Bob Dole is the last of the Taft Republicans, according to Murray Kempton—if only it were so! Isolationists (that is, Middle Americans who do not want our sons or brothers sent to die or kill on foreign sands) cherish Dole’s remark in his 1976 vice presidential debate with the dreary Mondale: “I figured up the other day, if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.” But the grim fact is that Bob Dole has supported every war the Empire has stumbled into, from Vietnam to Nicaragua to Panama to the Gulf, and whatever wholesome Taftite impulses he once had were purged when he dumped his dowdy first wife for the calculating dressed-for-success Liddy.

The “Democrat wars” crack still haunts Dole. He has abjectly apologized for it countless times, most recently on Meet the Press, but it will not go away, because it so vividly bespeaks an “isolationism” which has been forbidden since the death of Senator Robert A. Taft ushered in our poisonous bipartisan Era of Good Feelings. At his best, Taft upheld the nonentanglement doctrine of Washington’s Farewell Address, which is why Taft’s heirs are not turning their lonely eyes to Bob Dole—the Bosnia hawk, the senator from Archer-Daniels-Midland. Yes, in 1972, Dole rightly called the Democrats “traditionally this nation’s war party” (conveniently forgetting 1861 and 1898, but then here in the United States of Amnesia the 19th century doesn’t count), yet the only 1996 Republican hopeful with even a trace of a Taftite accent is Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan’s case is instructive. He is the lone Republican candidate to oppose—loudly, tub-thumpingly—the Gulf War, NAFTA, GATT, and the Mexican bailout, and for these populist stands he is reviled by the corporate media. “Isolationist!” is the epithet—which is just another way of saying “someone who is opposed to killing or subsidizing foreigners.”

Unfortunately, Buchanan seems to have muted the pacific tones of the antiwar America First theme he ran on in 1992. He recently rattled sabers when Saddam Hussein—taking his turn again as our Hitler of the Month—jailed those two Baedeker-less wanderers, and he can still utter the phrase “liberation of Grenada” with a straight face. Nevertheless, Buchanan’s thunderbolts against the corporate state and world government contain more genuine populist current than a thousand mewlings from the Gephardts and Daschles and other paladins of . . . I almost wrote “the opposition party,” but we do have a Democratic President, don’t we?

(Unsolicited advice to Buchanan: combine your enthusiasm for national referenda with Ross Perot’s electronic town hall to produce a new version of the Ludlow Amendment of the 1930’s, which would have required a declaration of war to be ratified by a nationwide vote. An early supporter of the war referendum, William Jennings Bryan—and does anyone care to wager that next year’s centenary of the Cross of Gold speech will go unobserved?—once declared, “I so believe in the right of the people to have what they want that I admit the right of the people to go to war if they really want it. There should be a referendum vote about it, however, and those who voted for war should enlist first, together with the jingo newspaper editors.” Oh, to see William F. Buckley, Jr., parachuting into Kuwait City, and Susan Sontag charging with her bayonet through the streets of Sarajevo!)

Buchanan the irresponsible demagogue—he has the bad manners to exercise the musty right of dissent—is often contrasted with the oh so sober and responsible Senator Richard Lugar, a kind of McGeorge Bundy Republican who has never met a foreign involvement he didn’t like. “Sane and serious,” the Wall Street Journal judges Lugar. “He’s very solid on foreign policy,” gushes Brent Scowcroft, the military bureaucrat who advised George Bush on the most effective way to slaughter Iraqi mothers and children and conscripts and is therefore an “expert” on defense matters. “He’s a very sound, very thoughtful and conservative internationalist.” This describes every national Republican since the noble Taft’s death, and it is the most irritating symptom of our one-party system. (Can we agree in advance to view Lugar’s pathetic showing in the primaries as a referendum on the New World Order?)

Credit Lugar, at least, with validating everything the left says about Republicans: to kick off his presidential campaign he proposed to scrap the income tax (hurrah!) and substitute for it a noxious 17 percent national sales tax—thus effectively shifting the tax burden off the plutes who finance the Republican Party and onto the backs of the working slobs whose sons would fill the body bags under President Lugar.

There are plenty of Taft Republicans and Bryan Democrats out here in exotic places like Kansas and Ohio, where Madison Avenue imagines us to have physiques “like a rock” and the permanent government treats us like Iraq. The Republicans among us will probably vote for Buchanan in the primaries and we Democrats will go with Jerry Brown (if he runs; run Jerry run!), then in November we will switch to the Libertarian or Perotista candidate. But as the chanteuse once asked, it that all there is?

The Emporia oracle William Allen White—”fatboy,” Hamlin Garland called him in his diaries—used to say that Kansas was “the low barometer of the nation. When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.” What is happening in Kansas today has nothing to do with Bob Dole. In 1992 Perot won 27 percent of the Jayhawker state’s votes; a rambunctious secession movement is kicking up dust in the southwestern counties, where locals are sick of being exploited by Topeka and Wichita.

Out of this wonderful roil and boil might we finally get the third party we deserve? One that will stand for the individual against the state, for the neighborhood against the nation, for the village against the globe, for the local against the international, for the small against the big, and for good old American self-reliance, mutual aid, and voluntary cooperation against the wicked acronyms (GATT, NATO, NAFTA, and anything beginning with “U.N.”) so beloved by the forces of consolidation, conformity, and worldwide standardization? A party in which a Bob Dole who cravenly begs pardon for telling the truth is pitied rather than nominated?