Last week, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson announced his candidacy for president of the United States.
This was a historic event, because 1) Johnson wants to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 2) Johnson is a Republican. He also wants to slash the military budget.
Last year, he teamed up with singer Melissa Etheridge and actor Danny Glover for a Hollywood rally in favor of Proposition 19 – an initiative that would have legalized marijuana in California.
This suggests that Johnson can play well with others around issues of common concern.
It is tremendously important that there be at least one Republican candidate for president who is against the war in Afghanistan.
Polls show that Republican voters have turned against the war. But the majority of Republican voters who want US troops out of Afghanistan are, so far, almost totally unrepresented by Republican officials in Washington. Johnson's campaign could break through the national Republican wall, because as a candidate for president, Johnson will be able to get into the media and the national Republican Party leadership – “the party's ruling class,” as The Hill put it – won't be able to silence him. Even if he doesn't get a dime from Lockheed or Raytheon, they won't be able to keep him off the stage in the early Republican debates, and that will change the discussion.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll in March found that 56 percent of Republicans think the United States should “withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer.” That is, the majority of Republican voters are ahead of the Obama administration, which hasn't yet committed to a substantial withdrawal this summer.
But the high-water mark in the House so far for Republican support on any initiative against the indefinite continuation of the Afghanistan war is nine votes. That's about 5 percent of the Republicans in the House. Five percent versus 56 percent – that's a pretty big gap. The enforcement of the will of the Republican Party's “ruling class” against the will of the majority of Republican voters is a key pillar sustaining the war.
This pillar of the war must be attacked. The candidacy of Johnson is a weapon for doing so.
Of course, Johnson's candidacy faces obstacles. He is not a billionaire. He is not backed by the party establishment – no candidate against the war will be. He will not be backed by the establishment media.
On the other hand, Johnson's candidacy has a potential X weapon: Americans who typically don't vote in Republican primaries and caucuses who want to end the war.
After all, we all want to support democracy in Cairo and Madison. Why not support democracy in the Republican Party on the question of the war?
Now, some may be thinking, what does this have to do with me? I am not a “Republican.”
But whether you are a “Republican” or not, you have to live with the consequences of the fact that the national Republican Party is not representing the majority of Republican voters who want to see US troops come out of Afghanistan, because this is a key buttress of the continuation of the war.
Corporations back Republicans and Democrats, as it suits their perceived interests. So do labor unions, environmentalists, women's groups and gay rights groups. Why should peace advocates be any different? What one does in November in one thing; what one does in the primary season is another. If there is no Democratic primary for president, if there is no anti-war primary for Congress where you live, why waste your anti-war vote in an uncontested primary?
Many states have open primaries: any voter can vote in any primary. In other states, you have to register with a given party in order to participate in that party's primary. New Hampshire – a critical, early state, where the Eugene McCarthy campaign showed the Lyndon Johnson administration the depth of anti-war sentiment – is in between: if you register as an “undeclared” voter, you can vote in any primary.
But even if you live in a state with a “closed primary” – check with local authorities for rules and deadlines – political parties in America are squishy things. Who's to say you're not a “Republican”? You are if you say you are. In the future, you can say something else.
Of course, many people will consider the temporary assumption of a “Republican” identity, even for a day, as a bridge too far.
But consider: if you could stop the killing in Afghanistan by temporarily assuming a “Republican” identity, would that not be morally justified?
In Jewish law, the protection of human life takes precedence over all. Therefore, voting in a Republican primary to end the war is a mitzvah.
And what would Jesus do in this situation? Wouldn't Jesus vote in a Republican primary to end the war? As the Bible says:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”