The Once and Future King

Italian politics has always been something of a circus. Having enjoyed more prime ministers since the Second World War than any other country on earth, Italians seem to be a people who long for change before that change has had a chance to occur. Perhaps the most mind-boggling of all is the fact that former disgraced Prime Minister and billionaire playboy Silvio Berlusconi is a serious contender for becoming Italy’s next Prime Minister in 2013. The 76 year-old buffoon has already made Italy a laughing stock throughout the world, and has successfully lead his nation to the precipice of financial disaster, all the while enjoying the splendors befitting an emperor.

So why would Italians even consider re-electing a man who has brought shame and controversy to his nation? The answer is not so simple, but I’ll give it a go: the Italian people, not all, but a very large number, are crazy. Berlusconi is a man who owns most of the Italian media, is Italy’s richest man, and has more facelifts than Joan Rivers. I defy anyone to find a man as vain as this modern-day Italian Caesar. His love of young women and the high life is only outdone by his vain belief that he is entitled to such luxuries while the rest of Italy starves. According to Eurostat, the official statistical arm of the European Union, the Italian unemployment rate for the fall of 2012 shot up to 11.1%. IndexMundi shows that the Italian birthrate has been in steady decline for over a decade, with a rare jump between 2010-2011, and the Economist (among other news agencies) reports that a staggering number of young Italian professionals are being forced to leave Italy in search of work. Combined with a bond rating, housing, and increasing immigration crisis, Italy finds itself in danger of falling into an economic and cultural abyss that would take decades to climb out of. The facts are indeed grim.

Silvio Berlusconi is a man who refuses to go away, and for reasons that are unfathomable, a majority of Italian citizens keep putting him back in charge of their nation. If Berlusconi is re-elected he has promised to immediately repeal the reforms put into place by technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monte. In addition, Berlusconi has promised that Italians will receive a refund check to make up for the reforms that have been put into place. Monte’s popularity does seem to be sliding, but when someone becomes a “reformer,” those reforms are bound to be unpopular with large constituents and reforms take time. The wild card in the upcoming election seems to be Pier Luigi Bersani, the ex-Communist, center-left coalition’s leader. Bersani is the exact opposite of Berlusconi. He is quiet and understated, not showy, or even fashionable, and seems to be anything but vain. The circus that is Italian politics continues to astound those of us watching from a distance.

Only time will tell if the Italians will make the mistake of re-electing an egomaniac that makes the Roman emperor Caligula look tame by comparison. A re-elected Berlusconi would not only be disastrous for Italy, but for Europe as well. Italy needs tough reforms if it is to avoid economic and social disaster. But even more important, Italy cannot afford another Berlusconi regime that will continue to undermine the seriousness of Italy’s place in the European Union as well as its own future. It takes a bit of an egocentric to run for public office in the first place, but Berlusconi is in a class by himself.

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