Or at the very least, he’s harder to defeat. In a smart new piece in Foreign Policy, Gianni Riotta, one of Italy’s smartest journalists, helps foreigners understand what seems inexplicable to many of them: Berlusconi’s enduring hold on a large chunk of Italian opinion. Despite being booted from office in disgrace and convicted of tax fraud, Berlusconi and his party’s approval ratings are trending upward again. For the umpteenth time, Berlusconi’s party seems primed for a comeback after being counted out for good (although this time his daughter may be the one in charge). Riotta explains how voters are drawn to the man despite the constant scandals and his poor record in office:
The “Berlusconi miracle” — namely, inventing a political party in a matter of weeks in 1994 — is not just a by-product of his colossal media empire. According to Orsina, the real sparkle comes from an old, national cultural attitude. Berlusconi appealed to something deep within the Italian political soul: “You guys do not need reforms,” he said. “Everything is all right with you. Do not listen to moral sermons, do not try to be better, you are all right. Enjoy.”[According to historian Giovanni Orsina,] Berlusconi was the perfect reverse of John F. Kennedy’s appeal to young Americans: Ask what your country can do for you, take it as much of it as you can, and live happily. Indeed, while the majority of voters employed by the state vote for the center-left, the independent workers, the self-employed, the entrepreneurs have long been Berlusconi’s base, faithfully casting their votes for “Silvio” — especially in the North and in the first 10 years of his political adventure. These are not bored housewives or lazy couch potatoes: many of them are educated, aware of technological and social innovations, yet they remain skeptical of the left’s agenda….Italy desperately needs economic reforms — but this requires a stable cabinet, capable of spurring growth, cutting taxes, and curbing the debt that is bleeding the country of innovation. Ask political leaders of almost any party: they all privately agree on this agenda. But when asked who’s going to implement it, they simply smile and say: “E chi lo sa?” Who knows.
As we’ve said before, the core problem in Italy over the past few decades wasn’t just that leaders were too timid or weak to push for change, but that the public didn’t want to change. For all his faults, Berlusconi gave the people what they wanted.Read the whole thing.