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Doctor Mora.. and Santa Anna… and Joe Biden?

6 March 2020

I doubt the talking heads you see on television before and after every election (or, in the US, party primary), yakking on with great authority about why candidate X did better than candidate Y ever heard of José María Servín de la Mora Díaz Madrid, aka “Dr. Mora”… but the early 19th century Mexican priest — without the aid of computer simulations, demographic breakdowns, or splashy graphics — was doing much the same thing.

Born in Guanajuato in 1794, Moro was one of any number of priests, who had joined the Church as much for its educational opportunities as any other reason. Not exactly a stickler for clerical niceties, he was a regular at local Masonic lodge meetings, and, during the War of Independence, found his role as a shepherd to his flock outside the pulpit. Unlike Morelos or Matamoros, he was a less active participant, mostly as an intellectual advisor and commentator (perhaps he was an early pundit as well… but unlike today’s pundits, usually knew what he was talking about, and had some experience in whatever he was commenting on), writing especially on the need for separating Church and State and secular education.

One forgets how “radical” a concept it was back in the 1820s, but Mexico had universal manhood suffrage at a time when even the thought of extending voting rights in the United States to all white males was considered dangerous. Stating with the 1828 Presidential election, Mora began keeping statistical data on election returns, and in two books (almost never read, or even known, today), México y sus revoluciones (1836) and Obras sueltas (1838), and in later, posthumously published papers, laid out the basics for studying or predicting any election.

Mora, although he didn’t use the terms, understood that election outcomes depend on two groups: “influencers” and “low information voters” determine outcomes. What Moro noted about the electoral successes of a General Santa Anna is applicable even day, as perhaps illustrated by the results of the recent “Super Tuesday” Democratic Primary.

Much to the amusement of all, Michael Bloomberg spent a lot of money for very little in return. Mora noted that rich people are not much concerned with which party or platform is elected… as long as they maintain their wealth and power. Of course in our day, with the expensive adverting and campaign budgets, the rich have more influence, nothing there has changed. Given the unexpectedly poor showing of Sanders and Warren, they have some say in who doesn’t win, but rich people, just running as rich people, representing the rich, go nowhere.

Even when a candidate, like Sanders or Warren, offers a program that might be of more benefit to the masses (our “low information voter” in modern “punditese”, the likely winner has to appeal to the “Influencers”. For Mora, in a mostly agrarian country where the rich were seldom see by anyone but their own peers. They might make a show, a progress to the various estates and mines, but how many voters saw them, let alone expected anything from them, compared to the “betters” they would meet daily… the village shopkeeper, the priest, the big hacienda manager, or the small hacienda owner? These were the better educated people likely to have read a newspaper and intepreted it for their illiterate neighbors, or at least seen as the people with some worldly experience.

In Santa Anna’s day, the BIG ISSUES might have been the fight over whether Mexico should be a centralized or federal republic, and the power of the Catholic Church. Mora generally favored Santa Anna, whether he was presenting himself as a Centralist or Federalist, Liberal or Conservative for the same reason the “influencers” did. As ut was, the issues of Centralism or Federalism, Secularism or Clericalism were about as exciting to SOME people as our issues of Neoliberalism or Democratic Socialism — i.e. esoteric issues of the role of government that didn’t appear to much affect the daily lives of the people. Where his rivals were often, like Valentín Gómez Farías were ideolgically “pure”. Gomez Farias has been Santa Anna’s running mate in the 1833 election, but Santa Anna retired “for health reasons” before taking office, allowing Gómez Farías time to introduce unpopular (with the Church) measures that justified Santa Anna coming out of retirement to overthrow the ideologue.

Santa Anna, who switched his political allegiances more often than most of us change our underwear, was consistent in one thing… the basic needs of those “influencers”. In his time, what the small town elites wanted was more educational opportunity for their children. Santa Anna stood for Lancasterian education, a rather inexpensive (and taxpayer friendly) was of bringing schools to rural communities*. Coupled with his reputation as a relatively enlightened landlord (if one didn’t look too closely at where he acquired the funds to expand his small holdings into one of the largest haciendas in Mexico). In other words, being a military hero was secondary: it gave him a name nationally, but it was his appeal to the modest demands of the “indluencers” that served to win him elections.

One might argue that Sanders and Warren were the “ideologues” in the recent primary… or at least perceived as such, Bloomberg as the candidate of the rich, leaving BIden to pick up the pieces by not scaring the (relatively conservative) middle class influencers of our time.. not just the so-called “mainstream media” but, as in Santa ANna’s day, the clergy. That is not saying that what are now called “low information voters” are stupid, or easily swayed, but only that they aren’t likely to have the time or money to be pouring through small circulation magazines, academic journals, statistical analysis of various proposals,etc. and are smart enough to listen to those they know, who may have a better education or interest in the outside world than they do

Dr. Mora may not have been able to predict by what percentage a candidate would win, but he probably would have understood US elections, and those of just about anywhere, as well as anyone living today.

* In the long run, his education program was his downfall. The Lancastrian system put the star pupils to work teaching the rest of the students (freeing the often single schoolmaster to oversee larger student bodies), but also meant peasants got a decent education, and became the next generations’ “community organizers” who would overthrow not only Santa ANna, but the entire political system … “Indians” like Benito Juarez, Porfirio Dias, and Ignacio Manuel ALtamirano who got their start as outstanding pupils and teaching assistants.

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