Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sobel Wiki: impeachy

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Bruce Hogg, the fifteenth Governor-General of the Confederation of North America, and an ardent isolationist.

Being an isolationist was not unusual for a North American politician of Hogg's generation. The backlash against the Starkist Terror of 1899-1901 had made isolationism the bipartisan consensus position in the C.N.A. It was Hogg's main opponent, Douglas Watson of the Liberal Party, who was the outlier in calling for increased military spending and closer ties to Great Britain. So, when North American business mogul Owen Galloway announced his opposition to Watson's military spending bill in July 1934, Hogg was prepared, if you'll pardon the expression, to go hog-wild. He even went so far as to introduce an impeachment measure against Watson in January 1935.

Which was a rather odd thing to do, given the way the C.N.A.'s government was organized. The C.N.A. was basically a parliamentary democracy, with the Governor-General, the head of government, appointed by the majority party in the Grand Council, the legislature. Sobel even specifically says on page 85 that the Governor-General "would serve so long as he retained the confidence of that body." And to prove it, the C.N.A.'s very first Governor-General, Winfield Scott, fell from power after losing a confidence vote in April 1849. So what's with all this "impeachment" stuff? If Hogg wants to stop Watson, all he has to do is introduce a no-confidence vote, and if a majority of the Council disapproves of Watson's foreign policy (and Sobel makes it pretty clear that they do), then Watson is gone, and the Grand Council "goes to the country" as the British say: there's a snap election, and the voters decide which policy they prefer.

The problem here, I think, is that Sobel can't stop thinking like an American. He wants the drama of an impeachment fight, but in the headlong rush to finish the book, he's lost sight of the fact that the C.N.A. doesn't have impeachment fights. Chapter 23, which deals with the Starkist Terror at the turn of the 20th century, suffers from the same problem. Sobel wants Governor-General Ezra Gallivan to bravely battle against the war hysteria that grips the C.N.A. in 1899, but Gallivan spends two years fighting to stay in office before he finally resigns. If Gallivan was as unpopular as Sobel says he was, he should have been gone in a week.

For Want of a Nail was a work of great imagination, but there's no denying that Sobel wasn't always as careful with his world-building as he should have been.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sobel Wiki: The old switcheroo

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Alvin Silva, the last democratically-elected President of the United States of Mexico.

Silva is an example of a phenomenon that we see a fair amount of in For Want of a Nail, where two political parties swap programs over the course of a fairly brief period of time. We've seen that happen in our own history, with the Democrats and the Republicans swapping support for and opposition to civil rights. In our own history, though, the change took a century. In the Sobel Timeline, the C.N.A.'s Liberal Party and People's Coalition swap positions on isolationism and military spending very quickly, between the 1938 and 1953 Grand Council elections. Of course, in the Sobel Timeline, this is the result of the rest of the world being wrecked by a world war that the C.N.A. stays out of. For that matter we are told that even in the 1930s there was a significant faction among the Liberals that opposed their leader's military spending program, so it seems to be the case that this faction became the majority over the course of the Global War, while the isolationist majority in the People's Coalition became a minority there.

In the U.S.M., a similar policy swap took place over the interrelated issues of slavery, isolationism, and business regulation between 1920 and 1932. After the restoration of democracy in the U.S.M. in 1902, two major parties appeared: the Liberty Party, which was revived after being driven underground during the Hermión dictatorship, and the United Mexican Party, which took the place of the pre-Hermión Continentalist Party. The Libertarians were strongly isolationist, opposed to slavery, and sought greater regulation of Kramer Associates, the One Big Zaibatsu that dominated the economy of post-Hermión Mexico. The U.M.P. was only mildly isolationist, was content to allow slavery to remain in existence, and was basically in K.A.'s pocket, though Sobel goes to considerable lengths to deny this.

The Chapultepec Incident of 1916 suddenly brought slavery to the forefront of Mexican politics. Even though there were only 103,000 slaves in a nation of 132 million people, most Mexicans were opposed to freeing them. The Mexican political establishment was paralysed: the institution had become intolerable, but it would be political suicide to try to end it. The impass was finally broken in 1920 with the election of Libertarian candidate Emiliano Calles, an army general who had defeated the French in the Hundred Day War and was consequently the most popular man in Mexico. Calles was able to persuade Douglas Benedict, the head of K.A., to support ending slavery, and Benedict was able to use his financial control of the United Mexican Party to ensure passage of Calles' Manumission Act.

U.M.P. supporters, who tended to oppose manumission, were outraged. It was made clear to them that the U.M.P.'s leaders obeyed K.A. rather than the people who voted for them. Assemblyman Pedro Fuentes, a U.M.P. member who had refused to obey orders from Benedict, took advantage of this public outrage to make himself the leader of the U.M.P., and he was able to ride popular resentment of K.A. to victory in the 1926 presidential election. Fuentes spent his entire term attempting to bring K.A. under control, only to find that its control of Mexican politics made it invincible.

This set the stage for the rise of Alvin Silva. Silva was a Libertarian Senator who had faithfully supported the manumission effort. Along with the rest of the Liberty Party, he had accepted Calles' grand bargain with Kramer Associates: the Libertarians would cease attempting to regulate K.A. in exchange for the company's support for manumission. As a result, Silva was a persistent critic of Fuentes' attack on the company. When Silva was elected President in his turn in 1932, he ended Fuentes' attempts to bring K.A. to heel. Instead, he devoted himself to a new cause: bringing unity to the people of the U.S.M. by pursuing an aggressive foreign policy (and thus abandoning the Liberty Party's traditional isolationism along with its traditional hostility to Kramer Associates).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The internet talks to itself

Here from Politico is a piece about Republicans wondering why young people don't vote for them.

And here from Wonkette is a piece about a high school in a New York suburb that voted to make a couple of guys their yearbook's "cutest couple."

A subtle pattern begins to emerge!