poll released in November found that 68 percent of Americans opposed the war in Iraq and 63 percent are against the one in Afghanistan. Yet, we keep hearing that only hawks have a chance to be elected president.
Or, in the case of Barack Obama, reelected. Although President Obama has withdrawn U.S. troops from Iraq, the war in Afghanistan grinds on. Mr. Obama expanded the drone warfare that has killed many civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He ordered military action in Libya without even consulting Congress.
President Obama also supports war-related violations of the Bill of Rights, such as the misnamed Patriot Act and the indefinite detention — without trial — of terrorism suspects. And his administration failed to prosecute U.S. officials from the previous administration who authorized or practiced torture.
All of this makes many people think about voting for Rep. Ron Paul, the anti-war Republican congressman from Texas. Establishment political observers insist Dr. Paul has no chance to win the Republican nomination. They have been shocked, though, by recent headlines such as "Ron Paul rising in Iowa polls" and "Can Ron Paul win New Hampshire?"
Recently, Dr. Paul and Mitt Romney were the only candidates who qualified for Virginia's Republican primary ballot. And a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Dec. 20 showed Dr. Paul just five points behind President Barack Obama (Mr. Obama 49, Dr. Paul 44).
There is one cloud on Dr. Paul's horizon: reports of newsletters, published years ago under his name, that contained racist remarks. Dr. Paul says he didn't write those remarks and disavows them. He says he was negligent in not keeping a close watch on the newsletters. But he needs to add that he now keeps tight control on what is said or done in his name. No president — or potential president — can afford to have loose cannons rolling around the deck.
Dr. Paul is firmly anti-war, anti-empire and anti-torture. He has been drawing large crowds in Iowa. He has legions of volunteers and a steady source of money through Internet fundraising. His supporters are willing, as one said, to "crawl over broken glass" for him. So if there is snow in Iowa or New Hampshire, that should be no problem.
The Texas congressman polls high with independents, and some anti-war Democrats plan to vote for him as well. Robin Koerner, a blogger for HuffingtonPost.com, urges Democrats to become "Blue Republicans" in order to vote for Mr. Paul in primaries and caucuses. Mr. Koerner's BlueRepublican.org website offers state-by-state information on how they can do this.
In Iowa, voters can change their registration even on the night of tomorrow's caucuses in order to caucus with Republicans. Some have switched already to vote for Dr. Paul. After he spoke to more than 700 people at the University of Northern Iowa in early December, Alison Gowans of WestDesMoinesPatch.com reported: "In a way, the atmosphere was reminiscent of the crowds of young voters who greeted Barack Obama when he campaigned four years ago. Some Paul supporters in the crowd, in fact, said they voted for Obama in 2008 — but wouldn't do so again. Instead, this time, they are all about Ron Paul." The Paul campaign registered 70 voters after the candidate's talk. Some were not happy to become Republicans, yet still did it so they could vote for Dr. Paul.
Lynn Chong, formerly a Democratic county chair in New Hampshire, switched her registration to "undeclared" (independent) so she can vote in the primary for Ron Paul. (New Hampshire and some other states allow independents to vote in a party primary.) Ms. Chong's top concern "is stopping war," she told Judge Andrew Napolitano of the "Freedom Watch" Fox News program. She said Dr. Paul is "not an afraid person at all. He's not hedging his bets. He says what he believes." She emphasized that "I want someone who will really challenge President Obama."
Will Hopkins is a combat veteran of the Iraq War who now heads a peace group in New Hampshire. He, too, plans to vote for Dr. Paul. He told me that many New Hampshire peace people are "talking about taking a Republican ballot this time." Some may vote for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. But of the "most passionate" anti-war people, Mr. Hopkins said, the majority will vote for Ron Paul.
Even before the Iowa caucus, the pro-war faction of the Republican Party is already rolling up its heavy artillery in an effort to destroy Ron Paul. Anti-war voters in other states should think now about changing their registration so they can help him withstand a brutal assault. Most deadlines for switching have not yet passed, but some are fast approaching.
Independents and Democrats who vote for Dr. Paul can have a real impact on Republican primaries and caucuses, possibly tipping some close ones. Anti-war Democrats have an added incentive: By changing registration, and telling Democratic precinct workers what they are doing and why, they can send a powerful message to their party. According to Third Way, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Democrats have already lost more than 800,000 registered voters in seven swing states since 2008. They can't afford to lose many more.
Regardless of party — and whether liberal, moderate, or conservative — it's time for anti-war citizens to make their votes count.
Mary Meehan is a Maryland writer who has published widely on issues of life and death. Her website is MeehanReports.com, and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.