Thursday, June 22, 2006
America Loses Italy's Elections
What was wrong with Silvio Berlusconi’s economic policy of lowering taxes and raising pensions?
Folks, Italian politics are a riot!. Trust me, I know - I’m Italian (well, used to be).
There are in Italy some 22 political parties and affiliations of all colors, shapes and forms reflecting all lines of philosophical thinking and social doctrines ever pipe-dreamed by humans since the time Homo Erectus decided to step out of the African plains and conquer the planet. Italy is the only one country in the world where Fascists sit side by side with Maoists in the same parliament. Heck, you can still find Trotskyists in Italy even today – after they have been banned from Russia since the 1930’s.
To make matters somewhat more manageable, in the mid-1990’s it was decided to form five mainstream political ‘coalitions’, each representing the best interests of the myriad political parties that each coalition is comprised of. The coalitions are: Forza Italia (literally ‘Go Italy’), Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), Lega Del Nord (Northern League), L’ Unione Democratica Cristiana Di Centro (Union of Christian Democrats of the Center) and L’ Unione Di Centro Sinistra (Center-Left Union).
To make matters even more manageable (whoever said Italians are difficult?), so that everyone can fully understand what is going on in Italian politics, two mainstream political ‘currents’ comprising of the above-noted five mainstream political ‘coalitions’ were formed: La Casa Della Liberta’ (literally ‘The House of Freedom’) representing Go Italy, National Alliance and Northern League, and L’Unione (’The Union’) covering the bloc of the Union of Christian Democrats of the Center and the Center-Left Union.
Let’s face it – it couldn’t possibly get more transparent and crystal clear than this!
Since 2000, The House of Freedom has been headed by Silvio Berlusconi, a graduate summa cum laude in Business Advertising from Milan State University and the richest man in Italy who, with cash and assets worth some USD $12.5 billions (with a “b” as in ... “Berlusconi”), is the 23rd richest man on the planet. On the other side, The Union has been represented by Romano Prodi, a graduate summa cum laude from The London School Of Economics, a former Visiting Professor at Harvard, a Fellow of The Stanford Research Institute, and the former President Of The European Commission.
To say that Prodi, by virtue of his background as an Economist, has always eyed Berlusconi’s economic theory that “lowering taxes and raising pensions is great for the country” with a great deal of skepticism, is probably an understatement per se. But this must have turned into outright despair when Italians voted The House of Freedom into power in the 2001 elections, and Berlusconi became President Of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister). And the despair must have turned into outright horror when Italy posted in 2005, four years into Berlusconi’s tenure, a GDP of 0 percent for 2004 (that's 'zero' ... as in 1 minus 1) - a record in the West. Well, it could have been worse.
To be sure, a miracle has happened during Berlusconi’s residence in Rome. In 2004 Berlusconi, a bald man, turned up on TV looking like Elton John, and prompting the Romans to flock and head straight for St. Peter’s Square chanting Miracolo, Miracolo (“Miracle, Miracle”). But for the Americans, Berlusconi’s exuberance will more likely be remembered when, all the way back in 2002 during his first official trip to Washington as Italy’s Prime Minister (Berlusconi owns several real estate holdings in the U.S.), Berlusconi stepped out of the airplane and went straight to greet an incredulous President Bush with a vigorous handshake, literally screaming in his ears Ciao, Giorgio! (“Hi, George”). The twosome must have hit it off, because they have been great pals ever since.
The world will possibly remember Silvio Berlusconi as one of the most outspoken – albeit apolitical – national leaders ever, although his picturesque remarks have not always won him the praise, sympathy and affection of fellow leaders. Such is the case when he called Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe an “Orangutan” for his controversial polices of redistributing white-owned landholdings to poor Zimbabweans, or King Fahd of Saudi Arabia Il Becchino (”The Gravedigger”) for his forceful opposition to Israel. And member countries of the European Union will remember Berlusconi for his 2003 address in Bruxelles, when he countered German criticism and objections to Italy’s chronically unbalanced budget by calling the German delegation “a bunch of Nazis”, thus prompting a great deal of chuckling on the part of the French (another country with a perennially unbalanced budget).
On the accounts of religion and philosophy, it cannot be said that Berlusconi has scored big time either. A great admirer of Gandhi, he stated that “Gandhi was a better person than many Popes”, thus raising a sequel of criticism from the Holy See. The criticism mounted last year, when Berlusconi remarked at the funeral of John Paul II that he (the Pope) had been “one of the few great Popes”. And just very recently, in the heat of this past elections, he has claimed that “Chinese communists eat babies for dinner”, generating an outcry on the part of Beijing, or when Berlusconi compared himself to Jesus Christ.
Yet, it is possibly because of his flamboyant nature and irreverent style that Silvio Berlusconi will be missed by many. Notwithstanding his USD $12.5 billions, Berlusconi was, is and always will be a man of the people, and will be remembered as such. No matter that his economic policies only made him richer, and nobody else. It is the dream that counts – and Silvio Berlusconi has been the only man since the institution of the Republic that has made Italians dream for five consecutive years. Nobody else has lasted for so long – and in Italian politics that’s a real record.
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