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).

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