1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 07
She nodded toward Piazza. “The most conservative American in our world — someone like Tino Nobili, for instance –”
That brought a sarcastic bark from Ed and a little titter of laughter from a number of other people. Even among down-timers in Magdeburg, the cranky up-time pharmacist in Grantville was notorious. He’s to the right of Attila the Hun was a common up-time depiction of the man.
“Even someone like Nobili,” Rebecca continued, “is more progressive than most people — yes, even most commoners — in the Europe of our time. He does not, for instance, object to women being able to vote or hold office, whether electoral or hereditary. Nor — unlike almost all apothecary guilds in the here and now — does he have a problem with the idea of a woman someday running his own pharmacy.”
She let that sink in, for a moment. “In politics, things are always relative. I can remember a time — so can many of you in this room — when John Chandler Simpson seemed to be a bastion of reaction. Today… not so much, does he? At least, I’ve never heard anyone in this room suggest that he should be removed from his position as the leading admiral of our navy. And my husband Michael thinks quite highly of the man. Now. Not a few years ago, however.”
She shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “The essence of conservatism is not a political philosophy of any kind. It is a general attitude.” Again, she nodded toward Ed Piazza. “His folk have a plethora of saws expressing that attitude. So does every folk. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s my personal favorite — and, by the way, a piece of wisdom I subscribe to myself. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. That’s another. A third — I’m quite fond of this one also — is be careful what you wish for because you might get it. And finally, of course, there is the famous Murphy’s Law, which perhaps encapsulates the heart of conservatism: if something can go wrong, it will.”
Piazza now chimed in. “I agree with Rebecca. The point she’s making is that we will always have a strong conservative faction to deal with. Folks, I can even remember myself voting Republican up-time once in a while.” Seeing the lack of comprehension on some faces, he waved his hand. “Republicans were our variety of Crown Loyalists — well, sort of — back in up-time America. The point is –”
He leaned forward to give emphasis to his next words. “Since we’re going to have a conservative political party to deal with here in the USE, it’s entirely in our interest to have it be one that’s reasonable and responsible — and, yes, Gunther, that’s quite possible. We had plenty of conservative politicians like that where I came from.”
Rebecca picked up the thread. “We can deal with Amelie Elisabeth, without any threat or risk of violence. The same is true with Wettin himself, now that he’s broken from the outright reactionaries. No, that’s not really putting it the right way, is it? He didn’t ‘break’ from them — they ousted him from office and placed him in prison because he objected to their treasonous behavior. And we all know from Gretchen’s letters that Ernst Wettin conducted himself most honorably during Báner’s siege of Dresden.”
Smooth as silk, Charlotte Kienitz inserted herself back into the discussion. “So what you’re saying is that we should do whatever we can to encourage a rupture between outright reactionaries and those conservatives who are following the principles which Alessandro Scaglia lays out in his recent book Political Methods and the Laws of Nations.”
Scaglia was a former Savoyard diplomat who’d become one of the chief advisers to King Fernando and his very shrewd wife Maria Anna, a former archduchess of Austria. In fact, the newly reunited Netherlands could be called the best current state practitioner of those principles. Rebecca had devoted two full chapters of her book to an analysis of Scaglia’s theses — an analysis which was sometimes in agreement and never harshly critical.
“Yes, exactly,” Rebecca said. She then bestowed a benign gaze upon the glowering face of Gunther Achterhof. “I realize that this course of action will not always be met with favor by the conservatives in our own movement. I speak of those folk who are generally set in their ways and dislike flexibility as a matter of course.”
A big round of laughter erupted in the room. After a moment, Gunther allowed a crooked smile to come to his face. The man had virtues as well as faults, one of them being a good if usually acerbic sense of humor.
After the meeting ended and the gathering dissolved into pleasant conversation and chitchat, Charlotte sidled up to Rebecca.
“I notice you didn’t bring up the issue of your retirement in Ed’s favor,” she said.
“No, Ed and I decided that we’d do better to keep it to one controversy at a time. We’ll be holding another full meeting in a few days. I’ll bring it up then.”
They’d already agreed that Rebecca would resign from her seat in the House of Commons, thereby creating a slot for Piazza so he could run in the special by-election that would be called to choose her successor. She represented a district of the city of Magdeburg that was so overwhelmingly pro-Fourth of July Party that the Crown Loyalists hadn’t even bothered to run a candidate. It was perhaps the safest seat in the entire parliament and there was no doubt that Piazza would win the election.
Ed needed to be a member of Parliament if he were to serve as the USE’s next prime minister. He could not do so as the president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. That position placed him in the House of Lords and disqualified him from the nation’s top executive position.
As for Rebecca, she would concentrate on the election campaign itself. Although the term wasn’t being used, she would be what up-time Americans would have called Piazza’s campaign manager.
And after the election, assuming Piazza won — which most people thought he would — there were at least two possibilities. Rebecca was by nature inclined toward working in the background. She was an organizer by temperament and had a positive dread of public speaking. So her own preference would be to serve Piazza as his chief of staff. That was a position that had not existed in her husband’s administration, because Michael Stearns had a very hands-on approach to governing. But Piazza was a more traditional sort of executive, and he definitely preferred to work through a staff.
But there was another possibility, which she knew Piazza himself preferred. That was to appoint Rebecca as his secretary of state. She was quite adept at diplomacy — extraordinarily adept, in fact — as she’d proved in her past dealings with Cardinal Richelieu, Don Fernando both before and after he became the King in the Netherlands, and the Prince of Orange, Fredrik Hendrik.
Such a position would give her more public exposure than she really cared for, but at least she wouldn’t have to be giving a lot of public speeches. She could hope, anyway.
And there was this, too, which she had to admit. Among the many things she had learned from Michael Stearns was that the best way to negotiate was to make sure that the person you were dickering with saw a clear alternative to you — which was a lot worse than you were. Michael had been particularly adept at using Gretchen Richter and the Committees of Correspondence for that purpose.
As the USE’s secretary of state, Rebecca could go him one better. Would you rather negotiate with me or with my husband? That would be the one they call the Prince of Germany, who crushed the reactionaries in Saxony and —
Hopefully, hopefully. Michael would sometimes lead from the front and he might get killed in the doing, which would crush her heart.
Still, soon enough, she thought she’d be able to add: — and crushed the duke of Bavaria as well.