At the beginning of this century, an outsider candidate from a wealthy background became the leader of a major country. He has been criticized throughout his rule for his manipulation of the national press and for his cozy relationship with big business, he has been embroiled in numerous scandals, and he led his nation into a war in Iraq against substantial domestic opposition. He has also managed to stir up controversy with his odd jokes and his comfort with some of his country’s more reprehensible historical practices.
And now he’s about to fall. Early reports are showing that Silvio Berlusconi will be defeated by Romano Prodi in the race for Prime Minister of Italy. If the elections actually go in favor of center-left Prodi (they still might not), it will be the end of Italy’s longest-serving postwar government, and also the downfall of one of President Bush’s most vigorous allies in Europe. Indeed, without Berlusconi, it really comes down to Tony Blair and a passel of Eastern Europeans.
I don’t know enough about Italy to make a terribly informed judgment, but everything I’ve read about Berlusconi, from the center-right (or should that be centre-right?) Economist to the New York Times to more liberal magazines like the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, suggests that he has been deeply dangerous to Italian democracy, allowing flamboyance, casual offensiveness and media domination to stand in for actual policymaking and leadership.
I know almost nothing about Romano Prodi, but I would not be sad to see Berlusconi go.