Alex Massie

The Importance of Being Silvio

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President Barack Obama & First Lady Michelle Obama welcome Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to the G20 dinner on September 24, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

My latest piece for the Daily Beast takes a look at the grimly entertaining Silvio Berlusconi:

Were you to be so unwise as to combine the political shamelessness of Mitt Romney, the personal morality of John Edwards, the ego of Rudy Giuliani, and performance art that is Sarah Palin's career on the national stage, you would create a monster that approximates, but still cannot quite match, Silvio Berlusconi.

The Italian prime minister, who arrived in the United States this week to attend the United Nations General Assembly and the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, is often, no usually, dismissed as a joke. Like the Porter in Macbeth, his role is to provide a moment of levity in otherwise grim and serious times.

[...]And when all candidates are, broadly speaking, offering the same medicine it makes sense to choose the one who at least promises a measure of entertainment. Berlusconi is tolerated by Italians at least in part because he offers a colorful alternative to a government of drab bureaucrats.

[...]Berlusconi takes this phenomenon to new heights. Since he controls, directly or indirectly, Italy's six principal television stations, it's appropriate that he turn Italian politics into a game show with the prime minister, in all his magnificent ghastliness, as the star. You could be forgiven for thinking that his rule is one long-running episode of Italian Idol. He even has his own song: a cheery ditty titled "Thank God, Silvio's Here!"

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that "every society rests upon the death of men" but Berlusconi's survival is dependent upon the death of politics. And once politics has gone, all that's left is show business.

The public, bless them, may not know what they want but they want what they know: entertainment. That in turn leaves one with the gloomy thought that if Silvio Berlusconi did not exist it would be necessary to invent him.


Meanwhile, Standpoint's Mara Delius has been in Rome and offers her take on Berlusconi here.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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