“America First,” he said, whereupon the skies opened, the thunder cracked, the rains came . . . who knew the empire was so sensitive?

The corporate-media response to Patrick J. Buchanan’s A Republic, Not an Empire—and when is the last time a presidential candidate wrote his own campaign book?—rivals the Two-Minute Hates directed at Goldstein in Orwell’s 1984. By uttering the forbidden words “America First,” Buchanan unleashed a flood of American images and associations—the Spirit of St. Louis, Grant Wood’s Iowa, Robert Frost, one-room schoolhouses—that have no place in the post-republic Nowheresville of Strobe Talbott and Madeleine Albright.

Isolationists—that is, those Americans who would really rather not bomb, kill, and maim foreigners who have threatened no violence to the continental United States—are in the dock, as they have been in times of hot and cold war since 1917. Writing in 19?0, the Jeffersonian poet Edgar Lee Masters marveled that during the Mexican War, “There was great opposition to die war over the country; but at that time an American was permitted to speak out against a war if he chose to do so.” Masters had seen, if not completely believed, the furious repression of antiwar dissent during World War I, when Sen. Robert La Follette was almost expelled from the Senate for making (George) Washingtonian utterances. Just as the choleric Masters was reviled for doubting the wisdom of the Civil War some 65 years after “Our American Cousin” was so rudely interrupted, Pat Buchanan has been arraigned for the hate crime of suggesting that, 60 years ago, there were alternatives to the abattoir and its resultant empire.

Better lo be in the dock than down the memory hole. For half a century, the question asked across clotheslines and in diners and before beers at the Elks Club—”Why are we over there?”—has gone unvoiced within the corridors of power as well as on the TV screen and in the newspapers. But the 1990’s may be remembered as the decade when dissenters found their voice. The gutsy foes of the Gulf War, the Somalia-Haiti-Bosnia intrusions, and the War on Serbia spoke in increasingly American accents; by decade’s end, we were seeing the first halting steps toward a left-right coalition against the globalists and centralists—a coalition reminiscent of the brave band that gathered under the America First banner: Main Street Republicans, patrician liberals, farmers, homegrown socialists, East Coast libertarians, radical La Follettes and reactionary Tafts. If Hamilton Fish and Norman Thomas could stand together, why not Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader? Ron Paul and Jerry Brown? Bob Smith and Russell Feingold?

The reflowering (the courtiers to power call it a recrudescence) of isolationism as an American dream and a ruling-class nightmare is due in significant part to Chronicles. America First—a patriotic isolationism that springs from love of country, and in particular that little corner of the country that a man calls home—was thought to be dead and buried. But it lives. Thus the homicides have unsheathed their daggers again. America First must die. I do not mean this metaphorically: The clear intent of the hysterical smears of Pat Buchanan is to inspire some hingeless itinerant to do the empire’s dirty work. (He will be a lone nut, of course, who is thoughtful enough to keep a diary with all the right words misspelled.)

Something is happening in American politics. It may be a last gasp, or a forlorn hope. Or perhaps the dead really can rise. Maybe a new party of the people is aborning. For who could have guessed that, as we enter the 21st century, all the king’s whores and all the king’s whores would be taking aim at rumbustious patriots whose banners read “America First”?