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.

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