Il Fenomeno

The victory by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy’s provincial elections on Tuesday constitutes a major political paradox. The allegations stemming from his purported fondness for young models and starlets, his callous response to the L’Aquila earthquake disaster in April, and his «tanned» Obama comment all failed to affect the preferences of the Italian electorate. Italians, the nation with the longest cultural history in the West, perhaps see in Berlusconi the absolute decline of the prime-ministerial office and, therefore, reward his authenticity. Or maybe the spectacle-loving Italians feel that they’re watching a comic opera, enjoying the hero’s efforts to stimulate and entertain them. When the show is over, they will each return to their own business. All that would make sense if Italians behaved as intellectuals. But history has never seen a society of that sort, nor will such a society of intellectuals ever exist. Berlusconi’s success lies elsewhere. First, his more decent political rivals have lost more credibility than Berlusconi himself. Needless to say, it is not the Italian premier who is responsible for their sorry state. But it is not just the peculiarity of the electorate nor the shortcomings of his political rivals: On a political level, he was one of the few European leaders to take on the left. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy also launched an attack on the left before making an overture to historic left-wing cadres who, surprisingly, responded to his offer. If Berlusconi can score victories in spite of his colorful personality, it is because he is the undisputed leader of the right. His style was perhaps unacceptable, but he never underestimated nor ignored right-wing supporters. This man knows that being ideologically obscure is a sign of guilt. He is now trying to capitalize on that right-wing momentum for as long as it lasts.