If you're from the left, you might have reasons to dislike Silvio Berlusconi. A provisional list could include recent pronouncements against a multi ethnic Italy, backed up by draconian anti-immigration laws, the fact his coalition partners the Northern Alliance press for preferential seating for “native” Milanese. All this must be fairly obnoxious to anyone with progressive instincts.
Then there's the eternal question as to the source of his personal fortune, his ownership of 50% of the national media, his recurring abuses of power. And yet no amount of financial dirt and dodgy deals has failed to make him so unpopular that he can’t win an election or two. His approval ratings rarely go below 50%, and as Italy votes for the European elections today, his Populo della Liberta stand to win 45%, if polls are accurate.
This is no doubt deeply frustrating for the Italian left. But it doesn't quite explain why left-leaning journal La Repubblica has taken Madame Berlusconi’s pending divorce to heart, publishing ten questions to the Calviere about his supposed relations with eighteen year old starlet Noemi Letizia. Without much effect it would seem.
No doubt there’s something ridiculous, if not embarrassing, and maybe even illegal, about what might be a 72’s year old's passion for a Lolita. But in what way does it advance the left's cause? Sex scandals have a habit of working in both political directions. And yet over a decade ago not even Bill Clinton's enemies in the Republican right benefited from the Monica Lewinsky affair. However, it seems no coincidence that since then, even on this side of the Atlantic, we have had to endure cheese and ham pieties about the blissful marriages our candidates enjoy. As if it were any of our business.
Berlusconi complains his critics attack him on Letizia because they have no “political ideas”. This is disingenuous, since he has been instrumental in trivializing Italian politics, via his TV stations, and the gaggle of bimbos he has put forward on the Populo della Liberta’s ticket for the coming elections. And yet he has a point. As political analyst Ilana Bet-El argued recently, “we are the midst of the worst financial crisis since the 1930’s and yet the left is nowhere”. Mainly because it no longer knows what its values are. What follows then is that in an ideological vacuum, it has erected itself as a guardian of morality. No surprise then that that other guardian of morality, the Catholic church, should have recently waded in exhorting the prime minister to be “sober and sombre” in his manner. Sombreness, usually appropriate for funerals, is certainly not the air Mr Berlusconi will adopt as he buries an increasingly sanctimonious left.